Ancient olive trees, some 25 meters in circumference and over 2,000-years-old, are being felled in Crete for firewood according to reporting in today’s Kathimerini newspaper (link in Greek).

The report describes how enterprising loggers are illegally cutting down olive trees that were alive during the time of the ancient Greeks, to the horror of local residents.

“Organised crews who have realized that most of the residents here are elderly come and without asking anybody just cut down entire olive groves – even trees over 2,000 years old,” the paper quotes Aris Koutakis as saying, a resident of Amariou Rethymnou in the foothills of the Psiloritis mountain. “People who have left Crete return to find they have lost their trees. Others due to financial difficulty arrange to have them cut down [and sold] because they don’t get olives or income from them, but it hurts them.”

Demand for firewood has increased dramatically in recent years due to price rises in heating oil, and olive wood is particularly valued as it is a dense wood providing heat for many hours. Together with the greater financial incentive, many also accuse authorities of turning a blind eye to loggers' destruction of Crete’s ancient olive trees with all of their history and symbolism.

Recently the Technological Educational Institute of Crete together with a network of local volunteer organisations has mapped over 1000 ancient olive trees on the island (the youngest being 500-1000 years old), but indifference from local authorities means that many remain legally unprotected. “They rip them up to plant new trees and they end up as firewood. This winter I estimate 500 trees will be lost in Crete,” Kostas Savvakis, a volunteer of the network tells the paper.

And so trees that have raised hundreds of generations of Cretans through the ages, will today give up their last bit of warmth in the face of indifference and greed.