The Mediterranean Basin was settled by humans very early. Consequently, Mediterranean-type landscapes have long ago experienced human impact (Naveh, 1998). Until 1980, the dynamic equilibium between humans and the Mediterranean environment resulted in a remarkably rich landscape. However land abandonment, tourism development, population concentration along the coast and the extended transportation networks have characterised the last two decades of the 20th century (Arianoutsou, 2001)... In Greece, the area of olive groves has increased constantly during the last quarter century. Groves for olive oil have expanded in many semi-mountainous and coastal areas (mainly in Crete and the Peloponnese) (Beaufoy 2000). [Text from MSc thesis by Youmna Achkar, "Distribution and patterns of olive groves across an altitudinal gradient", MAICh , 2012]
If we take a look at the Cretan landscape where I live, we find a great diversity of extreme features in a very restricted area, making up a highly complex landscape covered in highlands and lowlands, coastal lands and inlands, intensively and extensively cultivated agricultural lands, very old and very modern settlements, abandoned and overpopulated areas (as described by Papanastasis et al., 2004 in Achkar 2012). A typical geological feature of the area is the appearance of displaced rocky landscape caused by faults , and massifs caused by uplifting through plate movements (aka earthquakes). The rocky parts of Hania are characterised by phyllite and quartzite . This all forms the rocky hilly landscape of the villages where my parents were born. Although one village was located in a mountain, and the other inland with close proximity to the coast, both areas share many features, steep hilly rocky paths being one of them.
The shrubland in the photo lies directly above our olive grove. From this point on the hill (approximately 200m above sea level), no more olive trees have been planted (although they grow at higher altitudes). This kinf of land is called μαδάρα (ma-THA-ra). It is sectioned off here, which tells us that it's being used for animal grazing. In the past when there was no fencing, goats would come into our grove, scrape the bark off the olives and eat the lower lying leaves.
The Cretan hills and mountains have always been covered in some form of vegetation, mainly low shrubs and short trees, collectively known as macquis . The higher the altitude, the more diverse the varieties of macquis; various species grow at different heights. This kind of landscape has largely been displaced in modern times by the ease of access of landscape machinery, changing the function and nature of the land, usually from a natural wild area to a tamer cultivated landscape. Agricultural practices have changed the area drastically over the years, especially in recent times. This is not necessarily a negative aspect of modern life: more areas are protected these days, leading to the rise in forested areas.
"Hunting is forbidden within the fenced-off area." Apart from the road, the area has a more natural look to it than the area planted by trees.
The main problem with modern agriculture in Crete is the sharp increase in the need for water resources which have always been limited on the island. Although Crete doesn't import water supplies, like many other Greek islands, Crete is subject to a desertification process due to water pressures from tourist needs and home-gardening/landscaping. Lawns for example are a ridiculous waste of both water and money resources. The best way to maintain a pretty garden in Crete is to incorporate the idea of xeriscape , which means using local species of plants that do not require a great deal of water needs.
Arbute (also known as the strawberry tree), carob and fig - all varieties of Cretan xeriscape. Below: a close-up of the arbute - the red berries are ripe enough to eat; we ate them, which is why they are missing!; a fig tree. Fig and carob grow large, but they can be trimmed for landscaping purposes.
The changes in the Cretan landscape are nowadays constatnly being tracked with the use of GIS technology. Aerial photographs over a period of time tell us that more and more trees are being planted than there ever were in the past, while GIS technology is now close to the point of being able to correctly guess the tree species, even from photos taken so far away from the air, where the tree trunk is not visible. Black and white as well as colour photography can be used in conjunction with GIS technology, which separates the different shades and hues of grey or green, being able to pinpoint very closely what tree species is found in each patch of that blanket. This has helped in curbing false claims by farmers about how many and what kind of trees they planted in the fields, which used to get them subsidies (although these subsidies are now due to stop). The eventual aim is to do this for all plants, including seasonal crops like tomatos and cauliflowers. Although we will have to wait a while for that to happen, technology has developed at such a rapid pace, that we can guarantee it will be in our lifetime.
All photos taken on Boxing Day, 2012, in and around our olive grove.
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