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CRETAPLANT - A pilot network of plant micro-reserves in Western Crete

LIFE04 NAT/GR/000104

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Project description:


The idea of establishing Plant Micro-Reserves (PMR) is a recent, novel approach to the conservation and management of rare and threatened plant species and other important plant populations. The concept emerged around 1990 in the Valencia region of Spain and was first put into practice in 1994 within the framework of an EU-funded LIFE project.

Micro-reserves are areas of less than 20 ha and are ideally used in a network, with the aim of preserving a selected sample of the rarest or most threatened plant species in that area. They can be used to provide germplasm to wild-plant seed banks and to develop into focal points for plant-conservation activities. Their aims make them complementary to the large-site strategy of Natura 2000.

During the past decade, the concept has received Europe-wide recognition. But apart from the extended network in Valencia, few PMRs have actually been implemented. The LIFE project CRETAPLANT was the first attempt to apply this innovative concept in Greece.


The project aimed to create a pilot network of seven plant micro-reserves in Western Crete, all within the boundaries of four proposed Sites of Community Interest (SCIs). Objectives were to preserve rare species that form part of the area’s natural heritage and to collect data that would inform future regional and national biodiversity planning.

One of the micro-reserves was to cover an area of Phoenix palm groves – a priority habitat. The others would each conserve a priority plant species of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. These were:

  • Androcymbium rechingeri: a small, bulbous plant found only in coastal areas of Western Crete but now suffering badly from the effects of tourism.
  • Anthemis glaberrima: a small annual which grows only among the calcareous coastal rocks of the island’s north-west corner. It is considered one of the 50 most threatened Mediterranean island plants.
  • Bupleurum kakiskalae: a perennial, monocarpic species found only on the mountain cliffs of Lefka Ori, western Crete. Also among the 50 most endangered.
  • Cephalanthera cucullata: an orchid growing only in the mountain forests of Crete. It was discovered in 1845 but its limited populations are now threatened by overgrazing.
  • Hypericum aciferum: a perennial shrub found on coastal rocks in the south-west of the island and, like the others, nowhere else in the world.
  • Nepeta sphaciotica: an aromatic shrub only seen at an altitude of 2 300 m on a northern slope of Lefka Ori, in western Crete.
  • The project attempted to address threats to these rare species: sheep and goat grazing; unrestrained tourism and uncontrolled access leading to trampling and collection of the plants; fires; habitat alteration through deforestation and drainage; and lack of public knowledge about the species and their habitats.

    It also aimed to collect data to enable the network to be enlarged to other Greek regions.


    The project succeeded in identifying and characterising priority plant species and establishing micro-reserves to protect them. It marked a significant advance for the Habitats Directive. Priority plant species were successfully propagated in-situ and mechanisms were introduced to ensure their long-term conservation.

    The project mapped the seven PMRs - producing detailed digital maps - and properly enclosed or marked them out with signs and information boards to avoid interference. Low-level management initiatives were carried out to favour the targeted plants.

    In addition, nine meteorological microstations were set up with environmental sensors, data-loggers and video cameras to help monitor the sites. These will continue to provide invaluable information for the future protection of the plantlife.

    The project compiled reports on the genetic diversity of the targeted plants. Seeds were collected, stored and germinated for further study and replanting at other sites. All but one - the palm trees - of the seven target species were successfully re-planted, including in two Alpine Botanical Gardens established through the project. The conditions of reproduction were carefully documented in a report entitled: Seed storage, germination, growth and outplanting protocols.

    To ensure real long-term conservation of the flora at the micro-reserve sites, each one now has a management plan and an on-site warden. Legal protection was also achieved by having the areas proclaimed as Wildlife Refuges within existing regional legislation. They can now be protected by the local forestry services.

    These measures will seek to tackle the ongoing challenges facing the sites and their flora. These include the persistent threat that the palms may become extinct because there is no natural regeneration and attempts at artificial reproduction have not worked.

    To raise awareness of the sites and the plants, a permanent exhibition and visitor centre was established at the botanical gardens of a project partner. Dissemination material was produced at scientific and educational levels supported by conference presentations. To strengthen broader public awareness, a clear and informative website was set up in Greek and English, supported by posters, T-shirts and a DVD.

    Potential for transfer nationally and internationally is great - in Greece alone there are more than 1 000 endemic species which require protection. The project should also improve policy options for other rare plant species throughout the EU.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see"Read more" section). An ex-post visit was carried out by the LIFE external monitoring team in March 2018, around eleven years after the project closed. This verified the achievements of the project in establishing seven plant micro-reserves (PMRs) for the successful conservation of six endemic plant species and one priority habitat species in Crete. The ex-post mission concluded that the most notable achievement was the legal protection status gained for all the created PMRs. The PMR network directly contributed to an increase in the population size of the protected species Bupleurum kakiskalae and Cephalanthera cucullata. It also safeguarded the stability of populations of the species Androcymbium rechingeri, Anthemis glaberrima, Hypericum aciferum cucullata and Nepeta sphaciotica. All the project beneficiaries are still involved in the follow-up activities outlined in the After-LIFE plan. In particular, the University of Athens and MAICh monitor specific PMRs, and the Forest Directorate for Chania (FDC) maintains the infrastructure. The scientific data collected during the project is currently contributing to Article 17 Habitats Directive reporting, as well as to updating the conservation status of the IUCN Red Data list. The genetic pool of the targeted species is being maintained and enhanced in the MAICh seed bank. In addition, a number of other projects have replicated the PMR approach, on Skyros Island in Greece, the Balearian islands and Sicily, and in Bulgaria, Corsica, Cyprus, Lebanon and Sardinia. The ex-post visit considered the project’s impact to be long-lasting. The project therefore proved that the PMR approach can be a valuable conservation strategy, complementary to the “large protected areas” approach that is the prevailing strategy in Europe. CRETAPLANT has also had a long-term impact on the scientific community in Greece, with 14 scientific articles and presentations published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and at conferences since the project end.


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Plants


biotope network‚  environmental education‚  grazing‚  tourism‚  monitoring system

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...

Target species

 Androcymbium rechingeri   Anthemis glaberrima   Bupleurum kakiskalae   Cephalanthera cucullata   Hypericum aciferum   Nepeta sphaciotica 

Target Habitat types

  • 9370 - Palm groves of Phoenix

Natura 2000 sites




Coordinator National and Kapodistrian University of AthensSpecial Account for Research Grants
Type of organisation University
Description The beneficiary was the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, through its Department of Biology.
Partners MAICh, Greece FDC (Forest Directorate for Chania), Greece RDFC, Greece


Project reference LIFE04 NAT/GR/000104
Duration 01-SEP-2004 to 31-DEC -2007
Total budget 931,650.00 €
EU contribution 698,738.00 €
Project location Kriti(Ellas)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website (GR/EN)
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan (EN)
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan (GR)
Publication: Layman report Layman report (EN)
Publication: Pedagogical tool "Plant Micro-Reserves" (2.39MB)


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