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Parnitha will never be the same, says ex-forestry director

Twenty-five years of experience working in the Mt Parnitha Forestry Service, the last eight of them as its director, have made Giorgos Amorgianiotis an expert on this particular ecosystem that was ravaged by devastating fires last June. In a talk he gave last week at the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, the former Parnitha forestry director did not hold out much hope for the regeneration of vegetation on large stretches of the burnt areas. «It will take many years of systematic, hard work before vegetation can be re-established – whether naturally or artificially – on some of the areas where the soil is shallow and the slopes exposed, particularly those facing the south,» he said. Established as a national park in 1961, Parnitha was therefore the only mountain in Attica not to fall victim to the construction boom that began in that decade. The only area where construction has crept to the 700-meter level is in the district of Thrako-Makedones, which was laid out before the park was established. The park is visited by over a million people a year, more than half of them visitors to the casino reached both by road and a recently improved cable car. An increasingly frequent occurrence of forest fires, however, particularly around Tatoi and Fyli, where there is more pressure for land, has meant that natural regeneration cannot take place. «Fire is one of the ecological factors that has played a role in the development of the Mediterranean landscape and vegetation, but it has developed into a destructive factor because of the increasing frequency of the fires, in combination with uncontrolled grazing and human activities such as land clearance,» he explained. «Over recent decades the view has prevailed that fire acts as a selective force affecting the composition of Mediterranean flora and ecosystems, allowing species that have adaptive strategies to survive. However the duration of time between two fires is increasingly less than the time these species require to reproduce,» he added. Aleppo pines have completely adapted to regenerating after fires – most of the pines in Attica are of this species – and can regrow to a height of 30-50 centimeters within 15 years. Their cones mature three years after germination and can stay dormant for 10-15 years, bursting open after fires, spreading large quantities of seeds that will sprout in autumn if there is at least 15 cm of rainfall. The cones will keep opening for two to five years, depending on climatic conditions, ensuring a sufficiency of seeds. So natural regeneration is ensured and no action is required apart from protecting areas from grazing and soil from erosion and flooding. The same does not apply to the stands of Cephalonian firs, two-thirds of which on the mountain were burnt in last year’s fire. This species has not adapted at all to fires – their cones burn completely due to their high resin content, leaving no seeds whatsoever in the devastated area. Amorgianiotis explained that the mountain’s Cephalonian fir population will be almost impossible to replace. The seedlings need to be shaded by other species such as black pine, and if these do not exist, the Cephalonian fir cannot grow, even if artificially seeded. This would be done by planting other species such as black pine to shade fir seedlings planted out after four years in a nursery, the first two of those having been spent under artificial shade. The regeneration of any kind of vegetation is considered «very difficult and in some places impossible» over about 26 percent of the fire-ravaged areas of Mt Parnitha said Amorgianiotis. «There is no point in artificially reforesting the mountain. Nature will do the job better than we can,» he said. But it all hinges on the hope that there will be no more fires for at least 10 years and no grazing. The forestry service has completed its work of building embankments to retain the soil, preventing earth and seeds from being washed away. One can only hope that this work is not in vain.