While today forests fill 175,404 hectares or 19% of the area of Cyprus mostly in the mountains of the Paphos district in the western side of the island, historians and archaeologists suggest that Cyprus was once quite different. Cyprus was once characterized as “Dasoessa,” meaning a place full of forests, and as “a golden-green leaf tossed in the sea.”
The forests of Cyprus have played an important role in the socio-economic aspect of life on the island. In ancient literary sources we find many historic testimonies which refer to the forests of Cyprus. I have read that a historian named Stravon, drawing from the ancient Ptolemian mathematician Eratosthenis of Cyrene, writes… 1
“In the old times there were forests on the planes, and these were so many that covered the whole planes to the point where it was impossible to cultivate them… and people would cut down the trees for the smelting of copper and silver, while the building of the fleets had begun”.
Eratosthenis lived around 200 BCE, or about a thousand years after the end of the Late Bronze Age when Copper production peaked in Cyprus. Considering that 120 pine trees were required to produce 6 tons of charcoal needed to prepare one copper ingot (45-65 pounds), some have calculated that it would have taken 50 to 100 years to exhaust the forests of Cyprus during peak production of the Late Bronze Age. So it seems that the forests were able to regenerate over this time. Add to that the estimates that total Copper production during the Bronze Age was 200,000 to 250,000 tons, and we can in fact estimate that the island was deforested the equivalent of 16 times.
But as I mentioned, today it is only in the mountainous Paphos district that you have forests. So where did the forests of Eratosthenis’ time go? The plains east of the Troodos and south of the Pentadactylos mountains are largely empty of trees. Admittedly there are some tree-planting activities in the hills, and the Forestry and Agriculture departments work together in this, but this is a relatively recent activity and the trees planted have not matured into forests. The landscape here still looks to be in the midst of desertification as a result.
Because of the many roles that trees play in ecosystems and water cycles, it seems quite probable that the trees lost from Eratosthenis’ time have contributed to ecosystem degradation and desertification, and changes in land cover directly influence less regional concerns such as global warming.
Enter the Biodiversity ACT initiative. A small group of concerned individuals have started a grassroots initiative for WED2010, starting with a goal to plant 500,000 trees. It is a bold move that is likely to have a positive effect on these issues. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now,” they write.
The Cyprus Biodiversity Act is a proactive initiative to significantly impact climatic change while exercising a democratic right for social compromise that will help the understanding and progress of culture and science in our modern society.
“Bravo,” I say to this promise. Please, if you agree, go ahead and join the Facebook group for the Biodiversity ACT.