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Dr Luc Hoffman and some Greek scientists, Thymios Papayiannis, a conservationist, Myrsini Malakou and Dr Giorgos Catsadorakis, biologists, worked hard to save this wonderful land and give life a chance to marvel. They cooperated with WWF and other international organisations and founded the Greek WWF and the SPP – Society for the Protection of Prespa in 1991. They have succeeded a miracle! Thousands of birds have come back and made these serene wetlands their home. Them and a group of other dedicated greek and foreign scientists have been working for many years.
This year the international Goldman Prize was given to Myrsini Malakou and Dr Giorgos Catsadorakis for the extraordinary results!
It all started , as early as 1953, when Dr Luc Hoffman visited the Prespa lakes and got impassioned with the idea of saving the area . There were a lot of things to be done but the most difficult was to stop ugly construction which would destroy the wetlands completely. They had to bring water buffaloes to regulate the grow of reeds, after they had cut a lot of them and treated the area themselves. Millions of hours were spent on research and hand working. They recently built a new sluice system to regulate the flow of the water from the Small ( Mikri)to the Great Prespa (Megali). The two lakes together with Ochrid lake have an altitude difference so people had long before built sluice gates to hold the water. But the old system had become obsolete and the surface of Mikri Prespa has lowered by 7-8 meters in the last 25 years, so they had to build a new one.
They have conducted long research on the life and habits of all species in the lake, especially those which are in danger of extinction, such as the Dalmatian Pelican, the Great White Pelican, some subspecies of trout, the endemic Prespa Barbel, the Pygmy Cormorant and Lesser-White fronted Goose.
If names mean nothing to you, think about them as wonderful big birds flying proudly over the romantic wetland, bringing back food for the little open mouths waiting in their safe nest among the reeds.
The people of SPP help in any way they can. They inform, teach and train local people so that they can carry on their good work and save the nature. Farming is mostly organic and local products are promoted. This gives young locals a chance and a motive to stay in their place and work for it.
When they started, they had to work on a land which was abandoned, remote and depopulated. Reeds, not used any more in every day life of local population, had expanded too much and destroyed the wetlands. Also people saw them with a suspicious eye at first. Soon SPP convinced them of their good will and honest intentions and got them to cooperate. The first positive results appeared in 1996.
In 2000 they managed to establish Prespa Park in which all three neighbouring countries participated. In 2001 they managed to get LIFE-Nature2002 project approved by the European Community.
There is a lot more to be done but now it's easier since the good results are so obvious and tourists have begun to discover this paradise. I can imagine the joy of a fanatic birdwatcher!!!
The aim of SPP is defined by them as this: “The mission of the Society for the Protection of Prespa is to maintain and strengthen the relationship between people and nature in the region and to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of Prespa for the benefit of its inhabitants and all those interested and concerned, today and in the future.” It means they also work for the promotion of friendship and cooperation of the people of the three countries! I hope they go on for ever!!!
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Updated Apr 4, 2011
This tiny island in the middle of Mikri Prespa is the center of very important activities. First of all it is surrounded by the wonderful wetlands that were the excellent ecological result of local and international combined efforts to save and protect this fragile haven of so many species of birds and other animals and insects, some of them unique and many in danger of extinction. Today you can enjoy the magnificent, serene and healthy landscape with all your senses. As you are walking along the floating bridge that connects the island to the mainland you can feel the “miracle”. Thousands of birds live in the wetlands and a melody of all kinds of duck quacking and bird singing fill the clean, transparent atmosphere, joining thus to the celebration of nature in this precious remote corner of Greece!
The island attracts a lot of local population because it offers the best views of the surrounding lake reedlands and islets. Some climb on the small hill just in front of the bridge entrance on the mainland to enjoy the view.
On the island there are a lot of places easily accessible by paths, where archaeological ruins can be found as the basilica of Agios Ahilios. There are also some caves with old religious paintings.
** Today (21 August 2009) the small island will be the center of attention as the famous Festival of Prespia starts and will last 4 days. There will be a lot of cultural events and exhibitions in the city of Florina, too. Musicians and eminent singers from Greece and other Balkan countries will participate. Thousands of people have flooded the place to attend this lively festival. The main scenery is the Basilica of Agios Ahilios! I can imagine the picture at night!!!
