The forest that runs along the Nestos River in Greece’s northeastern corner, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, is regaining its former stature. As it regenerates it will once again become a source of life for communities near one of the country’s largest flowing bodies of water.
In the early 20th century, Kotza Orman – the Big Forest – covered 12,000 hectares. By the early 1950s it was down to 7,200 hectares.
Most of it has since gone to waste with only 250 hectares remaining, yet it is still the largest expanse of riverside forest in Greece.
A two-year plan is well underway to protect what remains of the forest, to reinstate its natural vegetation and to promote sustainable tourism in the area. It is due for completion in late 2006.
The project is being funded by the European Union and the Greek Economy Ministry, and is being jointly run by the Kavala forestry authority and the Goulandris Natural History Museum Greek Habitat-Wetland Center.
The first stage includes revising the existing forest management plan; designing a visitor management plan so as to determine recreational activities and deal with problems arising from the pressures of tourism; and conducting a study of the natural vegetation.
A second stage entails putting in new plants and maintenance work on plants and soil, installing an irrigation system, and putting up fences to deter grazing and uncontrolled access to vulnerable parts of the forest.
The final stage involves establishing a management plan to highlight the forest and promote the area as a site of special ecological, aesthetic and recreational interest.
Once these phases are completed, there are plans for a 4.5-hectare environmental park, a simulated forest and an outdoor educational and recreational laboratory where visitors can come into direct contact with all the trees, shrubs and climbing plants in the forest as well as those that have disappeared.
Walking tracks, explanatory signs, info kiosks, out-door activities for children and adults, and service areas will make the park a safe and comfortable place for visitors to get to know the riverside forest and see the need for it to be protected and properly managed.