Greek pine honey is now even more of a precious commodity following wildfires that have for the most part destroyed beekeeping in northern Evia. The recent wildfires charred more than 130,000 acres of forested land in Evia.
It was in those same charred forests that bees produced the unique Greek pine honey. The wide variety of trees and flowers found in northern Evia made the area a cornucopia for bees. Production of honey with a piney taste because of the surroundings of the Evian forest is finished.
The now-blackened remains of the charred northern Evian forests are no longer a hospitable climate for honey production, according to beekeeper Dimitris Papapostolou. “Greek pine honey is finished. The bees no longer have anywhere to feed to produce the unique flavor that comes from the flora and fauna natural to our forests.”
Papapostolou told told Greek Reporter on Friday “I was one of the lucky ones. I had my bees on the mainland. I only bring them to Evia for the three months that the pine trees are pollinated, from about September through November.”
And although Papapostolou’s bees and hives were saved, he has nonetheless lost 60 percent of his business because more than half of the honey his company, mellisopoto.gr, produces, is pine honey.
Beekeeping Trade Destroyed By Fires
Others were not so lucky. Antonis Vakas, a beekeeper from Voutes, Evia, spoke with Reuters, lamenting the loss of his trade. “The destruction is immeasurable,” Vakas said. “Beekeeping has been destroyed. We are destroyed. There is no green anywhere. Bees cannot exist without green.”
The wildfires that raged for nearly a week on Evia ravaged the land around villages, destroying pine trees and consuming thousands of beehives. Papapostolou estimated that at least 5,000 hives have been destroyed.
“Greek pine honey comes from northern Evia and a small portion from Thasso. About 40 percent of that Greek pine honey comes from northern Evia. Beekeeping is destroyed with no living in trees in northern Evia,” he says.
Greek Honey is Fourth Most Exported Honey in EU
Greek beekeepers produced 15,000 tons of honey in 2018, according to the latest Eurostat figures, making it the EU’s eighth largest producer. But its high quality honey is particularly prized and it is the bloc’s fourth-biggest exporter of honey.
“All countries produce good natural honey, but they are inferior to Greek honey,” Papapostolou told Greek Reporter. The 40-year-old has a legacy of four generations of beekeepers in northern Evia. His great-grandfather began harvesting honey more than a century ago.
Pine honey has a distinctive, delicious taste that is different than flower-derived honeys, because “in the case of pine honey and fir honey the bees are fed from the microorganisms that live only on these trees and not from the actual tree,” Papapostolou told Greek Reporter.
Greece is one of the European Union’s biggest honey producers. The temperate Mediterranean climate and its normally heavily forested landscape allow bees to thrive.
A record heat wave resulted in wildfires that blazed across almost half of the island. Some locals who defied evacuation orders had to choose between saving their property or their livelihoods.
“First we tried to save our houses. Unfortunately we could not save our hives,” Vakas said. Only 30 out of his 130 beehives survived.
There are no flowers still alive now to give up their pollen, so the bee population cannot be reborn. There are no pine trees to make honey, so Greek beekeepers cannot make an income, according to the Istiaia Beekeepers’ Cooperative in Evia, which has about 60 members.
Without Bees There Is No Life on Earth
Papapostolou said that “without bees, life wouldn’t exist on our planet. And now for many in Evia, there will be no livelihood. Bees play an integral role in pollinating many plants that we rely on for food and other uses, and without them, many plants and entire ecosystems would be destroyed.”
Climate change has impacted bee populations, which have been decreasing at an alarming rate. Scientists and apiarists stress the importance of supporting beekeepers and buying sustainably-produced honey, as it helps keep essential bee populations strong.
A total of 58 large forest fires have taken place in Greece in 2021. This represents an average of 4,942 acres being burned per large fire in Greece, putting the country at the top of the Mediterranean nations for this year.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced financial relief and compensation this week to help communities rebuild after the devastation.
However, bringing back the the green — and the bees — is perhaps a measure that Mitsotakis cannot pull off.