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Afforestation techniques in Cyprus

Conservator of Forests, Cyprus

Active interest in afforestation in Cyprus dates from the British occupation in 1878. Immediate steps were then taken to conserve the remaining natural forests and to supplement these natural resources by the plantation of exotic species in the arid, treeless plains. Species of the genus Eucalyptus were among the first to be introduced and, subsequently, many other suitable and unsuitable exotics were tried. From time to time, increased funds were allotted for afforestation, and the history of forestry in Cyprus is marked by periodic intensifications in the effort to afforest bare lands. The most recent of such upsurges began in 1941 under the stimulus of subsidies granted under the terms of the United Kingdom Colonial Development and Welfare Act. The program has since been well sustained under the provisions of the Ten-Year Development Plan initiated in 1946.

All through the history of forestry in Cyprus the continuing struggle to rid the forests of free-range goat grazing has been a constant and prominent feature. Within quite recent years, however, the Forest Service has succeeded in ridding 90 percent of the main forests of goat grazing. This has enabled afforestation work to go ahead freed from the constant menace of the flocks, which in the past have done so much to impede or to undo the work of afforestation.

In the village lands free-range grazing is still I a serious deterrent factor to the spread of tree-planting enterprise, but here too the situation is now much improved. Roughly half the total area of cultivated land in Cyprus has already been liberated from the free-ranging goat as a result of the operation of the Goat (Exclusion) Law and the Village Tree Planting Areas Law. Under the provisions of these Laws the inhabitants of a village may arrange by majority vote either to exclude the free-range goat entirely from the village lands or to exclude all grazing from a section of the area. As a result, increasing afforestation work is being carried out by peasant small-holders, mostly in the form of small plantations, wind-breaks or groups of trees.

The other important factor relating to the development of afforestation in Cyprus has been the increasing availability of tractors and heavy implements since the end of World War II. Mechanization has done much to revolutionize afforestation techniques, especially in the plains, and the process of adaptation to mechanized afforestation holds promise of considerable future development.

It is the purpose here to describe briefly the most recent developments in afforestation techniques in the mountains and in the plains of the country. As in all Mediterranean countries, the problem of bringing a young plantation through the dry hot summer months of the two first critical years of its life is the main natural difficulty with which we have to contend. In Cyprus, water for summer irrigation is scarce and costly and concentration must therefore be on dry-land techniques. The answer to the problem would seem to be in deep and frequent cultivation, which is referred to again later in this article.

Typical of much of the mountain land in Cyprus is this hillside, devastated by fire and continuous grazing by goats. Such a slope is ripe for erosion under these conditions.


In the mountain forests of Cyprus, where Pinus brutia and Cupressus sempervirens are the principal species, barely on-third of the area is satisfactorily stocked with trees. In the remaining two-thirds the forest is under-stocked or has been denuded of tree growth by forest fires. Now that forest grazing has been eliminated, it is expected that natural regeneration will in most cases restore the stocking without the intervention of man. Artificial afforestation is limited, therefore, to those areas where active erosion or the tardiness of natural re-seeding for one reason or another prompts the necessity for measures to augment and to reinforce the processes of natural recovery.

At first, the gradoni system found favor and was extensively employed, but as time went on the shrubby garigue vegetation recovered to such an extent following its release from grazing, that erosion ceased to become a serious problem. This lead to a greater development of the contour cultivated strip system which is now much in vogue. The gradoni system is employed, in combination with the contour strip, only on sites where the steepness of slope or the risk of erosion make this extra and more costly precaution necessary.

At present, contour cultivated strips are cleared to widths varying from 2 to 2.5 meters with uncleared intervals about 5 meters wide. This spacing has been found adequate to prevent accelerated erosion from the cultivated strips. A minimum width of 2 meters in the cultivated strip has been found necessary in order to safeguard the new seedling against competition from the flanking maquis. For the most part, the mountain slopes are too steep to permit the use of tractors, so that almost all the clearing and cultivation must be done by hand. Clean cultivation in the strip to a depth of 15 centimeters has proved of vital importance to the survival of seedlings. In areas where the soil is limited to pockets or the slopes are interrupted by frequent outcrops of rock and boulders, patch cultivation on a chequer-board pattern replaces the contour strip system, but both in effect involve about 30 percent clearance of the ground and therefore work out about the same in cost.

The cultivated strips are sown broadcast in January to 'March at the rate of 6 kilos per hectare (pine), and the seed lightly covered by raking. In the following winter any failures are raked over and re-sown; this is repeated if necessary for a third season, though usually repair sowing rarely exceeds 15 percent of the area originally treated. Even so failures can nearly always be traced to inadequate cultivation or to the use of seed which for one reason or another has lost its viability. Sometimes, however, migrations of birds, mostly finches, are responsible for severe damage in limited areas: late germinations are for this reason often more successful than those in areas sown earlier in the season.

Such a terraced hillside is seen at the top of this page, while directly above is a close-up view of a newly established row of seedling pines on one of the terrace banks.

As described in this article, gradoni terracing has been one of the main means, of establishing new forests in the Cyprus mountains.

