Mount Parnitha showing signs of renewal

Four years after the devastating ecological disaster that stripped Attica of precious greenery and downgraded the lives of its citizens even further, there is finally some good news regarding Mount Parnitha.

While large areas of the mountain range have started to turn green again, the return of the red deer to its slopes attests to Parnitha?s renaissance.

It was June 28, 2007 when a fire which had broken out in the area of Arvanitohoria in Viotia reached the northern side of Mount Parnitha, burning a vast area of Attica?s national forest. Since then, the Greek state and citizen volunteers have been trying to heal the wounds. The image of Parnitha today is one of optimism and the general hope is that the errors which led to the disaster will never be repeated.

A series of wet winters have proved most helpful for all those who have been working hard to rehabilitate Mount Parnitha in the last few years. And besides the favorable weather conditions, Parnitha is one example where the public?s involvement has played a determining role in dealing with the disaster. 

?Some 2,200 hectares were burned in the Parnitha National Park alone. Of this, 1,800 hectares comprised Greek fir trees [Abies cephalonica] while the rest was made up of Aleppo pines [Pinus halepensis],? Costas Dimopoulos, president of the board of directors of the Management Body of the National Forest Park of Parnitha, told Kathimerini. ?In the last four years we have reforested about 500 hectares out of the 2,200 hectares that was razed, by planting about 300,000 saplings. Another 500 to 600 hectares are scheduled for reforestation by 2015. These areas have soil which is suitable for reforestation.?

According to foresters, the reforestation efforts on Mount Parnitha have experienced some losses, as some 20-25 percent of the new plants failed to take root. 

?The first year after the fire we planted fir trees from Vytina in the Peloponnese. The Aghia Triada plant nursery was destroyed in 2007 and had to be reconstructed from scratch,? said Dimopoulos. ?Today, some 300,000 fir trees are being cultivated and will gradually be planted within the next three years, while seeds are being collected from other parts which didn?t burn down.? 

The remaining burnt area has proved the most difficult to restore. It is predominantly rocky and the trees that were there before the fire had mostly taken root in between the rocks.   

?Last year we sowed fir seeds which we had collected from the forest. In April, to our great surprise, we discovered that the young plants were doing well. We covered part of the plants with small shades, because young firs do not do well in if they are exposed to too much direct sunlight. We hope that they will make it through the summer so that we can carry on sowing next year,? said Dimopoulos.

The red deer population has also shown remarkable resistance. More than 700 deer have been recorded and measures against poaching have begun to yield results.

?There is a problem, however, given that the deer like to eat the saplings we plant. But that?s nature for you,? said Dimopoulos.

What kind of lessons have been learned in the four years since the Parnitha disaster?

?The fire did not break out on the mountain?s slopes, but at the bottom. We learnt a lot from this fact. Beginning last year, we changed our fire prevention planning. Firemen and volunteers are now stationed inside the park, but also around it, at Fyli, Tatoi and Ippokratios Politia, for instance, so that they can quickly stop any fires from spreading to the mountain. We have also added over 70 water tanks for vehicles and helicopters and increased the number of patrols. Furthermore, we realized the importance of volunteer participation. In the past, volunteers were not allowed to take part in reforestation programs. This year, with the help of Skai and Kathimerini, we trained volunteers for the first time and allowed them to assist us. The safeguarding of forests should not be the business of an exclusive group of people like the forest and fire departments. It ought to be an issue that concerns the whole of society,? noted Dimopoulos.

The efforts are ongoing and the needs in the area of night patrol assistance are considerable. Those wishing to offer their services can call the Management Body of the National Forest Park of Parnitha at 210.244.5226.

Private initiative

In the aftermath of the 2007 disaster, the immediate mobilization of Kathimerini and Skai led to creation of the Parnitha Observatory, an initiative aiming at encouraging volunteering. Since its establishment, the Observatory?s activities have been ongoing. Reforestation efforts started in November 2007 with the participation of volunteers. Thousands of people were trained and more than 4,000 saplings were planted. The efforts are expected to continue next year.

Volunteering is possibly the ideal form of participating in the efforts to bring the mountain back to life. Visitors to Parnitha who behave responsibly also contribute to the efforts. Meanwhile, scientists have been focusing their attention on Tatoi this year, given that the former royal estate experienced a fire in the early 1970s which destroyed its rich forest. ?Forests are not museum pieces,? noted Dimopoulos. ?They are living organisms which we have the right to enjoy and the obligation to safeguard.?