Dadia National Park, which narrowly escaped destruction by fire in late July, is in theory one of the best protected areas in Greece, as it is home to one of the most important breeding grounds for vultures and other raptors in Europe.
More than 4,500 hectares of forest were covered by fire, of which 2,200 were destroyed in Dadia, in the north of the country, said the Ministry of the Environment.
But according to initial estimates, the nesting areas have been mostly spared.
“Respecting and protecting the environment was and remains a fundamental commitment of our government,” said Environment Minister Costas Skrekas.
But many Greek environmental groups disagree.
Spyros Psaroudas, director of wildlife protection group Callisto, slams a "chronic failure" in nature protection in Greece, saying the conservative government is seeking to create a business-friendly environment at the expense of wildlife.
"There is a lack of coordination between the ministries and a clear allocation of responsibilities (..) all this leads to illegal activities which are never sanctioned", adds Nadia Andreanidou, project manager for the Mediterranean Association for the saving sea turtles (Medasset).
"It's a vicious circle and it leads to poor management of protected areas," she told AFP.
Forestry engineer Dimitris Vasilakis, who helped draft Dadia's operational plan, says the park has only four rangers to patrol 800 km2.
The Soufli Forest Service, which oversees Dadia, receives less than 50,000 euros from the state each year, or a fifth of the forecast, according to Vasilakis.
On the seventh day of the fire, the bill was unexpectedly withdrawn by the government for "further consultation". The text would have authorized additional activities in the protected areas, including roads, tourist sites and electricity storage and telecommunications facilities.
- Law void -
Greece has been repeatedly referred to the European Court of Justice for its failure to protect its natural habitats.
In December 2020, the Court reminded Athens that, by its own admission, the country had protective measures in place for less than 20% of the 240 protected areas.
One of the main omissions, according to environmental groups, is the absence of legal safeguards and regulations governing the Greek part of the European Natura 2000 network - which includes breeding and resting sites for rare species and threatened, protected by European legislation.
Charikleia Minotou, manager of Zante Island's national park program for the protection of Caretta Caretta turtles, run by the Greek section of WWF, says authorities are not responding to "hundreds" of complaints and fines against illegal development.
- Focus on energy -
According to Ms. Minotou, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis is emphasizing the exploration of hydrocarbons. Even before the Russian attack in Ukraine, Greece had reserved exploration sites in the Ionian Sea.
In February, several Cuvier's beaked whales washed up on shore during seismic research in the Ionian Sea. However, the national hydrocarbon management agency has denied that its activities are the cause.
In 2020, Greece created a new national body to manage its parks, the Agency for Natural Environment and Climate Change (Necca). But NGOs deplore being excluded, as well as local authorities.
"We need national parks where local society participates and is democratically represented," criticizes Mr. Psaroudas.