STRYMON RIVER BASIN

The Greek part of Strymonas river basin is located at the north of the region of Central Macedonia and covers an area of 6,472 km2. Strymonas river and Lake Kerkini (artificial lake fed by Strymonas) are the main surface water bodies in the basin, which in turn contribute to the Serres plain with ground water.

The Strymonas-Kekrini "system" constitutes a major national asset, above all a wetland of national importance, particularly for its wealth of natural resources. The water, the fish, the rich soil, the forest, the wild animals and especially the abundance of birds are invaluable natural resources, renewable and sustainable if exploited and managed wisely.

The Strymon project entitled "Ecosystem Based Water Resources Management to Minimize Environmental Impacts from Agriculture Using State of the Art Modelling Tools in Strymonas Basin" innovates with the use of modern tools and methods but also always taking into consideration the human factor. The project aims at the sustainable management of the area and consequently at the conservation of its rare biological wealth.

The project is focused mainly in the department of Strimonas hydrological basin that belongs administratively in the Prefecture of Serres and gives particular accent in the flat region below the contour line of 100m where intense human pressures are practised.

 

KERKINI LAKE

Kerkini is commonly referred to as an artificial lake that functions solely as a reservoir supplying irrigation water to the plain of Serres. The wetland and its values being promoted today are seen as the result of the engineering works, which have been carried out since 1937, to build the embankments and the Strymonas dam. The area is a paradise for birds and people.

What is it that makes Lake Kerkini so special? First, it is the enormous wealth of plant and animal life that led to the lake being designated as a wetland of international importance. Even today it has one of the highest levels of biological diversity among Greek wetlands. The conditions that make such richness possible must be acknowledged in order to be respected and protected. Let us consider them one by one. The lake, which is rather shallow for most of the year, is flanked on the north by low-lying land that is flooded in the spring (due to the absence of embankments, presenting a high interspersion of water and land). This seasonal flooding, together with the silt brought down by the River Strymonas, makes this area very fertile; it is covered with lush vegetation abounding in plant species. These three factors - the diversity and structure of the vegetation together with the water ant the fertile soil- produce a multitude of ecosystems, differing both in structure and function.

They range from the riverine forest, the heart of the wetland, with its willows, tamarisk, alders, plane trees, ash and poplar trees that make an invaluable nesting and breeding ground for aquatic birds and also a refuge for fish, to the impressive carpet of water lilies that covers about 5 sq. km of the lake, en extraordinary extent for European conditions; from the wet meadows that provide rich feeding grounds for herons, spoonbills and glossy ibis, to the shallow waters with Salvinia and water chestnut (the latter is a globally threatened species that provides excellent nourishment for many aquatic birds); and from the sandstrips formed by the river - a superb resting and breeding ground for birds- to the lake's deeper waters, teeming with fish.

This variety of habitats and flora, the abundance of food and the geographical position of Lake Kerkini have combined to make this wetland a paradise for birds, which find there the right conditions to live, breed, feed, winter or stop over on their migratory flights. Of the 244 bird species recorded in and around the lake, 70 are protected by the Directives of the European Union, among them species that are threatened in Europe or worldwide, such as the Dalmatian pelican. Other rare species are the white pelican, pygmy cormorant, night heron, spoonbill, glossy ibis, black stork and all the herons, egrets and bitterns. Most of these species breed in Lake Kerkini, building their nests in colonies in the riverine forest. It is thrilling to see such a wealth and variety of life being born in the flooded forest.

In autumm and winter, when the level of the lake is kept low to prevent flooding, the lake's area is reduced to 4,500-5,000 hectares from the 7,000 hectares it occupies in the spring. Then the bird life, while remaining diverse, changes in composition. Almost all the species that nest in Kerkini in the spring migrate south to warmer climes, and their place is taken by other birds that will winter in the area. Thousands of ducks, grebes, cormorants, pygmy cormorants and Dalmatian pelicans, as well as flamingos, flock to fish in the lake's waters.

Institutional framework for environmental protection of the area

Kerkini Wetland is protected through national, international, and European legislation.

  • International Conventions: Ramsar Convention.
  • European Legislation: Directive 79/409/EEC, Directive 92/43/EEC.
  • National Legislation: Law 1650/1986 "For the protection of the Environment", Law 2742/1999 for "Physical Planning and Sustainable Development", Law 3044/02 for the Establishment of 25 Management Bodies, among which is the Management Body of Kerkini Wetland.

 

uman activities in the broader area of Kerkini Wetland

Social and economic data

The broader area is defined by the administrative borders of the four municipalities of Kerkini, Sidirokastro, Irakleia and Petritsi and one community of Promahonas. Statistical data for the four municipalities show that the population decreased from 39,694 inhabitants in 1991 to 38,624 inhabitants in 2001. The administration area of the 4 municipalities is approximately 92,176.8 ha.

Occupation in the primary sector of economy ensures a relative wellbeing in the area. It could be divided as follows:

Fisheries: Lake Kerkini is one of the most productive lakes in Greece with many commercial species.

Agriculture: Local people cultivate corn, cotton, wheat, alfalfa and tobacco.

Animal husbandry: Local people raise cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits and pigs.

