Natural Environment

The area of the National Park of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace (EPAMATH) is surrounded by a strong mountainous relief to the north and consists of the lowland areas of Delta Nestos, the Vistonida basin and the Ismarida basin, which are separated from each other by hilly areas with strong relief. The topography of the area, like the whole of Thrace, is dominated by the great Rhodope Mountain range, the western part of which affects geologically, geomorphologically and hydrologically the area of EPAMATH. Its coastline has a total length of 100 km and is basically sandy with smooth, low-relief coasts. It presents intense dynamic processes of erosion and sediment deposition. This fact is due on the one hand to the intense erosive action of waves coming from the south and longitudinal coastal currents towards the coastline, as well as to the change in sediment supply after land improvement projects or the construction of coastal technical works. Particular changes in the coastline are observed at the mouth of the river Nestos and in the interior of Lake Vistonida.

In the Straits of Nestos from north to south, the narrow and deep valley, which the encased Nestos has opened in the gray marbles of the Rhodope, has steep but also verdant sides. At the base of the valley the river has a wide bed with a meandering course until its exit in the Deltaic plain. Characteristic is the riparian forest, the white sand that accumulates in the inner bends of the meandering waves (deposition) and the steep marble walls in the outer bends of the meanders (erosion).

The Aesthetic Forest of the Straits of Nestos (area 23,800 acres) is a protected area of special aesthetic beauty and ecological interest, with extremely rich flora (about 500 species) and fauna (rare birds of prey and mammals).

The most important habitats found in EPAMATH are the Mediterranean seasonal marshes (3170*), the Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (91E0*), the Coastal Lagoons (1150*) and in the marine area Areas of Marine Vegetation with Posidonia (1120* ).

In addition, extensive areas of sand dunes, salt marshes, coastal salt marshes, lake aquatic vegetation, wet meadows, reedbeds and riverside forests appear within EPAMATH.

A veritable mosaic of plant communities such as sand dunes, halophytic vegetation, reedbeds, tamarisk bushes, burla meadows and aquatic vegetation spreads out in the area of Delta Nestos. 20 species of mammals, 11 species of amphibians, 22 species of reptiles have been recorded to date. There are 21 species of fish living in the waters of the Nestos River, of which 6, such as the thrakovelonitsa and the microsirko, are endemic to the wider region, while another 36 species are found in the lagoons and the river’s estuaries. As for the avifauna, the total number of species that were observed nesting, wintering or simply passing through this area amounts to 277. They stand out, the plover, the shrike, the oystercatcher, the little egret, the little egret, the shrike, and also the lagona, the mallard, the white-fronted goose, the black stork and the moustache. Among the threatened birds of prey, the white-tailed eagle, the bald eagle, the golden eagle and the spotted eagle are found here. The mixed colony of herons in Keramoti is of particular value.

The only wild and genetically pure population of Colchian pheasant in Greece lives in the riverside forest of the area. In the Delta of Nestos, the otter and the jackal are the most important mammal species, as this is where the largest population of this species exists in Greece.

In addition, the Nestos river supplies water to the plant communities that make up the water-rich Great Forest “Kotza Orman”, which once exceeded 125,000 acres in area and was one of the largest and most remarkable riverside forests in Europe in terms of flora and fauna. Most of the Great Forest was cleared in the 1950s, to cultivate agricultural plants (corn etc.) and poplars. Thus, nowadays the forest has an area of only 4,500 acres. The rich flora of the Great Forest includes, among others, the white poplar, the black poplar, the fragile willow, the alder, the elm, the privet, the oak, the climbing plants (ivy, dogwood, etc.), the hawthorn , yellow iris, orchid and tamarind. One of the most important species of the National Park of Eastern Macedonia – Thrace and characteristic of the riverside forest of Nestos that is found in the remnant part of the forest in the area of the Keramotis settlement is mossy oak. In the past, the mossy pedunculate oak was widespread throughout Greece, while today it is endangered.


The National Park of Eastern Macedonia Thrace (EPAMATH) is mainly characterized by the presence of fresh and brackish waters, both surface and underground. Thus, the flora and vegetation of the area is shaped mainly by the presence of water, its salinity and whether its presence is permanent or periodic. These different conditions of the presence of water, combined with the different soil composition of the area (eg loose sandy soil), have shaped a wide variety of types of habitats or habitats.

