Crete is not just crowded holiday resorts. It still
has its remote, wild places, even on the coast. One is the extreme north-east
tip, a dry jagged peninsula of lonely, vulture-haunted crags, grey-green
bushes and white limestone desert, far from the tourist crowds. Into this
unlikely location developers are trying to insert several golf-courses,
holiday villages and hotels, on land leased from a venerable but sadly
GOLF AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The sport of golf has moved far from its ancient beginnings in Scottish
sand-dunes, when it was played in an unaltered landscape by shepherd-boys
and kings and did nobody any harm. It was transformed by Americans
who industrialized it, bulldozed it and watered it into unsuitable
parts of the world. Modern golf in the wrong places can do immense
environmental and social damage. Golf-courses now try to keep green
all through the year, even the rainless summers of the Mediterranean,
and use immense quantities of water and polluting chemicals.
The proposed development by Minoan Group and its subsidiary Loyalward http://www.minoangroup.com/
is comically unsuited to this site. Anyone who has experienced the merciless
winds will be sceptical about playing golf here at all. There is no infrastructure,
and providing any would do great damage to the ecology. There is no local population;
workers will have to be brought in from outside. Cliff-bound, rugged coasts
and rough seas are unattractive to conventional seaside tourism: the few tiny
beaches are choked with sea-brought rubbish. The site is several hours' journey
from the places that tourists come to Crete to see. What will they find to
do when they get tired of golf? Two smaller developments in the peninsula have
The development is unsustainable because of lack of water for the golf-courses,
hotels, workers' dwellings etc. It goes against the best principles
even of American golf-course design: instead of working with a well-adapted
site, the developers would force golf on a dry and rocky area that
is absurdly ill-adapted to it. They propose desalination, but a large
desalination factory will do further damage to the ecosystem: it will
either cover a great area of land with wind turbines and/or solar collectors,
or will demand a large supply of energy, which is scarce in Crete;
and disposing of the salt produced will result in further destruction.
THE CAVO SIDERO LANDSCAPE
The island of Crete is one of the world's biological hot-spots. This
particular corner is the home of special, drought- or salt-adapted
vegetation including some of the world's rarest plants. Like many semi-deserts
it is rich in species: tiny, colourful plants that spring up after
the winter rains and are gone before summer. A small part of the area
is the palm-grove of Vaï, known to the outside world as the largest
area of the special, native Cretan palm-tree. In other countries Sidhero
would long ago have been a National Park. It is a part of Crete belatedly
designated for conservation under the Natura 2000 scheme, which is
utterly inconsistent with large-scale development. Please see http://natura.minenv.gr/natura/server/user/biotopos_info.asp?siteCode=GR4320006.
The peninsula is also of the greatest archaeological importance, for a peculiar
reason. In antiquity, probably under a more favourable climate, it was farmland.
In Greek and Roman times it supported the city of Itanos, until the decline
of the Byzantine empire. Then came the corsairs. Pirates especially haunted
this corner of Crete, where they preyed on passing ships and also raided on
land. With the fall of Itanos the peninsula became untenable and remained uninhabited
for a thousand years. In consequence, Neolithic and Minoan farms, terraces
and fields and check-dams of Ancient Greek and Byzantine cultivators survive
on a landscape-wide scale, not hidden or destroyed by the works of later cultivators.
Here, as nowhere else except on a few remote islets, one can see what the farmed
countryside of Mediterranean Antiquity looked like.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND CULTURAL IMPACT
The environmental impact assessment that we have seen is perfunctory.
It sets out vague general principles but lacks essential detail. It
deals with those areas proposed to be built on in the first instance,
and says nothing about effects on the rest of the peninsula. In practice,
development of parts of the peninsula will threaten the remainder.
If the first development is successful it will lead to demands for
expansion. Even if this does not happen, areas not built on are likely
- whatever the present intentions of the developers - to be encroached
on by service buildings, car-parks, earth- and rubbish-dumps and litter.
The grazing regime, essential to maintaining the vegetation, is likely
to be affected. The famous palm-grove, though not directly encroached
on, is threatened by contamination of the ground-water on which it
depends, and also because developers find it difficult to resist bringing
in foreign palm-trees, and with them the red palm weevil, a deadly
insect for native palms.
The developers' archaeological assessment of the area is entirely inconsistent
with what we have seen ourselves. Proposed for protection are the site of Itanos
itself, two scraps of landscape, and five isolated sites (one of which is a
Minoan villa already heavily damaged by bulldozing). Two of the ancient sites
are in the wrong places on the map, suggesting that the investigators did not
actually visit the area. The proposed road to the desalination plant will run
right through an important site, where substantial ancient building foundations
are clearly visible. Singling out these few places for protection, however,
is sadly inadequate; nearly the whole landscape is, in effect, an archaeological
site. Its features, though perfectly capable of surviving if left alone, are
fragile and easily destroyed by the kind of casual earth-moving that inevitably
goes with commercial development Please see http://webefa.efa.gr/prospection-itanos/.
We are not opposed to development as such. Such a scheme might be acceptable
in the right place, next to an existing resort where it might lengthen
the holiday season and provide valuable employment. It is pointless
and absurd in a remote corner. North-east Crete needs only to be left
alone, or perhaps developed for more sensitive eco-tourism that would
make its unique landscape available to those who are interested. The
north-west corner of Crete is another rugged Natura 2000 area with
endemic plants and antiquities; instead of golf-courses, a network
of marked footpaths with signs pointing out what makes it special is
CAVO SIDERO AND THE HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH
There is another disturbing aspect. The land belongs to the Holy Monastery
of the Panayia Akrotiriani (Our Lady of the Cape), which has been allowed
to decline and now has very few monks (and presumably has little need
for funds). The monastery's lands are under the jurisdiction of His
All-Holiness Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople.
The Orthodox Church has a well-developed theology of the environment and of
humanity's spiritual, as well as material duty, to live in harmony with the
natural world and to care for God's creatures. This has been repeatedly urged
by the Patriarch on public occasions. He has travelled all over the world and
has spoken eloquently of the need to protect the world's special places such
as Greenland and the Amazon. The north-east corner of Crete is such a special
place, over which the Patriarch has very substantial authority and influence,
which so far he has not used to prevent its destruction.