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The natural heritage of Skyros
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The unique natural heritage of Skyros island

Skyros is an Aegean island with an important natural heritage. The southern part of the island and most islets, as well as the larger part of Kochylas mountain, the tallest mountain on the island (alt.792m.), constitute Special Protection Areas for birds (SPAs), being part of the NATURA 2000 network of protected sites in EU. The steep coastal cliffs of Mount Kochylas and the nearby uninhabited islets, are the nesting sites of Falco eleonorae, a migratory falcon which is a globally threatened species. Greece is hosting the 85% of the world population of the species and is considered as the most important country for its conservation and survival. Skyros hosts the largest colony of Eleonora’ falcons worldwide, with more than 1,000 pairs. The falcons arrive to Skyros in late April and leave for East Africa, particularly Madagascar and other islands of the Indian Ocean in late October. Until the end of July, falcons are flying over Kochylas mountain and the surrounding region, covering large areas to find food, mainly large flying insects; therefore can be easily seen from many parts of the island. After July, falcons lay eggs and nest at the steep rocks and cliffs feeding their young with small migratory birds that catch over the island.

Rare endemic plants such as Aethionema retsina, Campanula merxmuelleri, Centaurea rechingeri, Scorzonera scyria, Aubrieta scyria, Galanthus ikariae grow in inaccessible rocky places mainly in the southern partof the island. These species exist in small populations, they are protected through Greek and European laws and are included in “The Red Data Book of rare and threatened plants of Greece” while some of them are considered to be stenoendemic species (found on Skyros and nowhere else, worldwide). Native maple forests (Acer sempervirens), unique in the Aegean Archipelago, are also found there, in gorges and ravines.

Protected seabirds such as Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), YelkuanShearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), the Audouinis”Gull (Larus audouinii) and the Mediterranean Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii) live and breed on uninhabited islets surrounding Skyros.  In the coastal marine environment the main habitat is the meadows of Posidonia oceanica (a Mediterranean endemicmarineplant) . Posidonia meadows are the breeding habitat formany species of fish and crustaceans (crabs, shrimps). Many birds use the islets as stop over sites during the migration period, while the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) is often recorded at sea. Another significant terrestrial animal species found on the islets is the endemic lizard of Skyros (Podarcis gaigeae). Althoughit is a small lizard of a length of approximately 8 cm, in some islets due to the phenomenon of gigantism the lizard is recorded in length to reach or exceed25 cm. The species is also found in Kochylas mountain in large populations.

Kalamitsa and Palamari wetlands are important stop over sites for aquatic migratory birds such as Marsh Harrier, the Red footed falcon, Herons, Egrets and Ibises. Wetlands also provide valuable habitats for other native animals such asterrapines and bats.

The town of Skyros, Sarakino islet and KalogriasBay, Atsitsa and the adjacent Pine forest are designated as Landscapes of Outstanding Natural Beauty according to the Greek legislation.
The contrast between the landscapes of northern and the southern part of Skyros is impressive. In the northern part, called "Meroi" which means calm area, we find a lot of pine trees spread from the mountains to the coastline and the farmland borders. The coast with smooth and relatively accessible beaches is a characteristic landscape of the northern part of the island. On the contrary, the southern part of the island called “Vouno” (Mountain) by the locals is characterized by rocky habitats, small gorges, high cliffs and sea caves. The presence of goats, sheep and livestock infrastructure is a particularly significant factor, for the present condition of the local landscape, especially of the vegetation formations. Livestock production in Skyros practiced since ancient times, with shepherds forming a particular society on the island for a very long time in the past. Even today the island's livestock products are of high quality and value.

The southern Skyros has been for centuries the natural habitat of the indigenous breed of Skyros horses (Equus cabalus skyriano), unique in the world today, considered to be under threat of extinction by the European Union. These horses play a significant role in the rural heritage of the island, since in the past they were used by locals for farming, especially during the summer months. Today there are many sites on the island of private property and/ or visited farms where controlled breeding is achieved in order to conserve the species.

 

 

 

The project is implemented by the Municipality of Skyros, in collaboration with the Hellenic Ornithological Society, ELLINIKI ETAIRIA Society for Environment & Cultural Heritage and the National Center of Environment and Sustainable Development, with the financial support of the European Commission and of the Green Fund.