Locals guard burnt forestland

Residents of Melissia, northern Athens, have averted attempts to build on a patch of forestland burnt in August’s fires that the government has designated as a protected area. Concerned locals called the police after spotting a series of disconcerting developments over the past few days: First unidentified individuals were seen clearing up the burnt area, then construction site materials appeared and finally a bulldozer arrived on the scene. «The activities stopped after we called the police,» said a local resident who asked not to be named. The patch of land in question, burnt during the spate of catastrophic fires this summer, was designated as an area reserved for reforestation in an issue of the Government Gazette published at the end of last month. A few days after the announcement, locals started planting trees in a bid to inject some green back into the charred site. They were stopped by an individual claiming to own the land. A few days later the pre-construction activities began. Melissia Mayor Emmanouil Grafakos said he had lodged an appeal with the local forest authorities to investigate the thwarted initiative. Pendeli forest ranger Alexandros Rigas said he, and the neighboring forestry service of Aghia Paraskevi, would do all they could despite understaffing problems. The reforestation of land burnt in the summer fires and the protection of Greek forests in general are among the demands of groups organizing a rally in central Athens on Saturday. Protesters are also calling on the state to curb its reliance on fossil fuels for power production and boost energy-saving policies. The rally, timed to coincide with a United Nations summit on climate change in Bali, is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., along with similar demonstrations in another 90 countries. The environmental protection group WWF Hellas criticized the government’s decision to send just one representative to the Bali conference while other countries are sending large delegations.