Friday, March 13, 2015

Campaign: Rafina River re-visited!

Friday 13th March 2014 

Had a meeting with the locals at Rafina (30 km east of Athens) – the Mayor and regional government engineer present – about Rafina stream. Caring locals also gathered to discuss. The focus: on securing the stream-banks for flood control: most environmentalists are against this.

The engineer's studies frequently promote rip-rap and other hard structures on the river banks- these typical river-works are a problem at the Rafina stream-mouth, since the overwhelming demand here is actually restoring and expanding the river-bed to form a unique NATURE PARK. So after floods we get flood-control measures - not a thought about something alternative or a thorough study of how to help the river.

The meeting on-site, in the rain, was a success since locals expressed their feelings against the construction on the river mouth -  a local engineer was present backing up support for a wider study and creation of a nature park. In fact the idea of a nature park was spelt-out in convincing detail and the Mayor agreed to support the NATURE PARK initiative.

Why is it important to build a Nature Park at Rafina’s river mouth?
  • Its a prime site for a successful nature-society connect and interpretation site: clean water- birds-fish-butterflies-flowers-scenic beauty...all at one small urban site.
  • The site is one of the 10 top wetlands sites for birds and birding in Attika.
  • Biodiversity-wise the site is important for protected bird species (waders etc), plus some rare gastropods, frogs, toads, grass snakes, and eels (on the IUCN Red List as Critical); also remnants of some important habitat types exist at and on the site's fringe.
  • The river is flood-prone since waters were augmented by river works upstream; the open lower river bed would help against flooding.
  • -The Rafina Nature Park would be an outstanding precedent that would be mimicked by other Greek cities: river-park with habitat enhancement are very rare.

Built-up part of the river-mouth section above foot-bridge. So sad.
Left back across is the site where authorities proposed a rip-rap anti-flooding structure.

 Site of proposed a rip-rap anti-flooding structure (you can see the rip-rap stone on R).
The 'natural river-mouth'. Serenity, peace, wildness - the nature aesthetic - inside the city of Rafina.
A riffle just before the lagoon. A site where we have collected various aquatic invertebrates, including the gastropods.

Mayor of Rafina (at center) with locals discussing the future of the river-mouth. Stone for rip-rap works deposited behind...
Locals and officials - authorities are in support of the Nature Park idea. 

A group of Egrets photographed by Adonis Lazaris a few weeks ago - the Great White Egret (at R) is a local rarity.
Mascot of the river: Little Egret. "Lefkotsiknias" in Modern Greek. Was here today (Photo by Adonis Lazaris). I saw 12 species on site today, including Serin, House Sparrow, Meadow Pipit, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Black-headed Gull, Med. Yellow-legged Gull, Little-Ringed plover, White Wagtail, Greay Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Chiff-chaff. 

Rip-rap work on the bank  about 2 KM u/s of the river-mouth. Its better than concrete but the best thing is to widen the river and create an earthen berm beyond the river bed. This stone wall is too close to the river channel - it will fall again. The engineer told me today that while working crews saw eels...(Photo by Adonis Lazaris). 

What in my mind is needed here now:
  • A formal study is needed: Integrated Study for Restoration and Nature Park Creation at Rafina river-mouth ("Μελέτη Ανάπλασης - Αποκατάστασης Ρέματος Ραφήνας και δημιουργίας "Πάρκου της Φυσης Ρέματος Ραφήνας"). The regional government may find monies to fund the study - provisions for wildlife habitat enhancement are needed, including visitor management to ensure that visitors do not recklessly displace birds. Otherwise focus must be on abolishing a small part of the parking lot at the river mouth to widen the river bed making natural-looking low sloping banks. Part of the concrete on the Left bank near the river mouth must be torn down...
  • Experts must step in to help to support and give evidence to justify the importance of this initiative (important players are: birders, scientists, naturalists, photographers, filmmakers, engineers) .
  • Incremental steps must be taken by locals to work to "restore" the river mouth even before the study (i.e. the rip-rap should not be set in as it is now planned; deliberations about abolishing part of the parking lot on the Left bank of the river should begin). 
  • An aggressive campaign for the promotion of Rafina Stream Nature Park (Φυσικό Πάρκο Ρέματος Ραφήνας) should begin: Media campaign, press releases, events, talks, videos, publications should target the creation of the park and be specific and well-organized. Thematic publications and video work must focus on birds, water life, scenic beauty, urban river restoration, park creation etc.
  • The local high-school and some local NGOs have adopted the Park creation idea - they should coordinate and work in synergy. No one must be left out from the campaign.
  • Regular rubbish cleaning initiatives should take place in the stream bed by volunteers to "show that "locals care" - these should be publicized.
  • Small signs should be constructed alerting people about the wealth of birds, fishes, amphibians, flowers; thus informally "designating" the site as a community-led, bottom-up protected area. 
  • Funds must be found for Phase one of restoration plan (simple steps: see below). 
  • Phase two may also be part of the planning stage as well (to tear down more concrete...). 
Its easy, lets do it! 

Rafina river mouth from a recent Google Earth image. 

After a little photo-shopping...Did you spot the difference? This last shot is a future desired state... Note the proposed changes: a) Car parking area sent back 20 m on L side of river. b) Right side of river made into shallower sloping area with marshes and pool (rocks that were set there removed). That's all!!! It will change the place forever if it can be accepted as a restoration measure..


At the municipal hall of Rafina-Pikermi today the council deliberated for nearly two hours weather or not to vote against the rip-rap (gabion) bank enforcement on the eroded left bank of Rafina river- mouth. (The enigmatic issue covers only about 10 or so mers of the left bank near the river mouth as shown in the photos of the gathering with the mayor, above). Over 40 members of the public followed the hearings in the Municipal hall and there was interest in conservation. Finally it was decided that the Municipality of Raina-Pikermi should not support the rip-rap development that was proposed by the Region of Attika. This is a small win for nature, now more should be done to promote the nature park idea.

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