The governance of protected areas has experienced rapid advancement over the last two decades with regard to the inclusion of stakeholders and local communities into the management process. During the same period Greek biodiversity governance has been characterized by a shift, at least on paper, towards the adoption of participatory approaches primarily through the establishment of management agencies. However, this has not been institutionalized for the majority of Natura 2000 sites, thus posing questions on the existence, nature, and effectiveness of participation in sites with no management agency. This is the first conducted large scale, cross level participation analysis for Greek Natura 2000 sites enabling the formation of a representative picture of the situation in the country. We investigated the nature and role of participation in Greek biodiversity governance by exploring both general opinions regarding the national context of participation in Greek Natura 2000 network as well as site-specific opinions regarding three case study areas where Natura 2000 sites have been established. Overall, we analyzed the results of 96 interviews, conducted with national, regional and local level stakeholders and 734 questionnaires conducted with local communities of the three case study areas. Results indicate with non-significant difference among governance levels, or between case study sites, that stakeholders' participation exists mainly on paper whereas community participation is practically absent. Stakeholder engagement seems to take place through administrational documentation across levels and to be locally confined based mainly on personal contacts and initiatives. Interviewees and survey respondents indicated a preference towards improving stakeholders' participation and the community's engagement in the management of Natura 2000 sites. Overall, the results of this study revealed the urgent need for policy initiatives towards adopting meaningful, fair and collaborative two-way forms of participation through the development and implementation of facilitation, participation and engagement guidance and training programs.
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