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Updated Aug 21, 2009
The two magnificent lakes together with the lake Ochrid in Fyrom are the largest lakes in the Balkans and some of the oldest in Europe. Their age is estimated to be 70 million years! They are located at an altitude of 850 meters and are surrounded by 2,000meter tall mountains!. The Great Prespa (Megali Prespa) is shared with Fyrom and is 282 square km, the biggest part belonging to FYROM. Much of its shore is precipitous rock.
Small Prespa(Mikri Prespa) is in Greece except for a small part of its”tail” that belongs to Albania. Its area is 43 square km.. The area became a National Park in 1977. Its wet meadows offer many benefits both to men and to wildlife. The wet meadows are shallow land with low vegetation that are flooded periodically. In its reed-beds thousands of birds, animals and amphibians take shelter.
Nowadays SPP and WWF Greece, who have worked hard, and the eager cooperation of local population, partly funded by the LIFE-Nature2002 project, have created one of the best biotope which preserves about 260 kinds of birds, such as some rare species of Pelicans, herons and cormorants. More than 1500 kinds of plants and 40 species of mammals, some among the rarest in Europe, such as the Brown Bear, the wolf, the otter, and the wild goat. Also 11 varieties of amphibians, 22 varieties of reptiles and 17 varieties of fish, 8 of which are native. Small Prespa is also protected by Ramsar Convention, which was signed in Iran in 1971 for the protection of wetlands all over the world.
The two lakes are separated by a narrow strip of land.
The worst problem today is that there is no political will to support the effort of these organisations because they don't want to enforce them by strong laws, fund them or punish those who act illegally.
The Convention on Wetlands was signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. It is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 159 Contracting Parties with 1847 wetland sites, that is 181 million hectares.
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More photos in Travelogues Prespa lakes and more Prespa Lakes
Updated Aug 16, 2009
Nymfeo is a traditional settlement at an altitude of 1346m. It has developed with the personal work of its inhabitants and the help of the state. Today it is an admirably well maintained village with its cobblestone streets and its amazing stone built houses, with traditional elements and spirit. If you step inside you will be transferred in time as they have kept everything that will give you the picture of the mansions and an idea of how life was going on in older times. Traditional wooden furniture, antique lamps, handicraft with traditional designs, handpainted decorations on the wall and the typical fireplaces.
What disappointed me in Nymfeo, though, was the huge constructions by rich inhabitants that look less authentic, but still very interesting. Some look like fairy castles.
But the worst were the ugly tin roofs that mar the whole picture. I don't understand how locals cannot see that ugliness....
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More pictures of Nymfeo in Travelogue!
Updated Aug 13, 2009
Sklithro is a village at the foot of the mountain Vernon (Vitsi), next to village Aetos. Going up to Nymfeo you can see it lying at the foot of the mountain. It is a very pretty village with many old traditional houses, some of them being restored. It is good for photography because everything here is really authentic since there is very little touristic activity. I was lucky enough to be invited by a local lady to stay for the night so I had a full guided tour to every little detail of an old house and its contents.
I spent a lot of the night on the balcony enjoying the serene village sounds, the refreshing cool air and the romantic starry night sky! Just perfect!
Don't miss the photos!!
Updated Aug 12, 2009
Yiannis Boutaris started and supported the idea of protecting wild life and is today the president of the center “Arktouros” which protects the Brown Bear and the Wolf, both in danger of extinction, as well as other animals. Initially the idea was to protect the Bear “dancer” which was really a shame to be going on among civilised people. Unfortunately it is still going on in neighboring countries such as Romania.... In Greece it was prohibited by law.
The practice was to capture a baby bear, kill his mother and then train it to “dance and mimic” for money. They made the bears dance and “perform” in the streets. It was awful and unacceptable because bears would forget their natural instincts and would not be able to survive in the wild anymore.
This excellently organised refuge offers a guided tour to the site where bears live freely in a large fenced area of the forest. Food is provided to them of course as well as a suitable structure for them to rest and to hibernate. The wolves that are housed in the Aetos center are wounded or sick animals that are kept until they recuperate.
