NEWS

Who is laying claim to the areas in dispute and who helps them

Forests and woodlands in Greece have been under pressure for years by people who use loopholes in the complicated legislation. In the absence of a forest register and national land register, many of the claims succeed. According to the Agriculture Ministry, 67 departments of regional and prefectural forestry directorates have undertaken the task of drafting accurate forest maps. Greece has a relatively large proportion of publicly owned forests, roughly 68 percent of the total. The remainder are considered «non-public,» a term which does not mean, however, that they are privately owned. Of them, 18 percent belong to individuals and the rest to communities (there are a number of community-owned forests in Macedonia and Epirus, in which the State owns a part-share), monasteries and cooperatives. But woodlands often change hands when ownership status is pending, after which, by following some admittedly difficult procedures, there are ways by which one can prove ownership of a forest. Occupied forests: Some forests, about 5 percent of the total of forests and woodlands, are «occupied.» Their ownership status is unclear, to say the least. Some people own titles of ownership or property transfer contracts, but ownership status has been pending since 1836, when forests which were not given to private owners by a committee that had been set up were automatically deemed to have become public property. They are large areas which, if given to the claimants, would probably be sold off to large landowners because there are no subdivision permits for forests and it is difficult to maintain a forest. A common ploy is to discreetly expand a building plot, especially when the border of the neighboring plot has not been clearly established, or even better, is public property. It often happens in seafront or suburban areas where extending property at will can mean a lot of money. Someone who builds a house on land encroached upon in this way may face many difficulties but cannot easily be made to move, even though they have no legal entitlement to the land. Resin collecting: Another group of claims are from resin collectors. In the past, local residents used to collect resin from many public pine forests, a fairly profitable occupation. The State handed over not only the right to use but also the ownership of forests, initially in Megara and Perahora, and then in Attica, Evia and many other parts of Greece except Halkidiki. After the 1950s, paper manufacturers producing resin and resin collecting became unprofitable. The owners of the forests started selling them to building cooperatives. At first building was permitted on such land. This was banned in the early 1960s by a law introduced by the Agriculture Ministry, and was permitted again in 1971-75, when the new constitution was introduced. It was in this way that Voutzas, Kallitechnoupoli, Dionysos, Nea Makri and even Ekali were built up. Construction caused these areas to lose their forest character, and building cooperatives were left with the ownership of woodlands they could not use. Building cooperatives: This began another long-lasting series of claims from building cooperatives, which owned former farmland, mainly close to urban centers. These were the properties massively advertised on radio some years back as building plots with electricity and water, just 20 minutes from Omonia, but which cannot be built on because they don’t meet the conditions that apply in those locations. Building plots that originated in forests were sold cheaply because the vendors knew what difficulties the new owners would face. Since the new plots had no subdivision permits, the contracts were invalid. In many, the buyers and sellers simply made declarations to public notaries, without producing the necessary documents. Wooded fields: Another issue often cited by those who want the law relaxed is that of wooded fields, mostly in the highlands, which have been abandoned by their owners and have since been naturally reforested. The owners have contracts and retain ownership but cannot alter the land use because the fields are protected by forest legislation. If recognized as wooded fields and change of use is permitted, this land will probably become fields again or building plots, but without proper town planning. Few people want to go back to tilling fields, especially in the mountains.