Flora and fauna
Greece is endowed with a wide variety of flora (some 5,500 species of flora have been recognized), being particularly rich in unique plant species.
The most common wild flowers in the country are anemones, gladioli, cyclamens, irises, tulips, lilies and many more, while the most extensive forests are found in northern Greece, in the mountains of Thrace, Macedonia and Epiros. Furthermore, the islands in the northern and eastern Aegean and similarly those of the Ionian Sea are covered with pines as well as olive trees. In total, the country has over 200 species of tree and large shrub and its forests consist, primarily, of conifers with deciduous trees such as beeches and chestnuts coming second.
Numerous protected areas exist in Greece, as the country has been committed to the protection of the environment through international conventions. Its national parks include Olympus (on the borders of Thessaly and Macedonia), Parnassos and Iti (central Greece), Prespa and Vikos-Aoos (Epiros), Parnitha (Attica) and Samaria (Crete). There are also 11 wetlands, 51 preserved natural monuments, 113 important bird sanctuaries and 300 biotopes.
Moreover, 900 species of fauna live in Greece as the country is a refuge for many endangered species, which are protected through specific action programmes implemented by the authorities, aiming at the management and protection of bio- diversity. Among the protected species are the Mediterranean sea turtle (Caretta -caretta) and the monk seal (Monachus - monachus). The former finds home in the waters of Zakynthos and Cefallonia, whereas the latter is found in the Aegean and the Ionian Sea. Furthermore, the dense forests and rocky outcrops of the Dadia Forest, upstream on the Evros River in Thrace, are shelter to the largest range of birds of prey in Europe. By the same token, Lake Mikri Prespa, in Macedonia, has the richest colony of fish-eating birds in Europe, including cormorants, ibises, egrets and herons. Moreover, the brown bear —Europe's largest land mammal— survives in the Pindos Mountains and in the mountains along the borders with Albania, FYROM and Bulgaria. Finally, the northern forests are home to the wildcat, marten, roe deer, and occasionally the wolf and lynx, whereas jackals, wild goats and hedgehogs live in the south.
The Ministry for the Environment, Planning and Public Works initiates programmes aiming at addressing the major environmental problems of the country as well as creating the infrastructures for the efficient management of the Greek environment in the 21st century. The Greek environmental policy reflects the necessity to pursue a development policy in the industrial, tourist and agricultural sectors, while, at the same time, safeguarding the environment and natural resources, thus achieving a sustainable development.
Apart from the government authorities, the Greek State Council has boosted the State's effort for the protection of the environment through its pioneer jurisdiction on the basis of the provisions laid down in the Greek Constitution.
The Constitution, in Article 24, underlines the obligation of the State to take all preventive measures required to protect the environment, while forest areas enjoy a special protection status including restrictions of private property rights. The reforestation of the burnt forests and forest areas is obligatory, while any change in the use of forestland is prohibited.
The Greek environmental policy is further defined by the National Law 1650/86 for the protection of the environment, the EC environmental regulations and directives and the obligations of Greece with respect to International environmental Agreements and Conventions.
Within this context, the most important areas are the following:
• A more efficient coastal management
Increasing urbanization brings about pressure on coastal areas and therefore sea pollution levels may rise. As a result, a special management policy, which ensures both the protection of marine and coastal ecosystems and the future development of human activities in a sustainable way, has been adopted. In this respect, cleaning and restoration projects have been carried out on many islands and certain coastal areas in continental Greece.
• Managing waste
Until recently, one of the major environmental problems of Greece was the lack of management (collection, disposal, treatment) of solid and toxic waste. In order to cope with the ensuing negative impact on the environment, an integrated network of waste disposal has been planned, the Biological Waste Centres in Psitalia, being one of the largest projects of its kind internationally. Moreover, steps have been taken to promote prevention, recycling programmes are implemented for paper, glass and aluminium and wastewater biological treatment plants have been set up.
• Fighting atmospheric pollution
Due to the fast urbanization of the country in the last five decades, atmospheric pollution has been a major problem, especially in the capital. A series of measures have been taken in order to reduce SO2 and C emission levels, including the prohibition of crude oil use for central heating and a steady reduction of S content in crude oil and diesel respectively. Moreover, measures aiming at the reduction of emissions have been taken, which concern the industry, central heating, the improvement of fuel quality, the replacement of old cars and the improvement of traffic conditions.
• A better land and urban planning
The gradual degradation of the natural and urban environment in many areas of Greece stemmed from the inadequate land and urban planning during the period 1950-1980. Therefore, steps have been taken in order to improve urban conditions, including projects for the protection of historical and traditional sites.
• Water resources
Water resources management is a high priority for Greece because water demands cannot often be covered by local water resources. Therefore, an action programme has been implemented in order to monitor the quality of inland waters through the development of a national network for surface, underground and coastal waters. Moreover, in order to ensure the reasonable management of the natural resources and secure their sustainability, the Evinos project is scheduled with the aim of reinforcing the water supply system for the major area of Attica.