As most of the rural areas of Greece, the broader area of Kerkini Wetland could not be an exception to the movement of inhabitants to bigger cities or even other countries. The villages have less people in each statistical survey, and those that are left are mostly elderly people. However, the local economy started to show positive signs due to the tourism development during the last few years. Small tourism businesses, like hotels, taverns, enterprises offering recreational activities such as guided tours, appeared especially through the EU Community Initiative LEADER. Generally though, the services' sector is only complementary to the income generated by the primary sector of the economy.

An important observation is that in many cases members of the same household practice professionally more than one occupation. For example, someone can be both logger and cattle raiser. This phenomenon takes place quite often at the local level. People are involved professionally with more than one activity in order to supplement their main income. Based on the changes that have taken place to the natural environment and to the management of the natural resources, someone could well argue that some activities turned from main to supplementary occupations or they were replaced by new occupations. For example, fishery used to be the main and unique job but the decline in fish production forces people to be involved with other occupations such as building constructions for example and practice fishery only for leisure. Additionally, logging used to be a main job for many households but nowadays, it is regarded as supplementary job and replaced either by farming and cattle - raising or by other activities.

Tourism infrastructure

The increased tourism development in the area lead to the construction of new lodgings, something that can be seen as a positive sign since Lake Kerkini is evolving to an autonomous tourist destination. Obviously the daily visit in a place can not generate substantial income. The excessive stay of visitors is desired both from hotel owners and other professionals of the area. Actually they prefer less visitors staying longer periods of time, than more visitors staying shorter periods of time.

The accommodation units currently operating in the area include "Oikoperiigitis" in Kerkini village, which can accommodate twelve people in rooms and forty-five people in a guesthouse. In Lithotopos, there is the hotel "Erodios" which can accommodate fiftyfive people. In Vyroneia there is a lodging of fifteen beds and a smaller one exists in Petritsi. In Sidirokastro, operates the hotel "Olympic", while just out of the town there is the hotel of Sidirokastro's spa. In Poroia there is the traditional hostel "Viglatoras" and two really small hotels, "Panorama" and "Belles". Finally in Agkistro, there are two small hotels, "Agkistro" and "Hamam".

The existing accommodation units are not enough to cover the demand, especially during peak times. This increasing demand will probably lead to the construction of new accommodation facilities.

Concerning restaurants, there are around plenty of taverns in the area (officially twentyfive but actually more), with most of them being in Kerkini, Lithotopos and Ano Poroia villages.

Changes in the natural environment

There have been major changes in the local environment at the area of Kerkini most of which are directly related to the building of the new dam in 1982. This was a big project that affected the natural environment a great deal as it allowed the lake's water to reach a maximum level of 36 m above sea level, 4 metres higher than the previous dam. The annual water level range is now 5 metres. This influenced many aspects of the natural landscape. The most important effect was the damage to the riparian forest and the decrease of the aquatic vegetation including large beds of reeds and wet meadows due to the increase at the depth and duration of flooding. During the first years from the new works a large bed of white water lilies grew in the lake covering an area of 325ha.

However, continuous rise of the water's maximum level in the early 90's caused the water lilies to decrease. By mid 90's the area that they covered was no more than 50 to 80ha. The riparian forest was also exposed to water for more time than the trees could cope with. As a result in the 90's the forest area had diminished by more than half, down to 325ha compared to the 700ha that it occupied in the early 80's. Scientists admit that cormorants nesting on the forest also cause some damage to the trees. The above changes have meant large-scale damage to the birds' and fish habitats and have resulted to the reduction of various birds and fish species' populations.

Logging of the forest by residents of the nearby villages has also been mentioned as one of the reasons for the forest decline. Destruction of the lakeside vegetation is also attributed to buffaloes and cattle grazing uncontrollably. Grazing space next to the lake is not enough to support the needs of the big number of sheep and goats present at the Kerkini area, especially during the summer. The result is overgrazing that doesn't allow the re-establishment of reeds and other vegetation and is considered one of the reasons for the declining vegetation.

Hunters also mention that natural habitats for animals have decreased in the mountains due to intensive logging and road building activities.

 

Examples of EKBY's projects in the area

      

  • Integrated application of MedWet methods for inventory, cartography, monitoring, public awareness and training in Kerkini Lake.
  • Concerted actions for the management of Strymonikos coastal zone: establishment and operation of an informal Co-ordination Scheme for the management of the coastal zone of Strymonikos Gulf.
  • Wise use of irrigation water at Ramsar sites: survey of the irrigation water use in the Kerkini area, which showed several options of wise management of water resources that would lead to the preservation of the lake's multiple functions.
  • Ecological studies (Agios Mamas lagoon, Kalamas Delta, Rivers Nestos and Strymonas wetland forests): Collection of data on the ecological conditions with the aim of formulating management proposals.
  • A training project on the wise use of water resources at the area of lake Kerkini.
  • Integrated Management of European Wetlands (IMEW): the accommodation of socio-economic development with the goal of maintaining biodiversity (the Greek pilot site is Kerkini Lake).
  • Special Fund for the Application of Regulatory and Urban Design Plans (Ministry for the Environment): actions for awareness, monitoring and sustainable development in Natura 2000 sites of the catchment of Strymonas River.

 

This page was last updated on 06/12/2007 .