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Interview with our supporting partner - project "LIFE Natura 2000 Value Crete”

What is the aim of your project?

The project aims to support the NATURA 2000 sites in Crete and motivate the public to seize the opportunities and address the challenges identified by integrating the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity into the societal decision-making. Ultimate goal is to show the damage that will cause biodiversity loss to economies and to society in Crete, elucidate misconceptions regarding the EU’s environmental policy mainly through the NATURA 2000 Network, and to promote the link between green economy and the creation of quality employment opportunities for present and future generations.

What was the motivation of coming to an idea of realization of such a project?

Experience so far has proved that working with the local societies aiming to their agreement in species and habitats protection and applying concrete and localized management actions is more successful than trying to put into effect the national or European legislation in the broader sense. The most practical tool for the achievement of this goal has been the awareness of certain target groups at a local scale. Familiarity with the local environmental problems acquired in previous LIFE projects undertaken by the Coordinating Beneficiary (UoC – NHMC) has shown that the action of public awareness is not merely the dissemination of the projects’ major outcomes or specific results. It is a “hard” conservation action and should always be viewed as such, since in most of the cases it constitutes the only effective measure for nature conservation.

Why is that kind of the project needed on Crete?

Greek government established Management Bodies for the management of NATURA 2000 sites in Greece. Among their responsibilities are information, education and training of the public in environmental issues. However, only one is operating in Crete, i.e. the Management Body of Samaria National Park (Lefka Ori), which had already a national statutory designation as a National Park. Thus, the majority of NATURA 2000 sites in Crete do not have a specific governance mechanism for their management, apart from forest areas which are under the jurisdiction of the Forest Departments. As a result, a complicated and overlapping institutional framework exists that creates major confusion about responsibilities of the local and regional authorities.

In addition, the present financial situation in the country has forced many people of the rural sector to overexploit natural resources in an unsustainable way (excessive and illegal logging for firewood, misuse of water supplies, land abandonment etc.), or to change land uses that deprive wildlife crucial habitats and degrade the agricultural environment, increasing this way the pressure in the protected areas and the Cretan environment.

What will the realization of this project bring to your community and/or the local environment?

The main aim of the project is to establish the NATURA 2000 Network as the pillar for nature protection and rural development in semi-natural habitats hosting priority species. For this reason, a special designed campaign will take place. We believe that through this specialized environmental campaign the public awareness will be increased as well as the active involvement of stakeholders, a change of the perceptions of citizens about the protected areas and also the behavior of users of these areas will be established, in order to benefit both the environment and local communities. And last, but not least, the integration of the ecological value of NATURA 2000 network to the local rural economy potential will contribute to sustainable development in Crete.

Who are the beneficiaries of the project?

The partners realizing the project are the following:

local and regional authorities, as well as specialized scientists (Region of Crete, all Municipalities of the island and their technical services, etc.);

inhabitants and users of the SCIs/SACs; 

students of Secondary Schools and school teachers;

tourists and visitors of SCIs/SACs, as well as professionals involved in the tourism sector;

NGOs and nature clubs; 

journalists and media employees; 

nature lovers, namely all sorts of users of the wildlife habitat including tourists in organized groups; and 

hunters and their Associations activated within SPAs, who have been excluded in parts of them after their declaration as Wildlife Reserves.

Approximately 450,000 people in Crete are inhabitants and users of the SCIs/SACs and SPAs. In Crete, also operates 1,000 schools of Primary and Secondary Education, with approximately 100,000 pupils (54,065 in Primary Education and 44,487 in Secondary Education) and 12,500 educators. Approximately 300 people are working for local press and television and radio broadcasting networks. Crete attracts almost 2.8 million tourists annually.

Who are the partners realizing the project?

Coordinating Partner is the University of Crete (UoC)/Natural History Museum of Crete (NHMC). The Natural History Museum of Crete was established as a department of the Faculty of Science of the University of Crete since 1980, being a pioneer institute at national and European level in several aspects of biological and geological diversity ( The first aspect regards research on the environment of the Eastern Mediterranean at all levels, i.e. from basic to applied research, from the cellular to the level of the ecosystems, and from state of the art applications and techniques to management of protected areas and continuous interventions on environmental issues of local and national interest.

