Global Forest Watch Reveals Vast Destruction in Greece

firesWhen a huge wave of fires broke out in Greece in August 2007, many people considered it one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. Seven years later, the GlobalForestWatch (GBW) gives a clear image of the natural disaster of the millennium that took place in Greece, by creating a world map with every forest area that has been burned and those which have been replanted since 2000.

According to GlobalForest’s map, more than 150,000 hectares of forest, equivalent to 1,000 km2, has been destroyed in Greece since 2000. This number is outrageously high considering that the total area of the country is a bit more than 130,000 km2.

Between 2000 and 2012, one percent of the total area of the country has burned and if we estimate the percentage of the total Greek forest area, the number grows. At the same time, forest areas have been created since 2000 without, however, exceeding 350 km2. That does not even compensate one-quarter of the loss in recent years.

As is logical, the most disastrous year was the year 2007 during which 530 km2 of forest land was burned. The vast fires that took place in August 2007 burned down more trees than those planted between 2000 and 2012. The second most disastrous year was the following, when 230 km2 of forest was swallowed by flames. Throughout the years, there has been a relatively stable loss of Greek forest land with an average of about 100 km2

The places most affected by the fire during the course of these 12 years were Attica and some parts of Peloponnese such as the western and the central part. Several islands and most importantly Corfu, Zakynthos and Rhodes also suffered severe destruction.


  • Anthonie van der Heul

    Well. I have been focusing on forestry for a while now regarding Greece.
    But we should not forget that Greece’s forests where about 15% in 1960. After that many Trees have been planted in 60s 70s 80s.

    Between 70s and 80s over 100 million trees where planted.
    And according to forestry data, Greek forests still grow. Greek forests are now around 30.1% of the total surface

    Here are some countries statistics and their changes over time.
    Greece for instance had according to these statistics 30.0% forest cover in 1999-2003 and 30.5% in 2011. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.FRST.ZS

    A thing to note is. Even though Greece lost 1000km2 (which is quite alot and hope it becomes less in the future) and regained 350Km2 of re plantation, we forget the forest recovery itself.

    Forests are called forests when trees are higher than 5 meters. I was in West-Crete 3 years ago and last year. And to my surprise after the Samaria walk, the barren mountains had MORE trees, higher trees, and many young ones that probably was done by nature itself. This gave me the reassurance that nature is doing a good job!

    But not to misunderstand me. I find it for the future very important that there is better forest management, and also does anyone know if there are law changes in regards to forest and own land? I heard a ridicule thing that people burn down forests, in order for them to give the right of using it as own property and building houses etc? well THIS needs to change. There should be NO law that encourages people to burn forests. Anyone agree?

  • Polycrates

    In the 1980s there were huge fires often blamed on developers attempting to re-designate property for housing. Overnight beautiful areas around Athens disappeared under choking clouds of smoke not smog. The firebugs have yet to be caught and will no doubt surface again on the islands where real estate development is most active. Now that austerity has been with us for six years the loss of trees continues but now for firewood as a fuel for heating and cooking. Wildfires scorch hillsides removes all soil retaining vegetation and leaves neighborhoods prone to mudslides and flash floods.

  • everygoodboydeservesfavour

    Agreed. Laws mean nothing unless actively and vigorously enforced and on all levels and across all elements (tax evasion; corruption; traffic violation; property ‘improvements’, graffiti and others; building & development; pollution, (visual, audial and refuse); assault and bodily harm; (have I left anything out?) On all these Greece has a poor record. Everyone living in Greece knows that malicious arson often occurs to enable nefarious activity, to the State’s detriment.
    Nevertheless your info is encouraging. Thnx.

  • Polycrates

    What could be a concern is the potential loss of subspecies that are adapted to micro-climates in various parts of the country. The one tree fits all application is not always practical and the loss by hybridization such as drought and/or infestation tolerance can cause some to be at risk. Prevention, education and enforcement are critical to saving the residual forests. New plantings should be species from the same region.

  • Anthonie van der Heul

    Yes I understand, but as I have said, this is a minor bump on the road for forest recovery. Greek forests still expand, and maybe currently less fast due to economic issues and more forest fires, but still according to all the data sets made by different world forestry sites, Greece’s forests are around 30% (they vary from 29% to 31% on different sources)

    Maybe you know since you are Greek I believe: what do you know about the laws of forest burning and house building? Because I hope to see that Greek government, creating laws where there should be no encouraging for people to burn down forests. And next to that a stronger management

  • Polycrates

    Environmentalists and Developers are two forces that tend to bump often head first. The prefecture/country/city zoning “should” clearly describe what and where a structure can be built, which areas are forested and farmed. However as often is the case zoning-land use impediments are overcome by various means sometimes nefarious as everygoodboy pointed out. Athens’ Northern suburbs are an example of post 1980s development on formerly forested areas that catastrophically burned and replaced by a forest of houses and flats.

  • everygoodboydeservesfavour

    We would ALL like to see that here, on both counts!

  • Leftist censorship

    Thanks for the interesting stats.

    The law I think you are mentioning doesn’t say if you burn down a forest land you get to keep the property. Essentially it says if someone has squatted on a piece of land for enough time they get to keep the property (even if there has a pre-existing owner). This legal notion is called hrisiktisia. The thinking is was that if someone didn’t care enough about the property to contest squatters, then the squatter earned the right to develop the property. However, the rule only applies for people that have been on a property for 20 years so technically speaking someone that burns down a piece of forest and builds something on would still be forced to remove it.

    The law itself isn’t that bad of an idea (if only applied to private not government property). Its sort of like copyright expiration applied to property. However the problem is Greece never had a proper land registry. So in practice what happens is someone burns some forest land, builds a house on it, then falsifies some documents and gets some witness to say they were there for 20 years. Other times they’ll burn down a piece of obscure government land, built some basic shed on it, then hope in 20 years they can claim they lived on it.

    The real issue is there needs to be a complete land registry and a process for detecting that sort of fraud. I believe the government is currently in the process of doing this. Once thats in place the economic incentive to burn forests for this purpose will be greatly reduced as the fraud will be be easier to detect.

    In a sort of last ditch gold rush, nefarious sorts are still are trying to lay claim to land before the registry is finalized and rules crystalized. However at this juncture I think the technology has reached the point where they are gambling. (since the government can now theoretically get old satellite imagery to check)

  • Leftist censorship

    I;m guessing by your inclusion of “human rights issues” you are a leftwinger.

    Please define what you think is “human rights”.

  • Anthonie van der Heul

    Thanks for the information. This is exactly what I wanted to know. Then the registry should be obviously become better/ Do you know IF it gets better? Must be. Greece and its administration was one of the worst in Europe (I believe) and I believe it is one of the most prominent things that is changing now. Correct me if Im wrong