By Martin Clark
Cyprus has a fair amount of forest, 19 percent as a percentage of land cover. In these days of climate change and drier and hotter conditions, the forest is of particular importance not only to give off oxygen and store carbon, but also to provide shade and cool the surface of the land.
Our forests are divided into different types. The coniferous forests have a closed canopy of leaves and a lot of shade and only occur when there are no or less restrictive factors, such as on a northern slope where it is cooler and more humid, or higher in the mountains – Troodos, Machairas, Platres – where there are more There is precipitation and the altitude reduces the soil temperature by 4 to 8 degrees Celsius. Then there is the alluvial forest with plane trees and alders as well as oleanders, along river valleys. This is far less than before as dam construction has resulted in dried up river beds below the dam line. The low-lying pine forest, for example around the villages of Kornos, Lythrodondas and Delikipos, is also threatened by drought, which is obviously due to the fact that the trees have fewer leaves, bear many pine cones and produce a lot of seeds, a desperate strategy for survival.
The largest type of forest in Cyprus is the Mediterranean maquis maquis forest with smaller deciduous and semi-deciduous trees such as pistachio species such as the terpene tree (Pistácia terebínthus), the “Tree of the Year 2021”, and chinos and a number of “bushes”. like Genista. Above 600 meters, two beautiful trees are added to the list, the strawberry tree and the golden oak, as well as wild carob and wild olive. The maquis forest is the most resilient to climate change and has a high conservation value as the trees produce berries for migratory, seed-eating birds.
In the past, these berries have been used in a wide variety of unique and delicious Cypriot food products such as mosfilo jam, loukaniko pitsilias sausages and trimithopites biscuits. All of these forest and forest types are more or less “natural” and we should fight for their survival!
Eucalyptus trees are a holdover from colonialism and should be treated very carefully. We should definitely stop planting
A less natural type of forest is here as a remnant of colonialism and provides shade and green, but is exotic (not from Cyprus) and is aggressive and invasive. Eucalyptus and wattle (acacia) are the main culprits and some removal strategy or very careful handling is required. Total removal is beyond our power and the trees provide shade, erosion control, food for goats and nectar for bees, but we should definitely stop planting!
Then there are other tree landscapes in Cyprus that are important. Olive groves in Cyprus are a fantastic asset and provide wonderful local olives and olive oil. The oldest groves were created by the Crusaders and Franks and are therefore partly over 1,000 years old. Such trees have massive trunks and provide shelter for entire ecosystems of spiders, mites, insects, birds, and reptiles. With good care, these ancient trees can continue to grow for 1000 years.
A carob tree
Carob can also live for over 800 years and was very important as pulp for making films in the past. These black and white Hollywood films were most likely made with Cypriot carob cellulose. Because of their syrup-based products like chocolate, carob is gaining traction again for diabetics.
Almond and citrus plantations are also culturally important and have shade and conservation value. The “bitter almond” and the “bitter orange” are particularly resistant to drought, as they are closest to the “wild” variety and their roots use the little available water much more efficiently. All the sweeter varieties of citrus fruits and almonds are grafted onto these wild roots. The same goes for olives, where the wild olive is the critical “starter”.
The biggest problem trees and forests face in Cyprus is lack of water, increased risk of fire and, for almonds, olives, carob and citrus trees, neglect, poor pruning and general abandonment. The exotic invaders are also a “double-edged sword”.
For the past few weeks, the Kato Drys parish council has been a forward-looking village under the leadership of Muktari Nikos Vasiliou and Church Treasurer Panayiota Demetriou, who worked with the Forest Guardians. These lovers and caretakers of trees and forests have great ideas and are lateral thinkers. Here in Cyprus we have legal guardians from all over the European Union as well as from Great Britain, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, the USA, Lebanon, Ukraine and Russia. You have visited all these forest and tree landscapes, met locals and developed ideas.
What should we as Cypriots and responsible residents do?
- Appreciate and eat more local foods, especially those from our ancient olive, carob, almond, and citrus groves, as well as the wild pistachio, mosfilo, and bay leaf species. There are many others that can be harvested for free! We shouldn’t accept American almonds, Polish “cooked cheese” (to replace halloumi) or Italian olives.
- Be more careful with water. Less washing of driveways and more collection of roof water – “dirty water” from kitchen sinks and washing machines can also be a decisive advantage.
- Visit, support and enjoy the natural forests of Cyprus – they are both a spiritual and a physical refuge and can help us relax and unwind in an increasingly hectic digital world.
- Use the shade of the trees for growing vegetables or responsible grazing. Invest time, energy and money in agroforestry.
- Preferably buy responsibly produced food, regardless of whether it is vegetables or dairy products. Industrial agriculture is not a friend of trees, forests and nature. As an example, I prefer ‘Halloumi Village’ to a boring industrial product. On Loulla’s farm in Choirokoitia, the sheep and goats are tended between maquis, olives, carob and pine trees, which give nutrients but do no harm and deliver delicious and authentic halloumi, anari and trachena.
- Choose native trees and shrubs in our gardens and plant less thirsty exotic varieties; the Department of Forests’ Athalassa Nursery supports native species in gardens
- Be much more careful when starting forest fires. Unfortunately, most of them are due to human carelessness: cooking outdoors, burning weeds, or throwing cigarette butts out of car windows.
- Plant more trees – the right kind and in the right places. There are many volunteer opportunities and the Ministry of Forestry is raising trees for public planting. We should also sow more seeds, the bitter almond (wild) has great potential for drought-resistant tree landscapes.
- If you have forest or older trees, get advice on how to care for them and help us fight climate change.
- Never sacrifice older, even ancient trees for hotel or residential complexes. As a nation, Cyprus should be much tougher on unscrupulous developers. The danger of short-term greed and asset accumulation destroying irreplaceable natural and cultural assets is very real.
Sumac – a useful sour-tasting spice
We should all become forest rangers and show just as much care and consideration as those who are now visiting us from all over the world. Make no mistake, Cyprus is a microcosm of Europe’s tree and forest problems, all of which are captured on this small but very special island. Our ancestors valued trees and forests much better and used them responsibly than we did! We should always include older people in our discussions and plans; they have such important experience to share.
To wrap it up even more positively, the Cypriots can be proud of many things in modern forestry: the first nation to remove timber production from their list of destinations and the afforestation of arid areas such as the Koshi Forest between Larnaca and Nicosia should see how the whole world takes off its collective hat in a gesture of sincere respect.
In my last tree and forest-related article for the Cyprus Mail, I asked that the Forestry College in Prodromos should be taken out of the mothball and that foresters around the world should be trained to fight forest fires. I am now expanding the training menu! The (European) prestigious university is the perfect place for training in sustainable forestry and tree management.
Martin Clark (a professional forester and land manager) is Director of Grampus Heritage & Training, the UK’s most successful EU-wide vocational training organization, with 26 years of experience