The forest fires ravaging Greece in recent weeks have been unprecedented. More than 60 people have lost their lives, thousands left homeless, and over 250,000 hectares of forests and agricultural land (mainly olive groves and vineyards) have burned. The fires are still burning and many have yet to be put under control. The burned area represents almost 2% of the surface area of the country.
The forest fires ravaging Greece in recent weeks have been unprecedented. More than 60 people have lost their lives, thousands left homeless, and over 250,000 hectares of forests and agricultural land (mainly olive groves and vineyards) have burned. The fires are still burning and many have yet to be put under control.
The burned area represents almost 2% of the surface area of the country.
Many biodiversity hotspots have been badly hit. We still have scattered information because of the fires still burning, but we hope to be able to get a team of experts out to the burned sites in the next couple of days to assess the situation in more detail.
Some initial information on some of the sites:
Mt. Taygetos: A rich forest (Natura 2000 site) composed largely of pine and an endemic fir species (Abies), a home to more than 160 endemic taxa of plants. The mountain gorges are important for bird species such as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni). The area is also known to host a small population of golden jackal (Canis aureus).
Mt. Parnonas: Parnonas, a Natura 2000 site consisting largely of conifer and pine forests, is the only European site with Syrian juniper (Juniperus drupacea). Diverse fauna with golden jackal populations, endemic snake and turtle species are also found here.
Parnitha National Park: The fire has destroyed two-thirds of this protected area (also a Natura 2000 site) that hosts over 800 plant species and the largest population of red deer in Greece. WWF-Greece had already been running a project on this site over the last 3 years.
In addition, other biodiversity hot-spots around the country have been hit by the fires, such as Mt. Pelion, Prespa and the Grammos mountain range.
The cause for these fires is at least in part linked to arson.
We have bitter experience of burned sites being handed over to real estate development. Greece remains the only country in the European Union without a national forest registry, without a national spatial plan and with an amazing law dating back 30 years that basically allows a land owner to build anywhere, provided they have at least 0.4 hectares of land!
The crisis is developing into a very sensitive political issue, with national elections 2 weeks away and the government being heavily criticized for the handling of the crisis.
In the days and months to come, WWF-Greece will be focusing its efforts on the following:
* Assessment of the damage through on-site visits and satellite image analyses
* Restoration plans for specific protected areas and assistance to local authorities
* Targeted legal action to combat illegal constructions and developments
WWF-Greece has been working on forest fire issues for years. Perhaps now, under the pressure of the current circumstances, politicians will finally listen.