The people of Arktouros have been working hard and have also contributed a lot to the protection of the environment with the cooperation of the Greek Ministry and other organisations in the Balkans and elsewhere. They use ecological sources of energy and organise seminars for the education of the public especially of young people.
Many volunteers from all over the world come to enjoy the unique environment working at the same time at the center, including assistance in the function and maintenance of the Environmental Center, in public awareness campaigns, in research programmes and fieldwork. The Information Center is in Aetos village at the foot of mountain as well as the Wolf Refuge. The Bear refuge is on the mountain just a 15minute walk from Nymfeo. Entrance fee is 5e including both places and the guided tour. Details in “Arktouros” site. Visit it!
The name comes from the greek word “arktos” that means “bear”. The constellation with the same name was the guardian of bears according to Greek Mythology. It is one of the most brilliant stars of the North Hemisphere. Read the whole story : http://www.arcturos.gr/en/arcturos.asp
Warning: It is closed on Wednesdays!
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Updated Aug 11, 2009
Phone: tel 23860-41500 fax 23860-41111
Almost all the houses in Nymfeo look like museums but the real Folkloric Museum is next to the church.. Entrance is 1,5e.
I found it very interesting. It displays tools and utensils from older periods, handicraft, wall painting, wall decorations and a whole room presenting the usual “living room” in an old mansion!
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Updated Aug 11, 2009
Vrondero is 19 kilometers away and is the only village that lies away of the lakes. It is located in a pure and impressive environment on Varnous mountain. The locals are occupied in animal raising the way thay have done for hundreds of years. Hike around the primitive but absolutely authentic area.
Zahariadis' cave is a few kilometers away from Vrondero and it was used as a hospital for the fighters of the mountains during the Greek civil war in 1949. their leader was Zahariadis and he chose this cave because it has a good sound isolation and is well hidden in this densely vegetated spot on the mountain.
Updated Aug 11, 2009
Florina is the capital of the prefecture just 58 kms from Prespa lakes' region and 550 km from Athens. It is a lively city, very pleasant for an evening stroll especially along the banks of the river. Built at the feet of Mounts Vernon and Varnous, Florina is spreading out in the verdant valley. About 20,000 people live in the city and they are proud of it. They only complained to me about the state of “Athens” as they put it, that has abandoned them. They are right!
Many beautiful old or restored houses are lined along the banks. They look even more beautiful in the morning light. The river is clean and sounds pleasant. If you happen to be there, go down along the river until you get out of the housed area and get into the peaceful countryside. It is an exhilarating walk!
There are several hotels and tavernas serving local food in the central area.
The cheapest hotel is Hotel Ellinis. The rooms are clean and comfortable, with satellite TV, hair dryer, phone, refrigerator, wireless internet, balcony and private bathroom. They cost 30/45euros single/double breakfast included. [ Pavlou Mela 31 ---tel: 23850-22671 / 22672 ]
There is a thriving artistic community in Florina so for a cultural breath there is the Archaeological Museum, the Zoo, the Florina Artists' Gallery, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Don't leave without trying the famous Florina's red peppers. These peppers are usually sweet and very tasty. If you prefer hot ones they are also available. It's your choice.
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Written Aug 11, 2009
The use of chemical fertilisers and hormones is generally avoided. All diseases are confronted with natural methods! Biological methods of cultivation were introduced in Prespa region in 1992. With the support and urge of SPP the locals managed to insist on organic farming. So today the production has increased a lot with certifications from the local SPP as well as from Europe.
There are different kinds and sizes. The big beans are called “gigantes” meaning “giants” and are good for the oven. The medium ones are good for soup and the smaller ones are mostly for salads. Black beans are mixed with white ones and are also used in salads or cooked with meat.
If you buy, keep them in a cloth bag and they will be perfect for use when you go back home. They cost 5-6euros per kilo.
The organic beans are of high nutritional value because they are rich in proteins and vitamins, in iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and copper. In normal beans the concentration of these elements is poor.
They are famous for being very tasty – and indeed they are, I cooked them myself!
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Updated Aug 11, 2009