Nature conservation on Thassos

Published by: Thomas Schultze-Westrum

When the island that we now call Thassos was discovered in ancient times by the earliest settlers, it was covered by abundant mixed broadleaf and pine forests. In the lowlands near the seashore, extensive wetlands teeming with eels and birds reached inland into wild gorges with rushing water all the year round. A grand natural landscape that was highly praised by Herodot and other classical writers.

Compared with today, Thassos still maintains much of this unique natural beauty and has preserved a wealth of diverse habitats, fauna and flora. And with the new developments in tourism on Thassos, these natural assets are getting in the focus of economic interest, because they sustain a stable and crisis-resistant kind of tourism: eco- and agrotourism are the new actual highlights in the island’s economic development.

But how can this kind of economic potential survive, if the very assets upon which the economic resources of nature-related tourism are based are not being effectively preserved? Of course, and it is clear without many words: it cannot be sustained and the tourism potential will vanish for ever! Therefore it is in the hands of both the communal authorities and private landowners to take adequate and immediate steps in order to preserve this money-generating natural potential. And to do so in a very serious and professional way! Without much further delay! It is an obligation of this generation, NOW!

Imagine what the foreign guests in the coastal hotels should do all day long. They are getting bored spending their time on the beach? Just ask them and most of them will reply: we want to discover nature, we want to make walking tours, we want to explore the mountains, the traditional villages inland! Right so! Consequently, the hotels should make sure that their guests are not disappointed, will come back the following year and will tell their friends the good news: Thassos is indeed a nature lovers paradise that can be explored!

n other words: it is in the interest of all the stakeholders in tourism that the natural beauty and diversity of Thassos is being very carefully and strictly preserved!

Nature-based tourism on Thassos is still in the growing stage. So far almost no infrastructure and informative media outlets exist that can adequately promote this outstanding potential. Most landscapes on Thassos remain unexplored and not yet made known to people keen to enjoy its natural beauty and diversity of wildlife. There is no adequate system of walkways yet, no comprehensive guide book and no video presentation of the natural world of Thassos.

And there are no activities neither to preserve a number of top quality biotopes of national and even European standards: for instance, the last remaining wetlands and some other very much threatened habitats:

Here is the expert’s opinion: remarks by the professional British conservationist Adrian Fowles, designer of the website

“The natural beauty of Thásos is dominated by its forests and mountains but the varied habitats along its coast also contribute significantly to the enjoyment of its landscape and the conservation of its wildlife. An important part of the appeal of Thásos in the tourist market lies in its natural resources and the contribution of its wildlife and natural habitats should be seen as a vital element in sustaining this appeal. Efforts should be made to ensure that the understandable desire to maximise economic benefits from the tourist industry does not lead to the destruction of habitats and extinction of wildlife as a consequence.

Whilst much of the interior of Thásos faces few threats to its habitats, the lowlands are under considerable and growing pressure. This is most apparent on sandy coastlines where tourist development is at its greatest. Here the few beaches and dunes are in danger of complete wildlife impoverishment unless steps are taken to preserve the remaining habitats but associated pastures and wetland habitats are also threatened by the expansion of apartments and associated infrastructure.

My experience of the island suggests that few natural habitat examples remain in the lowlands apart from garigue and olive groves. Damage to other habitat types occurs regularly and the resource is steadily diminishing such that extinctions of native species from the island’s fauna and flora will have already occurred and the pace of extinction will rise rapidly as refuges become fewer. This would be an unfortunate loss on an island that is revered for its natural beauty and it would be timely to initiate a Biodiversity Action Plan for Thásos that identified its most significant species and habitats and clarified the conservation actions that are necessary to safeguard them.

Some issues are already evident as particularly important sites are already being damaged.

1) The undisturbed beach at Cap Prinos has only recently been targeted for development with the construction of a new hotel in the last few years in the centre of the beach. This has inevitably resulted in increased tourist pressure and trampling damage on the foreshore, accompanied by the totally unnecessary levelling of the northern half of the beach. This senseless act, (presumably undertaken to remove the inconvenience of the sea holly stands) has destroyed the natural vegetation and topography of this stretch of beach and will have had a substantial impact on the coastal wildlife. The beach should be left to recover, which it could do in time, and the section to the south of the new hotel protected from any similar damaging activities. Before construction of the hotel Cap Prinos represented the best example of undisturbed fore dune habitat on Thásos, as visitor trampling has affected all other accessible sandy beaches on the island that I am aware of. The fore dune zone has a rich fauna in the Aegean and many of these species will be confined to Cap Prinos on the island.

2) Encroachment by tavernas and apartments at Skala Potamias/Chrissi Ammoudia, encouraged by the construction of a new tarmac road to the beach, suggests that demand for further tourist expansion may also follow. Hopefully the area of dunes will be excluded from any planning applications but the extensive area of damp pastures behind the beach are also extremely important wildlife habitats and should be similarly protected. The complex of habitats in the Potamias area has been proposed as a nationally important part of Greece’s geological and geomorphological heritage (Proceedings of the International Symposium on Engineering, Geology and the Environment, Athens, June 1997, page 3022) and as such a management plan for the whole area should be implemented to ensure that future developments are sustainable and sympathetic to the landscape and biodiversity interests.

