Fauna and traditional architecture at risk

Money sent home by seamen may have seen the locals through hard times in years past, but now it is the olive crop that supports the local economy. Its excellent quality, low acidity, hardiness and ability to be mixed with other varieties mean that most of the local olive oil is exported to Italy, to be mixed with Spanish, Turkish or Tunisian olive oil, and then sold as Italian. Only a small quantity ends up in the Greek market – unfortunately, as it is truly unique. The olive press in the village of Aghios Nikolaos produces an average of 700-900 tons of olive oil every year, from the end of October to mid-December. «The total production in Vatika is around 2-2.5 million kilos of oil,» said Chronis Papoulias, head of the cooperative. «The main variety is Athinolia, which is particularly vulnerable to climatic conditions and demanding to cultivate. However, Greek firms can’t compete with the prices we can get. They come and sample it and then go away again. The last time we sold oil here in Greece was around five years ago.» Old photographs of Neapoli show tiled roofs, balconies with wrought iron railings, whitewashed courtyards and bougainvillea. Vronda, the oldest neighborhood in the town, retains much of its traditional charm despite unfortunate additions. «In recent years, the mentality of easy profit at the expense of aesthetics has made its presence felt,» said a teacher who was born and raised in Neapoli. «The whole area is being urbanized without any plan or any thought of leaving open spaces or parks and without realizing it, it is becoming a microcosm of Athens.» However, a collective consciousness is not altogether absent. Last year when locals became aware of plans to build an electricity plant nearby in a Natura 2000 site, committees were set up to wage a campaign against it. Not much has been done, however, to protect the important biotope of the Strongyli Lagoon. «Usually local authorities prefer to build roads and sidewalks that will get them votes rather than concern themselves with culture or the environment,» said Antonis Tantoulos, director of the medical center. Most efforts have been made by private individuals. Yiannis Psarrakis, for example, has walked kilometers to photograph local flora. «When I was young, the endemic Tulipa goulimyi was everwhere. I remember it because as children we used eat its bulb,» he explained. «But pesticides and intensive farming practices have reduced its numbers. So four years ago, I started photographing them and now have a collection of 280 recognized species and 130 that I have not yet identified. I know my compatriots think I am a bit mad, but I don’t care.» From the February 10 issue of Kathimerini’s Sunday supplement K.