Surface area (ha): 22,484.630

EU protection status:  pSCI GR1150010 Delta Nestou kai limnothalasses Keramotis, evryteri perioxi kai paraktia zoni

In Greece, LIFE PRIMED mainly focuses a pilot area of about 40 ha in the last stretch of the Nestos river. The Nestos River, 234 km long, rises in the Rila Mountains (southern Bulgaria) and flows into the Thracian Sea, forming the natural boundary between the Regions of Macedonia and Thrace, in northeastern Greece. Before it reaches the sea, the main river spreads over the coastal plain of Chrysoupolis where it forms a fan-shaped deltaic system with freshwater lakes and ponds, the Nestos delta. The delta, created by the alluvial deposits of the river, covers an area of about 55,000 ha from the bridge located near the town of Toxotes (northernmost point) to the coast opposite the island of Thassos (southernmost area). The eastern side of the delta reaches the lagoons of Avdira. On the western side, instead, there are nine other lagoons: Vassova, Erateino, Agiasma, Kokkala, Haidefto, Keramoti, Gefyraki, Palaias Koitis of Nestos and Monastiraki. The lagoons are surrounded by extensive salt marshes and are the home of the most productive fish farms in Greece. The nearest cities are Xanthi 16 km to the east, and Kavala, 25 km to the west.

Due to its size and the variety of its habitats, the Nestos Delta is considered one of the most important wetlands in Greece and Europe. A significant characteristic of the area is the riparian forest known as "Koca Orman" (Great Forest), one of the largest of its type in the Mediterranean basin which, although it has been reduced from 12,000 hectares in 1920 to just 2,000 (60 ha have been reforested thanks to another Life Natura project "LIFE NESTOS - LIFE02 NAT/GR/008489"), it remains the largest of all natural riparian forests in Greece. However, at the current status, the forest is affected by several pressures and threats, including lack of water resource management, climate change, expansion of agricultural activities, species disturbance by various human activities, and the degradation of key habitats, such as Mediterranean temporary ponds (habitat 3170*). 

The Project offers the opportunity to apply a set of management and restoration actions to halt the decline of this peculiar Mediterranean coastal ecosystem. The "Nestos Delta" is a pilot area where the project will test the effectiveness of concrete conservation measures, including forestry and hydraulic works, to propose an integrated approach of promoting the recovery and long-term conservation of similar ecosystems in other geographical contexts. 

Scientific description of project area:

According to the Monitoring Report for Terrestrial Habitats in the Nestos area are present 28 habitat types (1020, 1021, 1030, 1061, 1150*, 1210, 1310, 1410, 1420, 1440, 2110, 2120, 2190, 2220, 3130, 3150, 3170*, 3190, 3280, 5330, 62A0, 6420, 72A0, 91E0*, 91F0, 92A0, 92D0, 924A). The Nestos Delta also hosts 307 different bird species, 34 of which are endangered and strictly protected raptors. Rare vegetation found there is also important, as are the riverine forests and many species of mammals, reptiles and insects.

The project activities of LIFE PRIMED focus two priority habitat types listed in the Annex I of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC: 

- 'Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior' (habitat 91E0*). An alluvial forest occuring along both banks of the Nestos river, growing on and between the embankments, and covers a total area of about 500 ha. The dominant tree species are Fraxinus excelsior and Alnus glutinosa, but also Fraxinus angustifolia, Salix alba, Populus alba, Populus nigra, Juglans regia, Cornus sanguinea, Quercus robur subsp. pedunculiflora and Ulmus minor subsp. canescens occur. They grow on heavy alluvial soils and the lower-lying areas are periodically inundated by the rise of the river. There is a profusion of climbing plants (Periploca graeca, and others) and the herbaceous layer invariably includes many species. 

- 'Mediterranean temporary ponds' (habitat 3170*). Standing freshwater bodies existing on periodically flooded (winter) and very shallow (a few centimetres) soil depressions. This habitat type appears in two different clusters of 4 ponds each, to the west (highly degraded) and to east of the river, near the village of Keramoti, occupying a very small total surface area (0.05 hectares).

In addition, the site hosts also other habitats or vegetation formations that are rare or threatened in Greece, such as:

- 'Riparian mixed forests of Quercus robur, Ulmus laevis and Ulmus minor, Fraxinus excelsior or Fraxinus angustifolia, along the great rivers (Ulmenion minoris)' (habitat 91F0). They are one of the most important vegetation types covering some 66 ha. They occur on the embankments, in the fenced part of the riparian forest. They develop on soils with low moisture, rarely flooding and very fertile. Dominant species are Querqus robur, Ulmus minor, Fraxinus angustifolia and F. excelsior, mixed with Populus and Alnus. This vegetation type is characterised by a profusion of climbing plants.

- Riparian curtain-like forests with willows-poplars. From the Toxotes barrage to the estuary, on sandy or sandy-clay soils along the riverbanks, dense vegetation of Populus alba and Salix alba with Typha stands cover 690 ha.