3) With respect to the EU DIRECTIVE (92/43/EEC) ON THE CONSERVATION OF NATURAL HABITATS & OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA (1992), to date Greece has identified four candidate Special Areas for Conservation (cSACs) on Thásos.

These are: Akrotirio Prinou-Pachy, Limenaria-Akrotirio Kefalas, Ormos Potamias and Oros Ypsarion.

I have been unable to ascertain the proposed boundaries of these sites or which Directive

habitats & species are the reasons for selection, but the first two (and perhaps Ormos Potamias) will have been chosen for their marine and/or coastal habitats, whilst Oros Ypsarion will obviously have been selected for its montane habitats and its conifer forests. It is unlikely that these areas have been notified to the Commission for any particular Annex II species. The European Union’s Interpretation Manual on the Directive’s Habitats specifically mentions the ‚Aegean pine forests of Thasos‘ (page 111) and the island’s ‚Oriental plane woods‘ (page 102).

There are no vascular plant taxa recorded from Thásos which are included on Annex II of the Directive and there is insufficient information available to determine whether any of the listed lower plant species occur on the island. However, six Annex II animal species are resident on the island. Both spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca and stripe-necked terrapin Mauremys caspica are known from several localities and are probably not uncommon in suitable habitats, but both snakes and the two whorl snails are known from few records and are presumably scarce on Thásos. In view of the fact that both Vertigo angustior and V. moulinsiana are known in Greece as extant populations only from Thásos then the wetland in which these species occur should also be considered as a candidate Special Area for Conservation (SAC).

Testudo graeca (Spur-thighed tortoise)

Mauremys caspica (Stripe-necked terrapin)

Elaphe quatuorlineata (Four-lined snake)

Elaphe situla (Leopard snake)

Vertigo angustior (Narrow-mouthed whorl snail)

Vertigo moulinsiana (DesMoulin’s whorl snail)

Both snail species have been found in the small wetland area behind the Shell garage on the Panagia road on the outskirts of Limenas. This area of mixed fen, wet pasture and poplar scrub is a unique habitat on the island but is threatened by the dumping of marble spoil at its southern end and the tipping of landfill at its northern end. In addition to direct habitat loss, both activities will affect the hydrology and water quality of the wetland and there is already evidence that it is becoming drier and eutrophicated. Scrub is now encroaching on the open fen habitats and this additional shading, unless controlled, will also lead to the eventual extinction of both snail species.

In due course Greece will be obliged to designate candidate SpecialYAreas for Conservation (SACs) for both mollusc species and unless additional and more significant populations are located elsewhere in Greece then there will be pressure from DGXI to ensure that the Thásos wetland is designated. This will necessitate that the Greek Government must ensure Favourable Conservation Status applies, which means that mechanisms must be in place to guarantee that both molluscs have viable populations for the long-term. Failure to adequately conserve these populations will lead to enforcement by DGXI (as Greece has already discovered with respect to the monk seal), usually taking the form of the withholding of EC payments from other budgets, such as Objective 1.

Ideally, local government on Thásos should begin the process of developing a better understanding of its wildlife resource through the collation of habitat and species inventories, particularly with respect to a register of localities supporting scarce habitat types. It would also be valuable to produce a list of species endemic to Thásos as these will be international priorities for conservation. Neither of these tasks should be difficult and it would provide an excellent basis for informed planning decisions in the future.”

With this most valuable guidance and recommendations by Adrian Fowles in hand, the strategy should be clear: Do it and do it quickly!

And on top:

  • Thassos should receive much more attention in terms of converting old fashion forestry into modern time forest utilization that includes recreational tourism! The distribution of broadleaf trees (mainly four species of oak) should be encourages and goat pasture limited, accordingly.
  • A plan for all Thassos is overdue that introduces a system of zoning on the island. Zones for building and industries, zones for agricultural use, conservation zones that are strictly protected, but are open for tourism.
  • All the remaining wetlands should not only be preserved, but equally made accessible for tourist exploration by walkways and guided tours.
  • The marble industry should be invited to present their own plans for limiting the damages to landscape and tourism!
  • Traditional villages should be part of the conservation scheme and should be considered as essential for rural recreation in combination with nature tourism. Actually, these traditional villages should be key points in the eco- and agrotourism planning and development for Thassos. The abandoned ancient cultivation terraces around the inland villages should be considered as most valuable, both cultural and ecological assets.
  • The further building of holiday villas in the free natural landscape and on the formerly cultivated land around the old villages is economically a disaster for Thassos, because it does not generate continuing benefit for the entire island community but rather deteriorates the overall tourism potential and communal values for good and for ever.

Mind you: it’s all easy to achieve, if the good and serious will is there to do it.

This task can be very rewarding, a very pleasant kind of doing something useful and lasting for the future of Thassos Island ! By combining care for humans with that for the natural and the cultural heritage.

Anyway: we, the privileged people who live here should know much better what it all means – much better than words can tell.

With great appreciation for the data and support by Adrian Fowles…,

Dr. Thomas Schultze-Westrum


13 June, 2003

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This entry was posted on Juni 18, 2010 at 18:58 and is filed under Kazavition.

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