The Evros Delta is unlike any of Greece's protected wetlands or national parks. Strategically situated on the north-eastern Greco-Turkish border, entry is via a military checkpoint and only with an official guide from the Evros visitor center in nearby Feres. Military lookouts line both banks of the river and you can see the Turkish rice fields and villages across the way. Even the river's water level is kept constant to prevent border disputes.
Such restricted access has had both positive and negative results for local bird, flora and fauna populations and created a unique atmosphere and landscape.
Covering an expanse of 188 square kilometers, the Delta offers a diversity of habitats including coastal lakes, lagoons, interior rivers, sandy islets, sand dunes, marshes, swamps and reedbeds. More than 330 bird varieties can be found in this bird-watcher's paradise—a trained eye can spot about 100 on an average day. During the winter, hundreds of thousands of water fowl from northern Europe and the former Soviet republics find shelter in the Delta.
There is also controlled grazing and agricultural activity as well as commercial fishing and hunting. Cows wander through the tamarisk forest, an important habitat for about 80 mammals, while wild horses gather past the plains.
The area had been eroded by agricultural use until it was declared a Ramsar-protected wetland in 1974. While conservation groups are actively involved in its protection at a macro level, they have no formal presence on the ground.
A new visitor center, cafe and shelter has opened this year, but tourism is kept in check because of the environmental and military sensitivity of the area. VK