Evros Delta & Dadias Forest - An unforgettable experience
by George J. Reclos, John G. Reclos, Christine Hatzidakis & Eva Stets - Vithoulka
The Evros Delta is internationally acknowledged as an ecological important area. The diversity of life forms that hosts, its importance for the migratory journey of numerous birds, the dynamic evolution of its habitats, the goods that offers to humans and the legends and traditions that were born here have to be protected and granted to the future generations. The conservation of Evros Delta is of vital importance for the wildlife that call it "home".
The Evros Delta remained unchanged during the first half of the 20th century. Up until the middle of the 20 th century, which means before the construction of major dykes and the operation of pumping stations, large areas of the delta were flooded. The cycle of erosion and deposition among the sea, river and land as well as the action of marine waves at the coast have contributed to the topology of Evros delta, which continues to be a dynamic and evolutionary ecosystem. This natural cycle has been recently modified because of human interventions at the river's basin.
Dams, channels, ditches and flood-prevention as well as irrigation works were constructed in Evros Delta between 1950 and 1980 in order to expand the land area available for cultivation. These human interventions decreased the fresh water supply, limited its access into the delta area and also contributed to the invasion of salt water into the inner areas of the delta.
After the completion of the abovementioned works, the largest parts of marshes and wetlands were drained and large quantities of fresh water were channeled directly into the sea. During subsequent years, extensive drainage works took place in the area and there was an effort to "control" the Evros River flow through the use of dykes and new channels. These works led to the shrinkage and disappearance of important habitats and species. The fall of the ground water level resulted in the invasion of the sea inside the southern delta either through channels or through sandy areas. The efforts to drain the delta did not manage to create new productive agricultural land, mainly because of the increased salinity levels of the ground in the south-western delta.
In 1987, local people (mainly farmers) closed the entrance of Drana lagoon because they believed that the lagoon was responsible for the increased salinity of the cultivated soils. This action led to the degradation of the lagoon's habitat. Fish and colonies of bird species that were breeding by the lagoon's islets disappeared. The drainage of Drana lagoon did not have any significant benefit for local farmers and the delta lost an important habitat and an equally important wealth-producing fish source (vivarium). More than 10 years later, the local society and the Prefecture of Evros decided to restore Drana lagoon by implementing a Life - Nature project.
The Visitor Centre of Evros Delta in Traianoupoli opened in September of 1997. Its aims are to promote the protection of nature in the Evros Delta, ecotourism and public awareness of the ecological values of Evros Delta.
Its operation is going to be funded until June 2005 by the LIFE - Nature project which aims to restore and manage Drana Lagoon, one of the most important habitats in Evros Delta.
The Visitor Centre operates daily including weekends so that the public can be informed about the Evros Delta, the Life-Nature project as well as the organisation and planning of educational visits and tours in the wetland. Guided tours are given in collaboration with the "Association for the Protection and Promotion of Evros Delta" which offers vehicles for the transportation of visitors.
In particular, visitors can be informed about wetland functions and values and, more specifically, about Evros Delta through organised tours and lectures provided by experts. They can select a guided tour in the Eastern Delta, which can also be combined with boat tours in the river from April to October. Moreover, visitors can visit the western part of the Delta up to a certain point by car and then continue their trip on foot.
Nevertheless, the awareness activities and the tours are not the only activities that the Visitor Centre provides.
A brief description of the centre's activities is indicated below:
Care of birds
Many citizens ask for help at the Visitor Centre when they find a wounded bird. They know that there is a trained staff that can offer first aid to wounded or weak birds, which are released back to their habitats after their recovery. In the event those birds have serious injuries, they are sent to special wild animal clinics for intensive care.
Supplementary food for Delta's birds during the winter
When the weather conditions are hard and the lagoons and fresh water channels in the delta freeze, there is a shortage of food sources for the aquatic birds of the delta. The Life-Nature staff provide supplementary food for the birds in addition to the contributions of the local companies and individuals who offer cereals.
Participation in the local events
The personnel in the Visitor Centre are continuously in contact with the local stakeholders, residents and users of the wetland by providing public awareness activities in order to promote the LIFE-Nature actions and aims. At the same time, the Centre collaborates with the cultural associations of the neighbouring villages and Alexandroupoli. Additionally, the personnel participate by distributing publicity material at the local feasts and events, such as the Festival of Traditional Dances of Anthia, the Book Exhibition and other events that take place every summer in Alexandroupoli, etc.
