Forests in Greece Overview
According to an estimate from a few years ago 25% of Greece is forested, showing a significant increase over the 19.6 % estimate from the 1960s. Though this is a surprisingly high percent, the definition of what constitutes forest has been a subject of controversy, as it can sometime include what is basically scrub land.
Still, when one crosses into the region of Ipiros over the Pindos mountains in northwest Greece (over the highway crossing just to the northwest of the Macedonian city of Grevena) one sees only forest for miles in every direction, and one could easily believe oneself to be in Switzerland, or in northern California or Oregon.
Indeed, most of the forest in Greece is found in the north and in high mountain areas, due partly to the cooler and damper climate, but also to the lower density of humans, of agriculture, and of tourism.
Deciduous trees such as oaks make up about 57% of the forested area, with the other 43% dominated by conifers. Approximately three quarters of the deciduous trees are oaks, of which there are twelve species in Greece. Except for the valonia oak, the oaks are more common in the north, as are beech trees. Beech forests have a large range of flowers in them, including some special orchids, and also quite a few species of breeding birds, particularly where some of the older trees are present. Other trees include Oriental planes, sweet chestnut and birch. The older deciduous forest in Greece are rich in birds, butterflies, and flowers, and in the Rhodopi mountains, near the Bulgarian border, there are deer, fire salamanders, and brown bears.
Of the conifers, 40% are Aleppo pines, and another 40% are different types of fir, the largest percentage Greek fir.The firs are found mostly at higher altitudes than the pines, in denser forest with more old trees.
A rare owl, Tengmalm's owl, is found in these fir forests, along with other birds that prefer this habitat. Other kinds of pine and spruce are also found in mixed coniferous forests in Greece. In non-forested alpine areas in Greece, there are many species of butterflies and birds.
Forest fires can and do happen -
many are set by unscrupulous developers in high summer on very windy days
A word should be said about the horrific forest fires that have occurred over the past few decades in Greece, many of them on islands blessed with huge areas of forest cover (Ikaria and Samos among others).
It seems to be a well-established fact that some fires have been set deliberately in order to clear land for construction, which would otherwise be off limits to developers. Much of the forest on Mt. Pendeli, to the northeast of Athens as well, has also suffered terrible fires, this in an area obviously desirable for suburban development.
Certainly it is likely that, given the large percentage of smokers in the Greek population, carelessness with cigarettes in summertime, when everything is bone dry, might be blamed for fires as well. Some municipalities have put up signs for the public, enjoining citizens to exercise extreme caution.
Scrub land, or land where bushes dominate, is common in Greece, and often the result of extensive grazing, though the plants that grow in these areas are habitat for many animals and birds.
Orchids and small crocuses are among the plants that grow on such land. Along the lower reaches of Greek rivers and in their deltas gallery forests which were once extensive have been much diminished, mostly by grazing, though there are still remnants in the Ambrakikos Gulf (Ambracian Gulf, in the western part of Central Greece, or Sterea Elladha), the Nestos River delta (on the border of Macedonia and Thrace in northern Greece), and the Prespa Lakes (shared by Greece, Albanian and FYROM).
Trees in such areas include willows, elms, alders, ash, poplars, as well as hops and vines. Certainly such areas were also fine habitat for wildlife. Lakes in Greece often have good reed beds along their edges which shelter birds and open water where various plants grow. Though many lakes have been converted to agricultural land, those that remain are fine habitat for birds, amphibians, reptiles, and other creatures. There are also freshwater marshes in Greece though they have become rare, and some coastal areas become flooded in winter and provide habitat for many flowering plants as well as reeds and sedges.