In areas where the, erosion hazard necessitates the incorporation of gradoni or contour trenching, these are excavated on the contour at vertical intervals varying from 6 to 20 meters depending on the grade of slope and on the paucity of the ground cover. In almost all cases in our experience the gradoni have given adequate absorption with complete erosion control. Sowing is carried out in cultivated strips immediately below the gradoni. A more recent innovation has been the construction of varying grade trenches designed to discharge surplus rainwater from erosion inland into existing torrent courses, whence the run-off is controlled by stone terrace gully plugging and at lower elevations by the diversion and of water on land where conditions allow for a higher absorption rate.

In the mountain forests afforestation by planting is seldom used, partly on account of higher cost, but mainly because Pinus brutia does not transplant easily. Planting is, therefore, restricted to hardwood species, such as Robinia pseudacacia, walnut chestnut and poplars, pit-planted in the narrow riverine sites bordering the mountain streams.

Terracing such as that shown in page 161 has in some areas of Cyprus been abandoned in favor of the use of contour strips.

Above is a typical hillside, where strips and patches along the contour have been cleared for tile establishment of the future forest, giving the hillside a curious pattern. Below is a close-up of seedling pines on the contour strips, amid the ruins of the old forest.

With large blank areas still awaiting afforestation, and with a limited financial provision, the question of keeping down costs is always a matter of importance. For this reason dry stone wall terracing on open slopes is never used in forest land and even gradoni, which cost around 140 a hectare, are applied only when unavoidable. Contour strip cultivation at present costs on an average 126 a hectare including sowing and cost of seed. Present day labor rates average £0.45 per man/day.

To prevent the gullying which results once erosion has started seriously, stone wall "stops" are built across the gullies. In these, collect debris and eroded soil and stores, which gradually fill the gully again and also prevent further erosion lower down.


The plain areas in Cyprus are almost wholely under cultivation and the land available for forestry is accordingly very limited. Even those lands which have been secured for afforestation have become so degraded as to be unfit almost for the hardy goat. The general attitude of the people is that when a piece of land becomes useless for any other conceivable purpose, then it may be taken over for afforestation. The lands so acquired, however, consist of many varied types, each offering their own particular problems. There are marsh lands - more often than not saline; there are drift sands; there are eroded slopes more rock than soil; but now and again there are pieces of marginal or worn-out agricultural land which produce excellent crops of eucalyptus. Grazing is still a problem in many of these areas and climatic conditions are severe. Rainfall varies between 250 to 450 mm. per annum and away from the coastal zones the aridity in summer produces semi-desert conditions. Apart from grazing, the main problem of afforestation work in the plains has been that of bringing the new plantations safely through the long summer drought.

Choice of species

During the last seventy years many exotic species have been tried and by this time a good measure of experience has been gained regarding the minimum site requirements of those species which have become established. The most commonly planted of these are listed below grouped according to sites:

Marsh lands. Eucalyptus camaldulensis (rostrata), E. umbellata (tereticornis), E. gomphocephalos, E. occidentalis - and less frequently E. sideroxylon, E. hemiphloia and E. saligna. Of the above, E. occidentalis and E. gomphocephalos are the most tolerant of saline conditions: E. camaldulensis and E. saligna the least susceptible to damage by inundation. Acacia cyanophylla is used on the more saline sites and exhibits a salt tolerance equalled only by E. occidentalis. Tarmarix articulata (the straight growing Arabian strain) has recently been introduced and shows promise. Casuarina equisetifolia is also sometimes grown.

Sand-drifts. Acacia cyanophylla, has shown itself to be the best pioneer species for sand fixation work. On fixed sands Pinus pinea is now commonly planted or sown, being preferred to Pinus brutia on account of its straighter growth and resistance to wind damage.

Dry hill-slopes in the plains. These consist commonly of calcarious shales, where erosion is more or less chronic. Here again Acacia cyanophylla (and more rarely A. cyclops) has been the favorite species on account of its hardiness, tolerance of poor conditions and relatively quick yields of fuel. Pinus brutia and Cupressus sempervirens (for strongly alkaline soils) are hardy slow growing, while Eucalyptus occidentalis and E. hemiphloia are now being increasingly used on poor sites.

Kavkalla sites. The name is derived from the Greek work meaning "crust" and is used to designate bare, flat exposures of soft pleistocene limestones carrying shallow or pocket soils of "terra rossa" character. They are a common feature of the topography of the central plain of Cyprus. Kavkalla sites are frequently set aside for afforestation as village wood-lots, but cannot support more than a poor growth of Acacia. When, however, the crust is cracked to allow root penetration to the moister, underlying chalky-clays, almost any of the trees planted in Cyprus will thrive well.

Botton land sites. These are found usually on former agricultural lands which have been rendered uncultivable by gully formation or sheet erosion. They offer the best sites for afforestation available in the lowland are-as. Eucalyptus camaldulensis, E. umbellata and E. gomphocephalos are the species most commonly planted on these sites.

In the Cyprus lowlands, Eucalyptus, so successful in many other parts of the Mediterranean region, has been well established.

