The arrival of winter, coupled with record prices for fuel and the fact that household budgets have decreased, has forced tens of thousands of families across Greece to turn off their central heating.
As a result, the old wood-burning stoves and fireplaces have seen a revival, creating a lucrative market for legal importers and salesmen of firewood, but even more so for illegal loggers who collect and sell their product without a permit.
These illegal practices are causing serious damage to Greece’s forests. Deforestation has become a real problem – particularly since the start of December – due to illegal logging, the forest service of the Ministry for the Environment reports. The official figures suggest that thousands of hectares of forest have already suffered severe damage.
The most devastated woodlands include those in Pilio, Xanthi, Kavala and the Calcidica region, and Foloi in the prefecture of Ileia and Aghios Christoforos, near Agrinio. Several forest rangers who were on patrol in the forests of Strofilia, in Acaia, have reported to police that they were attacked by a group of illegal woodcutters when they tried to arrest them. ”The police recently arrested five teams of illegal loggers in a single operation,” said Costas Voliotis.
Voliotis lives in Pelion, in the central part of Greece, an area with extended forests. Damage to forests is also a serious problem in the natural reserve of Kotychi-Strofylia in the western Peloponnese.
Its lagoon and forest are protected under the 1971 Convention of Ramsar del 1971, but there are many reports of illegal clearing of trees.
The forest authorities admit that the problem is too widespread for them to control and that they lack sufficient staff to patrol all of Greece’s forests, particularly on the weekends when most illegal logging takes place. In November alone, according to figures released by the forest service, 30% of forests were lost due to the activities of illegal loggers. Fortunately, the environmentalist group WWF Hellas has been active for some time trying to defend the country’s woodlands.
The group has announced that it completed its reforestation programme in 11 areas in the Peloponnese that had burned down in the devastating fires that raged in the summer of 2007, killing 67 people. The programme has a budget of 2.47 million euros and was completed thanks to financial support from non-governmental organisations and the assistance of more than 100 private organizations, such as universities and groups of volunteers.