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Controversial New Austerity Law to Change Forest Maps Scrapped

forest firesForest fires are not uncommon in Greece in great part due to the fact that in Greece if land is mapped as a forest zone, it is illegal to build. This has led many people to take matters into their own hands to “redefine” the laws of the land, literally, by burning down public protected forests to claim the land as private and to build their home. Every year an average of around 30% of fires in Greece are proven to be started deliberately, while of those deliberately set around 20% are done with motives for profit or wanting to build on that plot of land. Those numbers are thought to be even higher, but difficult to prove with limited or no evidence left behind.
“It’s quite a simple process. You plant some olive trees on a burned plot and bring friends and relatives to testify before a local magistrate that this was always farmland. There’s no registry of forest land, so who can prove you wrong?” says Theodota Nantsou, the policy co-ordinator for Greece at WWF.
On May 18, Greece’s government submitted a new austerity law to Parliament which included a legislation on forest maps, which as noted above, is the main source of protection from building on these precious natural lands. The legislation was meant to classify the areas where there are pre-existing houses that have been built illegally as “housing agglomerations” and described them as “existing illegal building blocks in forests & natural ecosystems.”
This new legislation was of great controversy and interest for environmental groups such as the Greek branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), since it would essentially reclassify these areas on the map, as they would no longer be classified as public forests. Fears mounted that this would ultimately lead to even more illegal constructions in forested lands and the eventual legalization of illegally built “residential clusters.” This past Sunday, the legislation that would remap those plots of land illegally built was withdrawn from the multi-bill voted through the Greek Parliament, much to the satisfaction of environmental groups and concerned citizens.
Theodota Nantsou, head of policy for WWF Greece, was at the reigns of the campaign to prevent this legislation from passing. “I am glad that the environment minister made the correct move for the environment, even if it was delayed,” she said.

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