Organization of events
In addition to its participation in local events, the Visitor Centre organizes events on special days such as the European Bird Fair day, the Wetlands Day, Green Week, etc. The project includes activities and educational games for children as well as free guided tours of the wetland.
Surveillance of area - control of illegal activities
The Life - Nature project staff that is based in the Visitor Centre patrol the site daily and inform the visitors about the site's protection. In addition, they work to avoid contraventions in the site.
Actions for the protection of the environment
The Life - Nature project staff based at the Visitor Centre participate in actions for the protection of the natural environment, such as the plantation of new trees and collection of litter. Student volunteers often participate in these actions, e.g. WWF volunteers.
Scientific monitoring of biotic - abiotic elements in Evros Delta
The Life-Nature personnel keep current databases and information concerning several biotic and abiotic parameters.
Our visit there (August 19, 2005)
Travelling to Evros Delta and Dadias forest is not as easy as it sounds. Evros prefecture is the most distant one (if you live in Athens) the distance being about 900 Km. Thus, you need to plan ahead and make sure you really want to go there. If you do, then you have to allow 10 hours of driving to get there (making stops for refuelling and coffee). The road is good (with a notable exception at the Malliakos gulf) and the landscape very beautiful. For those of you living abroad, there are some direct flights to Alexandroupolis, the capital of Evros prefecture, which is a very reasonable and relaxing way to start your visit there. The reasons we decided to make this trip instead of visiting one of the Greek islands were many. First, we have seen most of the islands so we were looking for something different. Second, we wanted to see and - if possible - photograph, the preservation park and the Delta which is the biotope of many species, found nowhere else in Greece (and not only). Third, Eva had recently relocated there from Athens, so it was a good opportunity to see her again. The short duration of our stay there didn't allow us to pay a visit to Thanassis, in Drama, but this will be another trip. Conclusively, it is a visit highly recommended to everybody who loves nature. We hope you will enjoy our photo tour.
When you visit the Visitor Centre of Evros Delta you will be nicely surprised by the aesthetics and the wealth of information which is available. It is really nice to know that the people there appreciate you and the distance you have travelled to get there. If you arrive there with an off road vehicle, you can use it for your tour in the Delta, otherwise the centre will get you one of its own, along with a guide. I don't know if you will get the same guy we did, but if you do, you are in safe hands. There was hardly a question that he didn't have an answer to. It should be noted that most of the information is available in English, too, which means that international visitors will get the same kind of information we did. Moreover, most of the people there speak fluent English and will be more than happy to help you. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
John, Christine and Andreas Athanassiadis talking about the Evros Delta. We learned an awful lot from him about what is actually going on and we were really disappointed by what is not going on. It seems that these people are left alone to save whatever possible while the State is doing as little as possible. Our visit in this center allowed us to see with our own eyes the results of their efforts. An aesthetically pleasing environment with plenty of information with hints on what can be (still) done to save this place along with chronicles of disasters that happened simply because people don't want to comply with simple rules. The information material which was handed over to us upon our arrival there was of excellent quality, very informative and reflects the love and efforts of everybody working there. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
A collection of items which will remind you of your visit in the Evros delta. Very nice, carefully selected and reasonably priced. You guessed right - we got many of these souvenirs. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
A collection of articles and newspaper referrals to the Evros delta. Mostly in Greek but English speaking people will not get disappointed. The presentation is excellent and the point it taken on the spot. They need your voice and your help. Speak for what you see and tell more and more people about the work which is going on there. This is - perhaps - the best (if not the only) way to make sure that enough funds for their work is allocated. In short: share their vision about this part of Europe. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
A very interesting series of drawings showing the different biotopes and their importance in the food chain. It was really a pity to learn that human intervention resulted (once more) in breaking this chain, despite the efforts of the people at the Visitor Center. Sometimes it seems that the really important issues are just left to chance while we deal with the trivial things. The only drawback is that, in most cases, the disaster is irreversible. The most important thing to be learned there is that humans can also benefit from the Evros Delta if their intervention is not a monument of anarchy but the result of a carefully planned procedure under the surveillance of those who know. Moreover, ecotourism may become the source of an extra income to them, which, apart from being welcomed, will collect funds to make this project self sustained. After all, you can't rely on WWF money for ever, so this kind of project makes much sense. However, as with all simple plans, there are a lot of things which don't fit in the picture. People must be educated carefully, the plan must be applied in a slow and programmed way and - most important - the support f the locals is essential for its success. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
