Goats trample burnt forests as the lack of a land register exacerbates conflicting needs in the area of the Athens basin

The lack of a land register harms the environment because it allows uncontrolled land use. Attica’s forests have suffered repeatedly from fires, making the city of Athens suffocate for want of green spaces. In addition to opportunists who plan to turn burnt areas into building plots, the few remaining green spaces face another enemy – roving flocks of sheep and goats which hinder regrowth in forests and woodland expanses. A 1992 law prohibits grazing goats on Attica forestland. Grazing in general is banned in the center of national parks, areas listed for reforestation, and in fir, chestnut and oak forests. But all Attica is potentially grazing land, since the term does not define an area with a specific type of vegetation or a particular ownership status, but is basically a type of land use. As long as land use in each area is not strictly defined, shepherds pasture their flocks wherever they like. In 1987, law 1734 regulating matters related to grazing rehabilitation and woodlands met with objections from the Council of State and was never implemented. In 1992, the new law 2040 banned the grazing of goats in forests and woodlands not only in the Attica prefecture, but also in other parts of Greece as decided by the Agriculture Minister of the day. But, as Pendeli forestry official Anastasios Kazasis told Kathimerini: «The law is in place but is difficult to enforce. There are around 10 stockbreeders in the area. Some 6,500 hectares were burnt in Pendeli in 1995 and another 6,700 hectares in 1998, many areas have been burnt more than once and have been listed for reforestation. But if reforestation is to succeed, grazing cannot be permitted.» In the Lavrion area, about one-third of the forests and woodlands are earmarked for reforestation. Of the 34,392 hectares for which the local forestry office is responsible, 1,024 hectares are residential areas. «The solution is the national land register,» Lavrion forestry official Sotiris Simnos told Kathimerini. «It’s the only way to establish what belongs to the State and what land use applies.» One example of the difficulties arising from the lack of clear ownership status are the resin-producing forests in Magoula, Erythres, Megara, Vilia and elsewhere. As forester Georgios Korbos explains: «In the Aegaleo forestry authority’s area, there are about 20,000 goats and sheep belonging to some 25 stockbreeders. In the resin-producing forests, which were handed over to some people to use in 1923, the ownership status is not settled. We are obliged to comply with the law which bans the grazing of goats, but there is the problem of where the livestock farmers are to go.» If the law is broken and an arrest is made, strict penalties are imposed and the offender loses entitlement to subsidies. But forestry authorities frequently lack the staff and equipment required to conduct strict inspections. The Aegaleo forestry authority has three four-wheel-drive vehicles, two of which are over 30 years old. And the subsidy itself often leads livestock farmers to keep moving their flocks so that the exact number of their animals is never determined. The stockbreeders want to continue grazing their animals and they need pasture. But in a place like Attica, where the need for green spaces is paramount and ownership status and land use so complicated, it is hardly surprising that problems continue to arise. Outdated forestry maps have ministers in a flap Obsolete forestry authority maps on which some urbanized areas are classified as forest areas have contributed to a chaotic situation which the jointly responsible ministers of the environment, economy and agriculture must resolve this year. The drafting of the national land register has put the matter back under the spotlight, since members of the public cannot get documents from forestry offices in order to declare their property for the land register, because the forestry maps list their land as forested areas. Given that an area belongs to the State by definition once it has been classified as forestland, these landowners are now in the position of having to claim their own property from the State. The issue for areas which are already within the city plan – such as Ambelokipi, Ilioupolis, Halandri or Glyfada – is purely a formality. But sources say that the competent ministers are still mulling the possibility of a legislative amendment to resolve the problem. There are concerns, however, that this could result in a loophole with respect to other forested areas. Besides, the State is already embroiled in court cases with landowners in similar cases. Such an amendment might result in courts ruling in favor of the owners and forcing the State to pay out heavy compensation. Environment Minister Vasso Papandreou, Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys held a meeting to discuss the matter just before Christmas.