Each habitat is characterized by specific environmental conditions and organisms that make the best use of these conditions. For example, salt marsh habitats, which are located near lagoons, are flat areas, characterized by the fact that, for a large part of the year, they are flooded with brackish water, resulting in the soils having a high concentration of salts. These characteristics are used by specific plant species resistant to high soil salinity (e.g. Salicornia europaea) but also by species of fauna (e.g. calamocana, turlid, etc.).

The types of flora that appear in each habitat often have similar ecological requirements, they do not act in competition with each other, while the habitats may be characterized by some dominant species of plants or trees.

The habitats are not completely static in terms of the area they occupy and show changes over the years. These changes may be due both to the change in the water regime (eg less rainfall or drop in the groundwater level), and to other factors, but also to anthropogenic interventions.

Vegetation is the most basic characteristic of every habitat, as it is the expression of the current environmental conditions. Plants form the basis of every food web and consequently determine the species of fauna of every habitat. They also offer the species of fauna the special conditions required to roost or even nest. Of course, each type of vegetation has its own particular values. For example Ammophila arenaria (sandy grass) plays an important role in retaining the loose soil of sand dunes, reedbeds act as bio-filters that retain pollutants from the watershed and protect aquatic ecosystems from pollution.

The vegetation of Lake Vistonida consists of ammophilic and halophilic plant communities, meadows, reeds and bushes. In Vistonida at the moment there are 21 species of fish, including 2 endemic ones which are the gelartsa and thritsa. However, in the wider water ecosystem of the Porto Lagos and Vistonida lagoons, 61 species of fish have been recorded, as in addition to the wide-ranging fish of the lagoons, some marine species also enter from the mouths of communication with the sea. The area is also famous for its particularly rich avifauna as 264 species of birds have been recorded here, of which 141 nest. A significant number of bird species breed in the area, such as swans, swamp mallards, barbara, avocets, kalamokanas, petroulida, the black-headed gulls and the swifts. Of particular value is the mixed colony of white egrets and gray egrets in the area of Porto Lagos.

The importance of the area as a wintering place for bird species is very great as during the winter we meet here: pelicans, phoenixes, turlids, many species of ducks, grebes, as well as white-fronted geese and the gannet, a rare visitor to Lake Vistonida, which is an important station for the species in Greece and the surrounding area. Large raptors present in the wider area of Lake Vistonida are the white-tailed eagle, the bald eagle, the spotted eagle, the osprey and the passing migrant: the rare osprey. In the area of Vistonida, 11 species of amphibians are found and among them are the tree frog and the pilavatis. Also, of the 19 reptiles in the area, the rarest include the spotted and striped water turtle, the Thracian loggerhead and the green lizard. Finally, of the at least 20 species of mammals present here, the otter, the jackal, the wild cat and the dendromyoxus are of interest

Walking around the area of Ismarida ​​Lake or Mitrikou one can distinguish three large zones of vegetation:

1) Vegetation in the southern locations of Ismarida Lake and its lagoons where salt and sand make their presence clear, such as in brackish waters, salt meadows, sand dunes and sandy beaches.

2) Vegetation that forms in the environments that rivers affect near their banks.

3) The mixed forests, either evergreen or deciduous, as well as various places of bushes.

Many small animals, such as gastropods, lamina gills, ringworms, live hidden in the mud of the bottom of the lagoons. These are great food for waterfowl that forage by digging up the mud with their beaks, such as phoenicopterus and spoonbills.

About 200 species of birds have been recorded in Ismarida and in the wider area, while rare species such as the marsh duck, the black heron and the black heron nest.

More generally, all the wetlands in the area (Ismarida and surrounding lagoons) are particularly important for the wintering of many birds that arrive here from Northern Europe, such as swans, geese, ducks, cormorants, etc. Rare or protected species such as coots, red pelican, silver pelican, white egret, can be seen here. Also, in the wider area there are 45 species of mammals, the most important being the presence of the otter.

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