Residents in Tala on Thursday are outraged over what they see as an inexplicable environmental crime committed in their community.

According to local resident Spiros Stefanis the destruction started ten days ago when diggers moved in and uprooted massive amounts of vegetation, completely denuding a beloved lush green spot in the village.

“The destruction is beyond comprehension. The mukhtar acted unilaterally without any consultation with residents and without any supervision of works,” Stefanis told the Cyprus Mail.

The gully, an officially designated green area, included a creek and a paved nature trail whose character has been completely destroyed by the works, said Stefanis.

A total area of at least 2,500 square metres has been affected, Stefanis said.

rocks in creek 2

The area after purported fire safety works

Artist and local teacher, Rinos Stefani, also decried the destruction on social media:

“A few years ago, as part of the students’ education, we visited the famous ‘smoke trees’ traditionally associated with Saint Neophytos. We walked along the path by the river, which flows year-round, among tall trees and bushes, aspens, shinia trees, myrtles and more, not to mention unique species of fauna. Unfortunately, illegal bulldozing and levelling of a large part of the riverbed, arbitrary cutting of trees and bushes, and moving of rocks [have] destroyed this beauty.”

“We had agreed to some minor works necessary to stop water from leaking through a retaining wall onto the road,” council member, Christakis Evanthi, told the Cyprus Mail, “However, what was done was entirely unnecessary and we are shocked.”

Evanthis went to the scene on Tuesday following reports from concerned residents and succeeded in stopping any further works without proof of authorisation having been given for them.

“We went with a couple of others and told the two workers in diggers, who are from an external company, to stop. No bids were posted for such huge works to be happening,” Evanthis said.

The council member said that at least 15 trees had been cut to stumps, including protected oak trees, and that he had questioned the environment department who knew nothing of the matter.

In an attempt to determine whether the works had been green-lighted under the guise of fire prevention, Evanthis spoke to the fire department and was told by a source there that this was not a suitable way to create a fire break and that the shinia trees (Pistacia lentiscus) that were cut, are in fact well-known to be fire retardant.

trees cut tala foot

Residents say trees were cut unnecessarily and rocks dumped into the creek

Residents are demanding answers from officials, as to whether the community leader secured the necessary permission from the departments of environment, water management, or forestry, for the works commissioned.

Cyprus Mail received confirmation that according to the water development department, as per 2010 legislation, no installations or any other works may be undertaken in any area designated as a public riverbed.

Green party member Andreas Evlavis, speaking to Cyprus Mail said the party had sent official letters to all relevant departments, including the Paphos district officer, and are awaiting explanations.

“It appears that a slew of missteps and illegalities were committed,” Evlavis said.

The forestry and water department are jointly responsible for routine riverbed management, Evlavis detailed, such as removal of dry vegetation for fire safety and visibility.

The forestry department, who seem to have given the initial go-ahead, had assured no trees would be cut, Evlavis said. Later when residents shared photos of cut trees the department used the excuse that “they were only of small diameter.”

“Correct procedure prescribes supervision of works by an expert at the scene. No entry of heavy machinery into an area as ecologically sensitive as a riverbed should ever have taken place without obtaining an exceptional permit,” Evlavis said.

“In the name of fire prevention irreversible damage has been done.”