In the left photo a Little egret (Egretta garzetta) is shown, which was the very first bird to see in the Evros Delta. Photos by John Reclos/MCH
The whole team.. except Christine who is holding the camera of course. Tassos (our invaluable and knowledgeable guide), John, Eva and George at the Evros Delta. In the photo at right only the Nikon users are shown.. (racists !). Photos by C. Hatzidakis/MCH
What else could we ask for? Excellent weather, a good guide and a fantastic biotope to explore. Normally, one would need days - if not weeks - to see this place carefully and spot the different species which inhabit it. Naturally, we were only able to see the most "exposed" or "familiarized" species during our short tour there. The nice weather helped a lot since the light was nice and we had a very good visibility. No wonder we came back with more than 1.000 photos. Photos by C. Hatzidakis/MCH
Left: Phalacrocorax carbo (common name : Cormorant); Right: Platalea leukorodia (common name: Spoonbill). Photos: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Right: Birds were not the only creatures we met at this place. The bird above is a rare Hoplopterus spinosus (common name: Spur- winged Plover). Frogs are an essential part of the diet of many birds. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Two Pelecanus onocrotalus (common name: White Pelican) take off. The sight of them flying or feeding is breathtaking indeed. Although pelicans are not exotic birds, there aren't many places where you can see them at large. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
As if the great variety of birds in their natural habitat was not enough, the Evros Delta offered more. In this picture you can see some wild horses coming to drink water. These horses will not tolerate the presence of humans and will vanish if you try to approach them. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
A Pelecanus crispus (common name: Dalmatian pelican) swims in a lagoon at the Evros delta. A fairly large population of pelicans was there during our visit. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Two Ergetta garzetta (common name: Little erget) take off. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Christine, our driver.. We are not sure that driving 2.500 Km in four days was her idea for good vacations but she did have a nice time and took some great shots, too. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
No matter where you look at, there is always something to see. Birds are found on stones, in the vegetation, in the water or in the air. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Cows were also there. Walking among the birds which were used to their presence.. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
A touch of luxury. Thanks to Christos, of course. Christine made good use of that pool in the very early hours of the day.. (before sunrise of course !). Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
August's full moon was also there adding the romantic element. Making our excellent nights unforgettable. Alexandroupolis is a fairly large, modern city, which becomes much more appealing at night. Photos: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Christine is swimming in the pool, John is sleeping and I am at the seaside ready to capture the sunrise. Yes, we did wake up very early every day - you can't have them all done your way. Every day, when we got back at the hotel, we were too tired but this didn't stop us from waking up early next morning. Although some of us had serious doubts about the usefulness of this decision (Johnny) we were still on time... Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
The Dadias forest (actually it is the Dadia - Leukimi - Soufli forest). is located in the Evros prefecture (Macedonia - Thrace region) very close to the borders with Bulgaria and Turkey. It is one of the most important biotopes in Europe but it is also one of the best organized areas of Greece.
The Dadia region is a characteristic example of a Mediterranean ecosystem which has been evolved through the mild coexistence of man and nature for many centuries. Vegetation consists mainly of pine and oak trees. The forest is frequently interrupted by open spaces and agriculture areas.
This landascape mosaic makes up for an ideal biotope for raptors. In this area, 36 out of the 38 European predatory birds are found, some of them very rare like the imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) and the Lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina). It is a unique area hosting many different species of predatory birds and - most of all - the three (out of four) species of European vultures (Aegypius monachus, Neophron percnopterus, Gypaetus barbatus).
Of all the species encountered in this forest, the black vulture (A. monachus) is the highlight of this forest (and its "flag" as you can see in the icon above). In this forest, the black vulture retains the only reproducing colony in Greece and the Balkan States and one of the last in Europe. Its population in Dadia forest is about 90-100 individuals with 20-22 reproducing pairs among them. The birds are offered supplement food once in a while but not enough to sustain them since the aim is to exercise their normal "hunting" habits. In the near future, there will be two more feeding areas (now there is only one) so the animals will have to search for their food over the whole forest.
The Dadia - Leukimi - Soufli area whose altitude ranges from 10 to 650 meters is a nature conservation forest since 1980 following a Common Ministerial Decision. It is also included in the Greek list Natura 2000, while it is one of the 27 protected areas in Greece for which a special Organization has been formed. When the legal process - which is pending for years - is completed, this area will be named a National Park.
