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Greece leads the way to roadless protection

Construction or extension of roads and other ‘artificial interventions’ has been banned across large areas in an Untrodden Mountains initiative announced by Prime Minister Kryiakos Mitsotakis. 

This will cover six areas under Natura 2000 designation across Greece, totalling some 97,000 hectares. 

Of course nobody disputes the overall value of roads, but ever denser networks in Europe are a key factor behind landscape degradation and biodiversity loss: causing direct mortality, fragmenting habitat and often promoting its deterioration, disturbing wildlife, encouraging invasive species and undermining tourist experience.

Roadless areas are thus a central element of the wilderness agenda, reflected in Wild Europe’s wilderness definition. Whilst Untrodden Mountains permits upkeep of existing structures, and retains focus on safety and fire management, it is a pioneering step forward for conservation and address of climate change.

Taming the tarmac hydra

Tymfi Mountains roadless area supports Balkan chamois, Egyptian vulture and golden eagle

The six roadless areas so far chosen, with boundaries defined to within 1 km of existing roads, include:

Lefka Ori Mountains – 38,000 hectares in Western Rhodes

Saos Mountain – 9,700 has on the Isle of Samothrace, NE Aegean

Tymfi Mountains – 20,000 has in the Pindus range, NW Greece

Smolikas Mountain, 10,000 has also in NW Greece

Taygatos mountains – 14,000 has, with heavily forested slopes, in Southern Greece

Hatzi – 4,500 has in central Greece

Studies of the Balkan chamois in the biodiversity rich Tymfi mountains form part of a growing focus on the benefits of retaining – and where feasible restoring – roadless areas as a cost-effective protection measure.  

Smolikas Mountain roadless area in North West Greece

Economic benefits – an unexpected bonus

There is an often-overlooked paradox that roadless areas can offer significant extra economic benefit to neighbouring communities and landholders.

By facilitating protection from habitat degradation they enable provision and maintenance of financially valuable ecosystem services on a large scale (carbon sequestration & storage, flood mitigation in upland watersheds and lowland sinks). They can also enhance ongoing earnings and employment from ecotourism often associated with the enriched biodiversity of large undisturbed areas. 

This impact is particularly effective where traditional agriculture and forestry is economically marginal, and sustainable livelihoods are under pressure. The effect can be further enhanced in remoter areas where the ‘economic multiplier’ (income recycling with repeated benefits for the local economy) is often disproportionately high. 

Roadless Saos Mountain, Samothrace Island, Thrace

Roadlessness – the way ahead

The importance of roadlessness is already widely appreciated in the US. Some 30% of National Forest lands are cited as roadless, with a Roadless Area Conservation Rule adopted by the Forest Service in 2001.

Greece is the first country in Europe to promote a roadless policy. It so far covers 0.74% of national territory, with a further 4.7% undesignated but located more than one kilometre radius from existing roads. “We hope this important initiative will continue in Greece and encourage other European countries” said John Piccolo, Chairman of the Society for Conservation Biology (Europe Section), a key participant along with the University of Ioannina. 

It is also hoped the measure can come to have application in the context of ‘strict protection’ stipulations from the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.