A project to map Greek olive groves is seeking £11,350 on crowdfunding website Kickstarter. For the moment the project is limited to Crete, which has olive trees thought to be up to 2,000 years old.
‘Every islands claims to have the oldest tree,’ says June Field, a journalist and consultant who has been involved with campaigns to protect Greek olive groves for the last ten years. ‘The oldest trees are all over the country, but some places like Crete, Peloponnese and Lesbos have a great many.’
Olive groves are under threat from several directions. ‘The groves are logged for about £28 per tree,’ says Field. Apart from being used for heating, the old-timers are also exported. ‘Some are sold to Italy to make pizza ovens, and to make toilet paper,’ she adds.
In the last five years, a German solar power company has been encouraging people to clear groves to provide room for battery units, according to Field.
The first step toward preserving the trees will be to produce a map using drones and new mapping software. Local cartographers who have already produced three maps of Crete will take on the project, if the funding goal is met.
‘I’ve been photographing the trees, rather than mapping them with help from volunteers,’ says Field. Since the economic crisis, local resources for conservation work has decreased.
‘The plan is to unite local organisations that work in one village or prefecture into a national organisation,’ says Field. There’s nothing like a National Trust in Greece, but the Pan-Hellenic Cultural Association is trying to take action on the issue.
Greece’s new Syriza-led government may also help the olive grove’s cause. Elena Kountoura, deputy minister for tourism, has pledged to focus on ecotourism and sustainable tourism, according to Field, who plans to meet the minister soon.
If the map is successful, the campaign will lobby to have Greece’s oldest olive trees declared national monuments.