It takes at least nine years for a new tree to grow one metre tall, is the message from the Saittas reforestation project which started after devastating forest fires in 2007. However, this is only under good conditions.
“In Saittas, we were helped because there was good rainfall and good soil. Also most of the places were close to roads where watering was possible and in some cases we constructed roads,” senior forest officer Takis Papachristoforou told the Sunday Mail. “We watered the plants for the first three years, and then they grow good root systems and don’t need any more watering.”
Only now the results are beginning to show. “In the last year I have seen progress when I visited the area,” Papachristoforou said. “From 30cm they grew to one metre. In the Saittas area, there was also a very good natural regeneration. We worked hard, as first of all you have to prevent erosion so one needs to build terraces. We also made a very holistic plan.”
It is going to be much tougher to reforest the areas of this week’s fire in the Solea region, he added. “There are some places where there are roads but others which are a very long distance from road, and for these we have to rely on natural regeneration.”
“Also,” he added, “there is less rainfall than in the Saittas area.”
Even in Saittas with its good conditions it was not that easy to rebuild the forest. It is not clear how many of the trees planted in 2007 survived, but definitely a good number died.
“I was part of a group of around 50 people who planted small trees along a hillside but when we passed by some years later none of them had survived. I think nobody watered them,” volunteer Anna Georgiou said.
So if Saittas is the good scenario, there is a lot of work – and water – needed for the new reforestation project which is being planned, as well as a very good plan.
“We may have good intentions, but we ignore basic data that can irreparably harm the regeneration of burnt land,” Green Party MP and former Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou said, commenting on the fact that people started planting trees this week.
“The burnt trees in the Solea region have produced cones with seeds,” he added. “From the seeds pines can germinate. Indeed, the forestry department implements a programme where foresters undertake to collect seeds from the ground to produce seedlings.”
“People mustn’t enter the burned area,” environmentalist Rafaella Kyriacou elaborated. “The soil of our country often keep seeds that remain intact under the ground for dozens of years. If these seeds are found in appropriate conditions, they will germinate and create new seedlings that may create the new forest. Stepping on hypersensitive scorched earth simply destroys these seeds and results in the destruction of a future forest.”
She warned that under no circumstances should attempts at reforestation start without first making the appropriate environmental studies and decisions by a group of scientists on how to proceed.
“I mean an integrated group of arborists, foresters, environmentalists, biologists, soil scientists etc. None of them alone can carry out a study on such a complex issue and the contribution of all relevant actors is imperative,” said Kyriacou.