The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has accused Greece of failing to adequately protect Natura 2000 sites.
WWF Hellas, the Greek branch of the NGO, wants the European Commission to intervene and ensure Greek authorities comply with their environmental obligations.
According to WWF Hellas, “Greece is the Mediterranean’s most diverse and bountiful environmental hub,” but authorities are not doing enough to protect this environment.
What is Natura 2000?
According to the European Commission, “Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. It offers a haven to Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.”
Natura 2000 sites stretch across approximately eighteen percent of the EU’s terrestrial area and over eight percent of its marine territory.
These sites form a network of important areas for threatened species to breed and rest. The European Commission says that “the aim of the network is to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats, listed under both the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.”
Areas designated under the Natura 2000 network are not all strictly enforced nature reserves. In fact, most of the land that falls under the designation is privately owned. The approach to conservation and environmental protection, therefore, varies from site to site.
WWF is concerned that Greece is inadequately managing these areas. Of the 1,249 protected areas in Greece, 446 of them are Natura 2000 sites. Of these sites, 207 are Special Protection Areas, designated by the Birds Directive, and 265 are Sites of Community Importance, designated by the Habitats Directive.
The WWF’s petition to the European Commission
WWF has petitioned the European Commission on the basis that Greece’s Environment Ministry has made inadequate progress toward the protection of threatened species in designated areas.
This is not the first time that Greek authorities have fallen short on environmental and ecological protection issues. Two years ago, on December 17, 2020, Greece was condemned by the European Court of Justice for its improper care of Natura sites.
More recently, environmental groups have criticized the Greek government for plans to start gas exploration west and southwest of Crete. In November, Greenpeace, WWF, and the Pelagos Cetological Research Institute all raised concerns that hydrocarbon exploration could threaten Cuvier’s beaked whale and sperm whale populations.
Earlier this month, the Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles (MEDASSET) warned that not enough was being done by Greek authorities to protect the endangered loggerhead (Caretta caretta) species.
Two loggerhead nesting grounds in the southern part of Kyparissia Bay in the Peloponnese and Laganas Bay in Zakynthos are designated as protected areas under the Natura 2000 framework. However, MEDASSET has said that Greek authorities have failed to instigate appropriate management of these areas.
Presently, WWF is petitioning the European Commission to refer Greece to the European Court of Justice for a second time. If the petition is successful, the Greek government may face a fine for failing to introduce sufficient management measures to protect wildlife.