NEWS

Land-grabbing is rife in Greek forests

Many people have their eyes on Greek forests and scrubland, either because they are publicly owned and easy to appropriate or because some groups of people used to make a living from the forest and feel it belongs to them. A single fire can reduce a forest to bare earth which takes years to regain its dense vegetation. That’s the easy part; getting titles of ownership is tougher. Some people possess titles that are not valid, and others have valid titles but cannot get permission to build. Still others have built houses but cannot get them legalized. Many illegally built houses date back to the 1960s. For decades, people have been laying claim to tracts of forestland with varying degrees of justification. Practically half the population of Greece has been to court at some stage to settle a matter of property ownership. The luckiest ones have pursued the matter through administrative channels and various committees. The government can’t afford to displease thousands of voters, but neither can it completely satisfy them; forest expanses that provide much-needed oxygen for nearby urban areas have already shrunk dangerously. The result is extremely complicated legislation, comprising bills, presidential decrees and ministerial decisions, and which few know how to navigate. In fact, it is riddled with loopholes. And now a new draft bill, attractively named «Protection of Forest Ecosystems, Establishment of a Forest Register, Regulation of Rights of Possession in Forests and Scrubland in General and Other Provisions» but containing a number of dodgy clauses, is being added to the already complicated legislation. Intended to solve existing problems, the new bill may cause even more serious ones, because some areas will no longer be listed as forests and will be built up in a chaotic fashion for lack of proper town planning.