The Hellenic Ornithological Society-BirdLife Greece (HOS) was founded in 1982 and is a non-governmental, nationwide, non-profit organization – the only one in Greece that deals exclusively with the protection of wild birds and their habitats. As evidence to the continuous efforts and contributions of HOS to the protection of Greece’s natural environment, it was awarded the Environmental Protection Award by the National Academy in 1993. Amongst others, HOS aims to inform, educate and sensitize the public, monitoring and study bird populations, participate actively in the management of protected areas in Greece, as well as influence environmental policy.

The third partner (Associated Partner) of the project is the Directorate of Coordination and Supervision of Forests (DAAC), which has the coordination, supervision and control over the four Forest Directorates of Decentralized Administration Authority of Crete. It is in constant co-operation with the Greek Ministry of the Environment and Energy and its aim is the attendance of problems related to forest law enforcement in Crete. The Directorate is staffed with experienced, qualified, scientific personnel that supervises and controls the four Forest Directorates of Crete (one in each Regional Unity). It takes all the necessary legal measures to protect and promote forests, improve biodiversity, prevent forest fires, preserve endemic species of Flora and Fauna, record forest land and provide financial support to forest investments through EC Regulations 2080/1992 and 1257/1999.

How high was the awareness of the local society about ecological issues at the beginning of the project?

Regrettably, the majority of the local population in Crete was not properly and adequately informed, thus still many people believe that residing in an NATURA 2000 area excludes them from the development opportunities of the rest of the island. On the other hand, one of the most significant deductions of conservation work has been the ignorance of a vast majority of specialized scientists and staff of the civil service on the utility and financial potential of the NATURA 2000 Network. Existing information on the socio-economic significance of NATURA 2000 is mainly related to benefits arising from direct and indirect employment supported by NATURA 2000 sites, in particular through tourism and recreation. NATURA 2000 habitats and species have rarely been in the focus of the research into ecosystem services. Data provided identified through various sources (Region of Crete, past LIFE projects, conferences and experiences held by UoC-NHMC research staff indicate that at the moment:

41% of the citizens in Crete, living in NATURA 2000 areas, report that they have never received any information regarding the conservations actions taken regarding their area

only 42% of NATURA 2000 sites inhabitants are aware that the sites are designated as NATURA 2000 and just 4% of them know all designations and the exact protection status of the sites

only 19% of local people know the activities causing loss of the priority habitat and only 28% know the forbidden activities to their site

78% of people living in NATURA 2000 areas require better information provision and publicity regarding NATURA 2000 network

77% of the citizens in East Crete are not aware of the conservation actions implemented in their area.

How will you measure the raising awareness in local communities about the importance of species and habitat protection?

Because the environmental problem addressed is biodiversity loss, the environmental impact of the project is difficult to be measured. Therefore, specific indicators will be developed to assess the change in attitude of the main targeted audiences. In addition, community surveys will be conducted in the 24 Municipalities of Crete. We will use random sampling and self completion questionnaires that will be distributed in public authority buildings in each municipality, as well as through e-mails, fax, the web portal of the project and direct contact, enabling an even geographical coverage. Questionnaire themes will be formulated according to the project objectives. We will apply simple random sampling. Many published tables give the necessary sample size for a specific set of criteria. Such criteria include precision, confidence levels, and variability for a given population size. For each target population, we will choose 5% margin of error, 95% confidence interval, the likelihood that the sample we picked mattered in the results we got, and 50% of response distribution to estimate the number of completed surveys we will require.

What are the main features within the project?

to inform and change the attitude of stakeholders, targeted audiences and the lay public in local societies that the integration of an area in the NATURA 2000 Network is an inhibitory factor for its development

to inform stakeholders, targeted audiences and the lay public in local societies about the ecological significance of the NATURA 2000 Sites for nature conservation and the funding opportunities for green economy for rural areas

to provide targeted audiences with the appropriate skills to engage in biodiversity preservation and value environmental sustainability as a significant avenue for development, with more and better jobs and social protection

to incorporate the obligations those originate from the NATURA 2000 Network in all human activities taking place in non-urban zones. In that state, the regulations resulting from the “Birds” and “Habitats” Directives as well as the most important articles and appropriate guidance documents must be presented to the public in plain words and circulate among stakeholders and target groups as much as possible

to provide guidance to other NATURA 2000 site managers in Greece on how they can develop information and communication strategy to highlight the ecological, social and economic value of ecosystem services.

