The summer forest fires have highlighted a government service (Forestry Department) to which we do not pay the appropriate attention that it deserves.
The recent firefighting activities of the Department both in Cyprus and abroad (Israel, Greece) has made us proud.
This Department has also recently taken the initiative to give away free saplings to drive home the importance of tree planting and protecting the environment.
This last effort was met by such enthusiastic public response that the Department quickly ran out of plants, with over one mln trees given out in a matter of days.
Civil servants are obligated to carry out their work with timely response and enthusiasm in their work.
This Department, unlike other governmental services, fits the above requirement perfectly.
As such, it is regrettable that the Department remains little known to the wider public, and we hear of them only when disasters happen.
This has improved over the last decade following an intensive campaign, starting from education in schools, etc.
I hope this will not stop, and it will be a springboard for the future.
The environment contributes to the value of real estate and buildings, and other benefits, which result in a greater benefit to the public.
It is evident in the valuation of real estate.
For example, I quote two recent property sales in the Kornos area, where one wooded plot with pines was sold for €20/sq.m. and an adjoining one, barren of vegetation for €12/sq.m.
On this matter, a client of ours, owner of land in the Lythrodontas area, requested a quotation from an insurance company to cover the loss of value of a field which is now wooded, in the event of the trees being destroyed by fire – an interesting request and I await the response.
Some 15 years ago, another client noted that his 8-year-old pine trees were dying and asked us to investigate.
We applied to the Forestry Department, which dispatched four officers to find out.
The British owner was most upset by this situation, but part of the problem, as the forestry officers concluded, was he had clipped branches of the pine trees to make them grow faster (a mistake), they also realised the soil depth was only 1.50m, followed by rock slabs not allowing water to go through and the roots became rotten.
In Latsia, we had a recent experience of a beautiful 5-metre-high pine tree that was dying.
We spoke to the District Forestry Officer of Nicosia (Kyriakos Monoyios), who dispatched two forestry officers to investigate the next day.
This immediate and enthusiastic response by the Department is a rarity by the Cypriot civil service, especially observing the care these officers showed for the tree.
The change of the environment and rising temperature, and criminal actions by some people (lighting fires on purpose) are serious considerations.
European Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen was touched by the Larnaca fires and promised €18 mln in aid to limit the impact of fires.
I hope this aid will be used wisely for new technical equipment, hiring of more forestry officers/firefighters.
However, I am disappointed by the changes at the Forestry College, which should train forestry officers, currently limited to theoretical lessons.
It could have been much better to revert the Forestry College back to an international school hosting students from home and abroad and provide them with practical training, as it used to be in the past.
On another note, the government has introduced fire protection measures, including watchtowers, use of drones.
Still, I feel the use of rangers patrolling forest areas at all hours (similar to rangers monitoring illegal hunting) is a necessity.
Regrettably, no matter what we do, we have many sick pyromaniacs in Cyprus who start fires in some cases to express their objection to the authorities.
Such behaviour will not end, and evidence of this are the fires in other countries (Italy had 700 fires in one day, Spain, Greece).
As such, hiring 500 forest rangers, on a minimum salary with added pay for active duty, a group to be deployed anywhere on the island, is an additional measure that will help.
And forests, trees in general offer added value to real estate and development projects.
For this reason, I have suggested the cutting of any trees for development should be replaced with a similar or larger number of new trees.
Others could be replanted within the affected area or in other locations, similar to the system for parking spaces, at the developer’s cost.
But as we say, “this is Cyprus” with the recent example of a development in Platres which
was illegal and caused the cutting down of forest trees.
The Planning Authority stopped it, and the District Officer promised, “the environment will be reinstated”.
Some 18 months have passed, and we are still waiting.
Antonis Loizou, Real Estate Valuer, Estate Agent & Property Consultant