Standing in the blackened remains of a burnt-down forest, beekeeper Antonis Vakas laments the loss of his trade – collecting Greece’s famed pine honey.
A wildfire that raged for nearly a week on his island of Evia razed the land around his village, swallowing up the pine trees and consuming scores of beehives.
“The destruction is immeasurable,” Vakas said. “Beekeeping has been destroyed. We are destroyed. There is no green anywhere. Bees cannot exist without green.”
Greece is one of the European Union’s biggest honey producers thanks to its Mediterranean climate and a heavily forested landscape that help bees thrive.
About 40% of Greek pine honey is collected in the rolling mountains of Evia’s north, said Stathis Albanis, head of a local beekeepers’ cooperative, now ravaged by wildfires that erupted on the island last week.
As blazes swept over the northern half of the island, turbocharged by a record heat wave, villagers who defied evacuation orders were torn between saving their property or their livelihood.
“First we tried to save our houses. Unfortunately we could not save our hives,” Vakas said. Only 30 out of his roughly 130 beehives survived the fires.
More worryingly for the island’s beekeepers, as well as killing the bees, the fires wiped out the trees they depend on to survive.
“There are no flowers to give pollen, so the bee population cannot be reborn. There are no pine trees to make honey, so beekeepers cannot make an income,” said Albanis, who represents the Istiaia Beekeepers’ Cooperative, which has about 60 members.
“Beekeeping cannot be sustained on Evia.”
Greece produced 15,000 tonnes of honey in 2018, according to the latest Eurostat figures, making it the EU’s eighth biggest producer. But its high quality honey is particularly prized and it is the bloc’s fourth-biggest exporter.
As fires across the country began to recede, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced relief measures and compensation this week to help communities rebuild after the devastation.
But for Vakas and many of those affected by the fire, the help does not go far enough.
“I am so angry, there is nothing I could say to him,” he said.