Could you tell me about the promotional activities of your project?

The environmental campaign includes the production of  printed (booklets, posters, stickers, T-shirts, hats, calendar) and electronic communication materials (documentary, tv spots, radio spots) as well as media work at local level (press articles, press conferences, special editions etc.). A travelling photo exhibition of activities practised by rural people in NATURA 2000 sites in Crete that promote the ecological, social and economic value of ecosystem services will be presented around Crete. A specially designed area in the NHMC’s Exhibition premises, will be dedicated in NATURA 2000 areas of Crete under the name ”NATURA 2000 HALL”. The NATURA 2000 HALL will be provide four interactive information points and it will host educational activities and special events for public. Moreover, a series of information and awaraness activities will be carried out in order to disseminate the project's messages. These activities include the participation of the project in local festivals, the organisation of 24 workshops in all the municipalities of Crete and the organisation of 10 open events in major cities of the island. The promotion of the projects’ main messagges is completed with an Environmental Education Campaign, focused on pupils of primary schools and on the Environmental Education Centers of Crete as well as 7 training seminars addressed to the professionals involved in tourism, to the students of the University of Crete and Technical University of Crete on the subject of environmental communication skills and to the journalist/media employees on the subject of environmental journalism of the island.

Were there any initial problems on the way of project’s realization? If yes, which ones?

No major constraints are anticipated during the implementation of the project. Most of the proposed actions will be carried out by the beneficiaries who have previous experience and the proper scientific and technical staff. Moreover, in some cases the actions will be subcontracted to external partners that have corresponded successfully in deadlines and delivered their work on time in the past. Budgetary problems will be kept into the minimum since most of the material will be produced by the department of editions of the University of Crete and the scientific staff of the NHMC. Distribution of the deliverable products of the project and dissemination of its outputs will be conducted through the existing network of collaborating bodies. Potential problems may arise from bureaucratic procedures or the general economic situation of the country.

What are the results expected at the end of the project? How will they be measured?

The evaluation of the project’s actions and the valorization of its outputs will most probably turn up in the long term. However the participation of the public to its activities, the distribution of its deliverable goods to stakeholders and target groups and the number of decisions and development plans that have taken into account nature conservation in the framework of the NATURA 2000 Site Network will provide a clue about its success and public acceptance. In particular, for the final year of the project the target is to have:

80% of the stakeholders of the NATURA 2000 sites (inhabitants with property within SCIs, farmers, stockbreeders, fishermen, hunters and professionals involved in tourism)

80% of the local and regional authorities (Region of Crete, municipalities, forest services, other related government bodies) as well as specialized scientists (environmental science graduates, architects and engineers in private sector in landscape planning, environmental public officers, public servants, lawyers that work on environmental issues, undergraduates of UoC and Technical University of Crete)

65% of the general public aware of the ecological services, the social benefits and the economic value of the ecosystem services of NATURA 2000 sites in Crete

at least 160 professional involved in tourism, 450 students of the UoC and Technical University of Crete and 40 local journalists trained.

Expected outcomes of the above outputs:

at least 50% of all people of the main target audiences develop a positive conservation behavior

a 30% reduction of the human pressure on fragile mountain and coastal habitats and elimination of human induced mortality of certain priority and protected species.

What is the project’s duration?

The duration of the project is four (4) years. It started on 1st of July 2014 and will last till the end of June 2018. 

Thank you. 

Interview by Sonia Rejnik, chief specialist of the promotion of the project "3xEnvironment".

The "3xEnvironment" support the work of eco-friendly companies from the SME sector. It shows that environmental protection begins with the reduction of accounts, ie saving water, electricity and other resources. Companies can develop methods of such activities during free workshops and using   

the good practice database. The project is co-financed with the participation of European Union financial instrument LIFE + and by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.