The total area of the region which has been included in the Natura 2000 network is 43.000 acres in which two "high protection areas" with a total area of 7.290 acres will be formed according to the Ministerial decision. Those areas are marked with a red line in the map above.
The Dadia - Leukimi - Soufli forest includes two municipalities (Soufli, Tychero) with 11.000 inhabitants, mainly dealing with agriculture, cattle breeding, forestry (mainly timber) and ecotourism. Those areas are shown in dark yellow in the map. The altitude of the whole area is shown in color ranging from a minimum of 3 meters (green) to a maximum of 651 meters. The bar at the left of the map shows the color index. Blue lines show the rives that cross the forest. Two dams are being built in the area, which will offer the animals a constant supply of water.
Our visit there (August 20, 2005)
Dadia forest is located about 60 Km from Alexandroupolis, which means less than one hour of driving. The road is very good and the landscape very beautiful. Heavy clouds were on the sky since early morning and it was obvious that rain was about to come. Indeed it came, almost at the time we reached the forest but this didn't affect us at all since we had read the weather forecast before we left Athens so we were fully equipped (rain coats, umbrellas for the cameras, waterproof cases, boots for the mud etc.). Upon our arrival, we watched a video shot in place, showing the predatory birds in action. The presentation was really informative while the quality of the video was very high. The video tape is also on sale in the nearby souvenir shop and should be on your shopping list, especially if you don't plan to visit this place often. The video presentation showed us the habits of a great number of species which live in the area while the (excellent) narration helped us understand a lot of things about those birds as well as the difficulties and problems those people had to face and resolve in order to make this place a safer place for the birds. The main goal of this institution is not only to preserve the species which live in the area but to provide them with the best possible conditions for their survival and reproduction - which remains the ultimate target. They have come up with lots of solutions, always having in mind that the thing which must be preserved at all costs is the wild nature of the birds. Making them pets is not what they are after and we fully support their view. They are quite skillful and they get help from WWF which has a lot of experience from similar projects in other places. The progress made here during the last decades shows, beyond any doubt, that they are on the right track. The birds seem to thrive here and the number of reproductive pairs gets higher as time passes by. At any account, watching an eagle hunting is a sight you will remember for a long time. I had read about the way they hunt turtles for instance but when I saw the video presentation I understood that what I knew was a tiny fraction of what really takes place in the wild. Watching this magnificent animal grabbing the turtle, rising higher and higher and then dropping it was what I expected to see. What I didn't expect was to see that the eagle will then dive after the falling turtle because it doesn't want to lose it when it hits the ground. I only wish that we could share this video with you.
Last, but not least, it should be noted that this project is financially supported by EU, WWF and - to a much lesser degree - by the Prefecture of Evros. We all felt we should congratulate the people there for the fantastic work they have been doing and wish them a bright future. Hopefully, new grants will be allocated for this project in the near future since it would be a pity to stop it midway. After some discussions with the people there, it became obvious that a very important factor for the success of this project is the contribution and support they get from the inhabitants of the nearby villages and towns. At first, they didn't really cooperate as all this seemed strange and unfamiliar to them but later, when they realized that when well organized this project may even have a financial interest to them they became part of it. This is better proven by the fact that, although the area out of the Dadia preservation forest is used by many bird hunters, the number of predatory birds accidentally killed during the last five years is practically zero. This fact is known to the people working in the Evros delta and they hope they will be able to build something similar for the protection of the delta, too.
As far as the place itself is concerned, we would like to inform you that it is very well organized, the facilities are really nicely built and functional, the stuff is willing to serve your every need and they do it with a smile. The bird observatory is strategically located, very well maintained and clean. You can use binoculars and telescopes for the observation of the birds (supplied in situ at no charge). A stuff member will readily give you any information you need about the birds you see and their habits. Walking through the forest is a really nice experience while the dense vegetation and the variety of life you can see will reward you in many ways. If you are a photographer, you should be prepared both for long shots as well as for macro photography. In short, I would recommend one long lens (400 - 600 mm), a mid range zoom lens (70-210 mm), a wide angle zoom (12-24 mm) and the macro lens of your choice, along with a sturdy tripod and a flash unit.
