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Mikri Prespa - Conservation of priority bird species in Lake Mikri Prespa, Greece

LIFE02 NAT/GR/008494

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Myrsini MALAKOU
Tel: +30 23850 51211
Fax: +30 23850 51343

Project description:


Lake Mikri Prespa is part of the Prespa National Park and of the transboundary Balkan Prespa Park set up in 2000 by Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Greece. The lake has been classified as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention and has been designated as a special protection area under the EU Birds Directive. A total of 261 species of birds have been observed there (including 164 nesting birds), 81 of them listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive. The region boasts the world's largest breeding colony of Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus), around 600 pairs, and the EU's biggest colony of Pygmy Cormorants (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus), around 500 pairs. However, poor management of the lake water level, which outflows into Lake Megali Prespa, and the lack of vegetation management (reedbeds) have significantly degraded the birds' nesting and feeding grounds, as the surface of wet meadows has been reduced. Ahead of the launch of this project, various attempts had already been made to manage and protect these habitats, including an ACNAT (the funding mechanism predecessor to LIFE) project for the Dalmatian pelican, and a LIFE-Nature project (LIFE96 NAT/GR/003217) for the Pygmy Cormorant and the Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus).


The principal aim of the project was to improve the conservation status of the Dalmatian Pelican and the Pygmy Cormorant, but the activities also benefited directly at least 18 other species covered by the Birds Directive. The main actions included the reconstruction of a sluice that channels water from lake Mikri Prespa into lake Megali Prespa, in order to improve water-level management of the former; the restoration of the wet meadows in Mikri Prespa, covering some 70 hectares; and the monitoring of the avifauna and the vegetation of the managed littoral sites. In order to manage the vegetation, the project employed systematic grazing by a herd of water buffalos and two cattle herds and cutting with the help of agricultural machinery, of the reeds and other vegetation.


The restoration activities have resulted in an improvement in the breeding and feeding conditions of the Dalmatian Pelican and the Pygmy Cormorant to the extent that their populations have now stabilised at a high level over the last five years. The largest breeding colony of Dalmatian Pelicans in the world is being established in Mikri Prespa and, as of 2004, the number of Dalmatian Pelican breeding pairs were estimated at 1 100. In addition, at the lake, Pygmy Cormorants form the largest colony in the EU, ranging between 540 and 710 breeding pairs.

Furthermore, populations of more than 20 other waterbird species have also benefited. Beyond this, populations of fish and other aquatic organisms have directly benefited from the expansion of the total surface area of the wet meadows, particularly carp, which offers a knock-on benefit for local fishers.

Sluice reconstruction:

The new, modern sluice was built by the project, following a series of local stakeholder consultations and hydrological, environmental and technical studies, and began operation in the spring of 2005. As a result, the lake has reached constantly high water levels, sufficient for the creation of wet meadow areas. Subsequently, the area has seen return of the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), which has been observed nesting again in Mikri Prespa after 35 years of breeding absence. The species (listed in Annex I) had not bred in the area since the 1970s, and its initial discontinuation of breeding was attributed to the shrinkage of the wet meadows.

Wet meadow restoration:

Prior to the project, dense reed beds expanded at the littoral zone to the expense of wet meadows, due to the abandonment of traditional management practices at the lake edges (such as vegetation management by cutting and grazing). Starting in 2002, project participants and local inhabitants cut down the reeds in shallow areas near the lake at selected littoral sites. Alternatively grazing by water buffaloes was applied in one site and in some cases grazing by cattle herds was applied following the cutting of vegetation.

Cutting, grazing by a water buffalo herd and two cattle herds and a combination of these management practices was applied systematically over the course of the five years of the project at 11 different littoral sites. According to the project's monitoring data, buffalo grazing turns out to be the most effective method for the re-creation of wet meadows. At the launch of the project, the area covered by wet meadows had diminished to 30 hectares. Since then, the total wet meadow area has grown more than threefold - to some 100 ha by the project's end.

With the help of agricultural machinery, the reeds and other vegetation cut during the summer annually are turned into hay/grass bales, which are an ideal food supplement for the buffalo during the winter months. These bales are shared between the beneficiary and local stock-breeders. In some cases, cut reeds have also been used for the thatching of barns by locals.

Monitoring of avifauna and vegetation:

This activity took place throughout the project period and provided valuable information on the target species, but also on other important bird species of the lake ecosystem. Vegetation monitoring was essential to evaluate the results of the 11 sites where specific vegetation management regimes were implemented. The vegetation monitoring results were then correlated with the behavior of birds in the area in order to determine the most ideal habitat for each species. The census of the target species confirmed that the population of Dalmatians is at 1 100 pairs, making it the largest breeding colony in the world and constituting one-fifth of the known population. The population of the Pygmy Cormorants was also stable throughout the project, at a level of about 550 pairs.

Information and public awareness:

These activities included the production of leaflets, posters, a DVD and numerous articles featured in scientific magazines. In addition, guided bird-watching tours were conducted for the first four years and a large number of schoolchildren were introduced to the conservation value of the Prespa lakes. The final products of the project include a layman's report in three languages, and a project website accessible through the beneficiary's website,

Guideline document:

All the knowledge and experience gained through the LIFE project have been compiled into a detailed guideline document. This should help to ensure that the habitats and species of the area will continue to be protected and managed accordingly. In addition, close collaboration with the Transboundary Prespa Park members should ensure a consensus of opinion on decisions affecting the conservation status of lake Mikri Prespa.

This project has been awarded the title of "Best of the Best" from a shortlist of 26 "Best" LIFE Nature projects in 2007-2008.


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Birds


endangered species‚  lake‚  monitoring‚  protected area‚  wetland‚  restoration measure

Target Habitat types

  • 6420 - Mediterranean tall humid grasslands of the Molinio-Holoschoenion

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator Society for the protection of Prespa (SPP)
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description Local environmental NGO (non-governmental organisation), the Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP).
Partners None


Project reference LIFE02 NAT/GR/008494
Duration 01-JUL-2002 to 30-JUN -2007
Total budget 1,863,471.00 €
EU contribution 1,118,083.00 €
Project location Dytiki Makedonia(Ellas)


Read more:

Project web site Project website
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "Guideline document of the restoration and managem ...
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "Guideline document of the restoration and managem ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report (EN)
Publication: Layman report Layman Report (FR) (343KB)
Publication: Management plan "Action plan for the dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus ...
Publication: Management plan "Action plan for the Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocora ...
Video link Video of the project (13')


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version