- Galleries with Salix alba and Populus alba. This vegetation type is dominated by Salix alba, S. fragilis and Populus sp., with Fraxinus sp. in areas not waterlogged throughout the year, and includes many climbing plants. It is tolerant to inundation by running water and occupies around 470 ha.

- Mediterranean riparian gallery and thickets. This type of vegetation appears inland of the low halophytic vegetation. It is poor in species due to the adverse soil conditions (high water level or permanent inundation and high soil salinity), and dominated by Nerium oleander, Vitex agnus-castus and Tamarix sp.

- Annual vegetation on silty riverbanks. Annual herbs growing on muddy substrate rich in nitrogen (Isoeto-Nanojuncetea) appear in patches and cover a very small area.

- Reedbeds. Beds of Arundo and Typha develop on standing or slow-flowing waters, and also on very wet soils, covering an area of some 2.7 ha.

- Xeric meadows of Eastern Mediterranean. Festuco-Brometalia meadows develop on sandy islets mostly in the northern part of the river and in former riverbeds (c. 60 ha). They host many species, including orchids at wet locations protected from intense grazing.

- Mediterranean meadows with high grass and bulrush. Wet meadows with herbaceous plants, characterized by the occurrence of Erianthus ravennae. They appear on clay or sandy-clay soils created by river sedimentation, covering some 170 ha, mostly along former riverbeds where salinity is high.

- Embryonic shifting dunes (2110), Humid dune slacks (2190), Dunes with Euphorbia terracina (2220).

- Halophytic vegetation of sandy and coastal areas. Formations of annual and perennial plants.

- (Arthrocnemetalia fructicosae) colonising sandy and muddy areas, which are periodically flooded by the sea. They have a patchy distribution covering 2.75 ha.

The riparian forest is the largest of its kind in Greece, supporting a wealth of fauna species, many of which are rare and threatened in other parts of the country. A total of 13 species of large mammals have been recorded, including Sus scrofa, Weasel, Martes foina, Meles meles and Felis sylvestris. Six of these are listed in the Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates of Greece as endangered. Lutra lutra is included in Annex ΙΙ of the Directive 92/43/EEC. The Nestos Delta and nearby Lake Vistonida hold the highest density of Canis aureus in Greece, a species that has severely declined after the 1970s, and now occurs in seven disconnected sub-populations.

The Nestos Delta is very important from an ornithological point of view because of its great area and variety of habitat types, as well as for being a significant part of the wetland chain in northern Greece, extending from the Aliakmonas-Axios complex to the Evros Delta. About 280 bird species have been recorded as nesting, overwintering or migrating through the area. Most of these species are protected by national, European and international legislation. A large number is included in the Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates of Greece and 103 species are listed under the Bern Convention, out of which 75 are included in Directive 2009/149/EC. Species of Global conservation concern include Anser erythropus, Aythya nyroca, Aquila clanga, Aquila heliaca, Haliaaetus albicilla, Falco naumanni, Pelecanus crispus, Branta ruficolis, Larus audouinii, Galinago media. Species with unfavourable conservation status in Europe include Charadrius alexandrinus, Vanellus spinosus, Glareola pratincola, Accipiter brevipes, Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Ciconia ciconia, Lanius minor, Lanius nubicus.

The Nestos Delta hosts the last pure wild population of Black-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus colchicus in Europe, a remnant closely related to wild populations in its natural range in central Asia. Phasianus c. colchicus is listed in the Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates of Greece as Critically Endangered and the population is estimated at 100-250 individuals. Threats include illegal hunting, loss of habitat through expansion of agricultural activities and overgrazing, as well as loss of openings in woody vegetation because of the increase of shrubs and herbaceous plants. The southern group of temporary ponds falls within a high-density area of Pheasants, and they have been frequently observed around the ponds. Possibly they are dependent on the ponds for drinking, foraging and may even use them as display grounds. Even though the project actions will not immediately target this species, it is expected that the improvement of the pond habitat, as well as the clearing of shrubs will have a beneficial impact on their population. The information activities will also support conservation of this species.

Reptilee and amphibian fauna is very rich, with 11 species of amphibians and 22 of reptiles present in hte area. Species of Annex ΙΙ of the Directive 92/43/EEC include Testudo graeca, Eurotestudo hermanni, Emys orbicularis, Elaphe quatuorlineata, Elaphe situla and Bombina bombina. Emys orbicularis, which is in part dependent on the temporary pond habitat, is classified as Near Threatened both at Mediterranean level (IUCN) and in the Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates of Greece. Eurotestudo hermanni is classified as Near Threatened in the Mediterranean region (IUCN) and Vulnerable in the Greek in the Red Data Book.

21 freshwater fish species occur in River Nestos some of which are protected by national and international legislation. Fourteen species are autochthonous and 6 are endemic. Among them, the Aegean Minnow, Phoxinus strymonicus, is classified in the Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates of Greece as Endangered. Another 36 euryhaline and marine fish species have been identified in the lagoons and the river estuary.  



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