The photos shown here were taken at the bird observatory overlooking the feeding place of the vultures. Left: You can see the black vulture with the wings extended on top of the tree surrounded by other vultures (not all of the same species). Since those photos were taken from the bird observatory which was located 600 m away from their feeding place, a long telephoto was needed to capture those pictures. The hazy atmosphere (because of the morning rain) didn't allow for much detail though. You can also see another species flying in the open space between the trees in the photo at right. Photos by John Reclos/MCH
One more shot of the resting (or drying) vulture. Photo by John Reclos/MCH
After spending some time in the bird observatory we decided not to wait for the bus to take us back to the starting point, but to get down there on foot. A very wise decision since we were able to see a lot more and enjoy the magnificent forest. In this photo you can see the remainders of a turtle. Since turtles are hunted by foxes as well as eagles, nobody knows who killed this one. Photo by John Reclos/MCH
The Hirundo rustica (common name: swallows) didn't refuse the offer. They used these overhangs (specially designed for them) to build their nests in the safety of the main office at Dadia forest. You can see the droplets on the head of this swallow - it was already raining when we arrived there so all of them were literally grounded. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
If you decide to travel all the way to the Dadia forest, you probably do it for the birds. However, as you walk through the dense vegetation you will come across interesting plants, reptiles and insects. All you have to do is to walk slowly, make as less noise as possible and have your eyes open (and your camera powered up). Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
A vulture (right) and a falcon (left) enjoy their flight over the Dadia forest. It was rainy in the morning and, as soon as the sun came out, they got up for a ride. While enjoying your walk in the forest you can always turn your head up and enjoy these rare moments. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Left: Eva, John and George resting at the headquarters at Dadia Forest. Nicely built, with plenty of space and a very nice view. There is also a souvenir shop with some nice books, T-shirts and the alike. If you prefer to stay close to the forest, you can always make an arrangement to book one of the rooms in this complex (right photo). Photos by C. Hatzidakis/MCH
A nice shot taken during our walk through the forest. You can see the pine trees which are the common tree found there, although definitely not the only one. The path to the headquarters is marked by yellow fluorescent paint on the trees. Photo by Eva Stets /MCH (scanned from prints)
George and Christine at the cafe (with the Nikons resting on the table) at left; George and Johnny taking one more photo - at right. Photos by Eva Stets. (scanned from prints)
Driving in the nearby area we came across a small pond which was built next to a dry river. Although there was no water in the river, the pond was full. The frogs occupied every inch of it, sometimes sun bathing as you can see in those photos. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Apart from the large suitcase the rest is photo equipment. This was one of the main reasons we decided to drive there instead of flying. Having your own car has a huge advantage.. you can take all your gear with you - so if you need something it is there. Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Photo: G. J. Reclos/MCH
Minutes before we left Alexandroupolis, we decided to take a short tour visiting a nearby river.. A very nice decision since this was a quite place with dense vegetation just 20 meters from the road. During our very short visit there we were able to spot two species of lizards and two species of fish (one of them being a characin - like fish). If only we had some time to walk down the river. From left to right: Eva, Christine, John and Christos.
Acknowledgements: This short trip would never be as successful as it was if some people didn't help us by organizing a great number of things well before our arrival. This article is dedicated to all of them and we hope to see them soon in their "natural habitat". First comes Christos Vithoulkas who arranged almost everything for us in advance. However his strongest point is the endless inspiration and first class humor (lots of it). Then come Andreas Athanassiadis and Anastasios Anastasiadis for being an invaluable source of information about the Evros Delta as well as spending a great deal of their time to make our tour an unforgettable experience. Last - but not least - comes Costas Pistolas who made the necessary arrangements for our visit to the Dadias forest. We hope to see you all again in the very near future.
Further reading / contacts :
http://www.evros-delta.gr/indexafterengl.htm (in English)
http://www.wwf.gr/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=75&Itemid=119 (in Greek)
Δ. Καρακούσης "Εβρος: Τουριστικός - Ιστορικός & Αρχαιολογικός Οδηγός", Εκδόσεις "Δημοσυναιτεριστική Α.Ε.", 2001.
Δ. Καρακούσης "Εβρος: Ο φιλόξενος νομός - η πύλη της Ευρώπης"
Νίκος Πέτρου "Δαδιά", Εκδόσεις "ΚΟΑΝ / Βιβλία του κόσμου", 2003.
"Οδηγός Πουλιών για το Δέλτα Εβρου", Εκδόσεις Αναπτυξιακής Εταιρείας Εβρου.
Ενημερωτικό υλικό του Κέντρου Πληροφόρησης Δέλτα Εβρου