This view of a typical plantation shows how well the trees do under suitable conditions. Eucalyptus culture is described in some detail in this article.



In former days pit-planting without any other preparation of the site was invariably employed. The seedlings were planted out as soon as possible after the first winter rains had fallen and the plants had to be watered through the summer for at least two seasons. Pit-planting is now only used where mechanized preparation of the site is impossible. Even so, some preparation of the site with a pick-axe or mattock is commonly used before pit-planting.

Clean cultivation

On all sites where it is possible to use machinery, the current system is to clean plow the land once or twice during summer and, at the same time, to protect the site from erosion by building earth-banks on the contour. Crawler tractors with bulldozers are used where necessary for rough levelling to fill in gullies to facilitate ploughing. In the autumn the land is disc-harrowed and pits prepared ready for planting. The post-hole digger operated from the tractor's power take-off has proved most satisfactory for making the pits, but when not available, an economical alternative method on level ground is to open a deep furrow (40 cm.) with a "Ditcher" double-wing plow and to plant the seedlings in the furrow. After planting, the area is once more disc-harrowed in February or March to kill weed growth and to provide a good mulch against the summer drought. For the second and third seasons after this, the area is gain disc-harrowed - once in the autumn before the onset of the rainy weather and once in the spring. In marshy land where reed growth offers serious competition to the young trees, regular cultivation with the harrow continues for as long as it is possible to get a tractor between the rows of trees. As a result of this clean cultivation system, no irrigation is necessary, as the spring cultivation gives a surface mulch which reduces soil evaporation -losses and preserves soil moisture sufficient for the young trees, so that even in abnormally dry years casualities in new plantations rarely exceed 5 percent.

Experience has proved that much better results are obtained by using pot plants as opposed to transplants from nursery beds. Importance is also attached to the grading of nursery stock because it has been shown that a strong and well-developed seedling grows into a healthy well-formed tree.

Under clean cultivation systems spacing is determined primarily by the width of the tractor and machinery. In Cyprus, eucalypts and acacias are planted at a spacing of 3 X 3m. or 3.5 X 3.5m. Thinnings are rarely made in Eucalyptus crops and usually the plantation is clear-felled on a rotation of 10 years. In subsequent coppice rotations, which may vary from 6 to 10 years, thinning of the coppice sprouts is carried out in the third and fifth years reducing the stems to one or two per stool. In the case of conifer plantation 3 X 3m. is the spacing most generally used.

On some of the Kavkalla sites, where there is a continuous soil cover not less than 10-15 cm. in depth, it has been found possible to afforest the area by disc-harrowing the land once or twice, followed by broadcast sowing of acacia at the time of the final cultivation in the spring. This method has proved very cheap and a highly successful method of establishing acacia: its main drawback is the too close and irregular distribution of the plants.

Some idea of the very difficult conditions under which the administration is attempting to re-establish the forests of Cyprus may be gathered from the photograph above.

The utterly bare, eroded hillside, maintained in this terrible condition by free-ranging goats, has been prepared for reclamation by planting Acacia cyanophylla, a species very suitable for this type of area.


Most of the opposition to lowland afforestation projects comes from the shepherds who resent the extension of plantation work within the village lands as they fear that this will reduce the extent of grazing range. With the object of finding a satisfactory means of neutralizing this hostility, investigations are now in progress to study the possibilities of integrating animal husbandry (sheep and cattle only) with eucalyptus culture.

It has been observed that as a result of changed micro-climatic conditions under the canopy of the plantations, a richer growth of grasses and weeds occur than in similar unplanted areas. This improved fodder production has naturally enough not passed unnoticed by the shepherds who have been glad to pasture their flocks in the spring under the eucalypts. In 1951 winter rains were abnormally low and shepherds were prepared to give as much as £38 per hectare for 20 days grazing in the plantations. Such prices cannot of course be expected in a normal year, and in fact, following exceptionally good rains in 1951/52 winter, grazing everywhere was plentiful so that plantation grazing in the same area this year only fetched £2 per hectare.

Experiments are now being carried a stage further. Experimental plots have been laid out in some recent Eucalyptus plantations at Athalassa near Nicosia, to investigate the possibilities of a systematic integration of pasturage and forestry. During the first two or three years of the plantation's life the trees are too small to safely permit grazing by animals. In this period a leguminous fodder crop is grown between the tree rows. This is harvested for hay and seed production. Once the plantation trees are tall enough to be safe from grazing damage a fodder grass crop will be sown between the rows at the time of the last cultivation and, thereafter, the grass will be cropped off annually, until such time as the growing plantation suppresses all undergrowth. This stage, however, is unlikely to be reached under the short rotations which are the general rule in Cyprus.

If these investigations fulfill the promise of the first two years, we believe that much of the present opposition to afforestation work in the villages of the plains will lose its thunder: the trees themselves will benefit by the application of manure and artificials (Applied for the pulse crops) and the economic- yields of the plantations will be enhanced by the value of the grazing produced.

A typical forest railway in Yugoslavia in the Foca region. Mature trees have been felled, leaving a pole crop of natural beech.

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