Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature
Member: NGO Free
20, Nikis Street, GR-105 57 Athens, Greece
Interview of N. Petrou, President of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature
Τhe President of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature (HSPN) talks about its past and future.
Nikos G. Petrou is a passionate naturalist and wildlife photographer, author of 15 books and more than 80 articles, who studies and records Greek nature for more than 35 years. Since 2009 he is continuously elected President of the HSPN, and since 2016 he sits on the Board of Directors of the international Foundation for Environmental Education. Both positions are voluntary.
The HSPN is the oldest environmental NGO in Greece. How has it developed during all these years?
Since its founding in 1951, our Society has been continuously striving for the protection of Greek nature. Always adopting realistic positions and avoiding extremes, it has toiled for the establishment of National Parks, the conservation of species and habitats, the modernisation of environmental legislation, and for environmental education.
The soul and driving force of HSPN for 35 years starting in 1958, was its Secretary General, Byron Antipas, one of the most significant figures of the environmental movement in Greece. Under Antipas, HSPN played a crucial role in the establishment of the Samaria (1962) and Prespa (1974) National Parks, in collaboration with institutions and bodies, both national (Ministries) and international (IUCN, the Council of Europe, etc.). HSPN was the first to work for the conservation of emblematic species, such as the Cretan Ibex (which is its symbol), the Mediterranean Monk Seal (1973), birds of prey including Eleonora’s falcon (1970s), the Loggerhead sea turtle (1980), as well as for the protection of the Greek flora (1970s). Until approximately 1980, the HSPN was the primary advisor of relevant national authorities and services, and a central contact point for institutions, organisations and universities from abroad. Antipas formally represented Greece in numerous international conferences and conventions, including the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which he signed on behalf of our country. After 1980, the HSPN became the progenitor of new, more specialised environmental organisations. A very important steps in HSPN’s history is its cooperation with the international Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) which begun in 1992. As the Greek representative of this world-wide organisation, the HSPN is part of a global family with members in 78 countries today, and operates all five of FEE’s Programmes, three for Environmental Education and two for Awareness Raising and Sustainable Management in the tourism sector.
The HSPN implements very significant national and international programmes for the protection of the environment. Which ones would you say are the most important and what are the results so far?
Our programmes fall under two categories. The first includes applied conservation projects, often with European funding and the participation of many partners. For example, in the last four years the HSPN coordinates the 5-year project LIFE11 NAT/GR/1014 ForOpenForests for the protection of priority species and habitats on Mts. Oiti and Kallidromo of Central Greece; it participates in the 5-year project LIFE14 GIE/GR/000026 Natura THEMIS, aiming to inform authorities and the public about the European legislation pertaining to environmental crime; it participated in the recently completed project ICON, aiming to protect the indigenous orchids of Greece and Turkey. The second category includes the Networks for Environmental Education, coordinated by the HSPN. These are the “Eco-Schools”, “Young Reporters for the Environment”, “Learning about Forests”, “Nature without Garbage” and “Green Corners of my Neighbourhood”. The first three are international and the other two national. More than 1.500 schools, of all levels, from all over Greece, have participated in these networks in recent years, Many thousands of students are educated on how to protect the environment, and how to interact with and influence their families and local communities , through action-oriented, experiential and participatory activities addressing a wide range of subjects.
The second category includes two more FEE Programmes, aiming to promote sustainable management and practices in the tourism industry, including the environmental education and awareness raising of visitors, employees and local communities. They are the “Blue Flag” (for beaches, marinas and sustainable tourism boats), and the “Green Key” for tourism enterprises, which award the two most recognised globally tourism eco-labels. Through the efforts of HSPN, in the last decade Greece has always been among the first three out of 47 countries globally regarding Blue Flag beaches (2nd in 2017 with 486 awarded beaches). In 2017 it is third among 56 countries with Green Key hotels, even though the Programme started in 2009.
How is the HSPN supported all these years?
The HSPN is supported financially by its members, by donations from Greek and foreign friends, by sponsorships from institutions and organisations of the private sector and through European funding for the conservation projects it implements.
A strong belief in our goals, passion, commitment, and willingness to work hard are the key attributes of our staff, the members of the Board of Directors, and our volunteers. Many of our activities would be impossible without the support of our volunteers such as, for example, the environmental education programmes, as the educators who coordinate and implement them are volunteers, and the control visits for “Blue Flag” and “Green Key” all over Greece. We warmly thank all of them and hope to have their continued support in the coming years, as weexpand our activities.
What’s your vision for the HSPN and how will you achieve it?
Our resolute ambition is to continuously fulfil our Society’s constitutional obligations and to strengthen and expand all our activities. There are many specific goals, but my overarching aim is to continue HSPN’s successful course through securing adequate funds and able staff, maintaining existing collaborations and developing new ones, enhancing HSPN’s role in the FEE and participating in large international projects.