Skyros: A mountain as the symbol of an Aegean island
Mount Kochylas, a Natura 2000 site in the south of the Aegean island of Skyros, is considered an area particularly rich in biodiversity. It hosts a number of endemic plants mainly related to rocky and coastal habitats, the world’s biggest colony of Eleonora’s falcons nesting on the rocky coastline, upland pasturelands supporting passerine birds, the endemic lizard of Skyros, the unique local horse race, the Skyrian horse, and clusters of maples (Acer sempervirens) found mainly in the mountain’s numerous ravines.
Having not followed the heavy tourism development of other Aegean islands in the last 30 years, Skyros still maintains a character and a natural and cultural landscape of unique beauty that attracts good quality tourism. However, mass tourism in recent years, the lack of participation by locals in planning exercises, and poor local knowledge of the area’s valuable natural heritage, have resulted in damage to the environment. The Municipality of Skyros Island is working with partners to mobilise the productive, cultural and development forces on the island, all the while respecting the natural environment, culture and tradition in order to establish an eco-friendly model of holidays.
Using EU LIFE+ funding, biodiversity-oriented tourism activities like ecotourism, birdwatching tourism and others have been organised, establishing Mountain Kochylas as a well designed, attractive ecotourism destination. A cleverly designed and attractive trail network of 38 km covering the entire area of the Natura 2000 site has been created and offers birdwatching routes, routes focused on plants, as well as easily accessible sites with species-to-see information posts. This has been combined with concrete conservation actions and a number of original communication initiatives to raise public awareness.
The reorientation of the mass tourism model towards a more sustainable one has succeeded in creating significant income for the local community. In the last 3 years, more than 15 000 visitors have come to the area of Kochylas and around 3 000 have walked through the trail network. Several organised travel agencies have started to operate on the island, focusing on its natural wealth, while many individuals visit the island outside of the high season. An average of 1 000 nature visitors per year has been registered in the last 3 years. An Information Centre on the nature of the island operates in the town of Skyros and hosts a special exhibition of local art products (embroidery, ceramic, woodcarving) inspired by the species of Mount Kochylasin. There have been more than 5000 visits to the exhibition. The annual revenues from nature-related tourism have already clearly exceeded the initial costs of the project.