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Forest resource utilisation and management in the Mediterranean

To these people the land delivers many riches and on the mountains the oak tree gives acorns from the crown and honeybees from the trunk. (Hesiod, 8th century BC)

Historical overview

The ice-age climatic changes with associated glacial advances and retreats during the Quaternary6 Period in Europe, resulted in the disappearance of the majority of the European Tertiary7 flora. The richness of Mediterranean flora is a result of refuges that the Mediterranean Region hosted throughout the Quaternary and parts of the European Tertiary flora are still integrated within the Mediterranean flora. In addition, topography contributed to speciation, as species were isolated in mountain ranges and islands.

The current flora and fauna communities of the Mediterranean first appeared at the end of the last glaciation, about 10.000 years ago. Human presence, strongly established by the onset of the Neolithic period, which followed deglaciation, imprinted its signature on the natural ecosystems. Many of the Mediterranean forest ecosystems have been sculpted by the interaction between humans and the natural environment. This interaction was not necessarily detrimental to the integrity of the ecosystems. The landscape was modified from dense mixed forests and regions covered by steppe communities (mostly grasslands and shrublands due to particular soil and climatic conditions), to a higher number of landscape units or to a more divided, mosaic-type landscape. This landscape is characterised by pastures, shrublands, savannah like agro-sylvo-pastoral woodlands8, forest types with a single predominant species, etc.

During the Neolithic, humans domesticated many Mediterranean plant and animal species, which were edible or useful in other ways. It is believed that the knowledge of natural resource manipulation spread to the Mediterranean from Southwest Asia. Initially, the agricultural revolution had a modest impact on the Mediterranean landscape and especially on forests. However, the impact begun to accelerate about 3.000 years ago with the final development of food crops more appropriate to the physical environment of the Mediterranean. Despite the widespread establishment of domesticated food crops, a large number of - mainly plant - species that had been utilised in Mediterranean woodlands before the Neolithic, remained undomesticated or went through a more intensive management stage which by no means could be classified as full domestication.

This resulted in the preservation of the strong bonds that Mediterranean people had developed with forests in parallel with the growing dependence on agricultural resources. However, Mediterranean forest resources did not survive without plight. In addition to clearing large stretches of well drained, lowland forests for cultivation, ancient forests were cut for timber. The development, expansion and the technical infrastructure required for the growth of ancient Mediterranean civilisations imposed this toll on the regional forests. The demands for timber of the great fleets of the past erased large expanses of old growth forests and resulted in significant depletion of Mediterranean woodlands. The ancient Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, dating back to the third millennium BC glorifies the ravage of cedar forests in south-west Asia in an imposing verse:

«The axe is a man who is your friend and equal...
At dawn Gilgamesh raised his axe and struck at the great cedar.»

In addition, the appearance of large-scale mining and the accompanying smelting industry contributed to forest depletion.

Proceeding to late antiquity, there was a population decline, which occurred with a change in land use patterns. In certain Mediterranean areas a general expansion of forests took place, especially where the soil conditions allowed, as indicated by palynological9 evidence. The subsequent spread of malaria pushed populations to the mountains resulting in the return of lowland woodland vegetation.

The decline of the Roman and Byzantine empires resulted in the movement of nomadic people within many areas of the region. The expansion of pastoralism demanded extensive land use patterns. The growing wool trade and the shortage of labour - amplified by the arrival of the plague - strengthened pastoralism and imposed a new toll on forests. Many were forced to retreat to mountain woodlands that were inappropriate for sheep and horses. Eventually a delicate equilibrium was established based on the simultaneous management of forests, fields and pasturelands, which brought the agro-sylvo-pastoral systems that survived to the modern era.

The balance was upset many times, especially with the oncoming of European colonialism and expansion. As a characteristic example, the whole Spanish fleet of the late 16th century required 300.000 tones of timber. The "sea jungle" of Spain, as Lope De Vega, a Spanish writer of the time described it, required 6 million trees, the equivalent of 120.000 hectares of forestland. Taking into account that the average life span of boats was about 25 years, it is easy to conceive the extent of the forest loss that supported the long period of the Spanish colonial empire.

The industrial revolution and market integration arrived during the 19th century in the northern Mediterranean and during the 20th century in the south and east of the region. Increased demand for fuelwood contributed to forest depletion and easy access to remote mountains opened old growth forest to logging. Also, war and economic recessions started having immediate effects on Mediterranean woodlands during this period. The last fifty years rural abandonment in the north had a severe impact in land use patterns many times detrimental to forest well being. The biggest problem in the south and east remains the pressure on forest resources caused by population expansion.

Overall, throughout history there has been a succession of periods of higher and lower human impact on Mediterranean forests. Forest reduction followed periods of intense management and forest growth followed periods of rural abandonment. The utilisation of Mediterranean species that escaped domestication during prehistory is expressed as woodland management for non-timber forest products, many times through the long established Mediterranean agro-sylvo-pastoral systems. This management portrays the delicate balance between human presence and forest well being that exists in the regional landscape, which is worth preserving.

Mediterranean traditional woodland management systems

Many of the traditional management systems of Mediterranean forests did not had a severe impact on ecosystem stability but have partly contributed to the maintenance of biodiversity. The traditional and familiar Mediterranean landscape of woodlands alternating with pastures and cultivated lands, is a result of this type of sustainable rural management. NTFPs are the output of this management.

NTFPs held a great role in the economies of Mediterranean cultures since prehistoric times. Preserved myth and lore reveal a reverence for forests, still part of contemporary Mediterranean rural tradition. In antiquity, sacred groves existed with worshipped divine products. The Song of Solomon compares the beauty of love to the richness of the forest gifts to humans. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus, born around 370 BC wrote two works on botany, which were still in use in medieval times. In the first work, History of Plants, Theophrastus describes basic terms of plant physiology, examines differences between domesticated and non-domesticated trees and gives accounts related to plant geography and plant products. The work was based on empirical observation, while many descriptions came from accounts of people who followed Alexander the Great to Asia. Theophrastus describes multiple forest management practices that produce NTFPs and many of the described practices have survived to post-industrial times. His detailed accounts of cork extraction from oak, pine nuts, carob trees, aromatic plant gathering and resin extraction could apply to contemporary Mediterranean rural societies.

The role of Mediterranean NTFPs in forest conservation and rural development

Traditional forest management in the Mediterranean is diverse. The large number of NTFPs signifies production modes that range from simple gathering to agro-sylvo-pastoral management. The main products of Mediterranean forests can be classified in two principal categories: NTFPs derived directly from producers (plants) and NTFPs derived from consumers (animals - fungi). Another general category includes benefits coming from forests in an integrated sense, such as forest landscape value, tourism potential and cultural integrity value, many of which are hard to be quantified. This category is not covered in the current review.

Thus, overall, the NTFPs in the Mediterranean region can be categorised as follows:

NTFPs from producers

tree products







acorns, chestnuts, pine nuts, carobs etc.






vegetable products

wild fruits & vegetables


medicinal plants


aromatic plants


edible plants


wild flowers


NTFPs from consumers

mycological products

mushrooms, truffle


apiculture products

honey, propolis, etc.


wild game

meat, leather, taxidermy, etc.



meat, cheese, leather, wool etc.


Some of the mentioned NTFPs are produced for local consumption (informal economic sector) while others have entered the market and are used by industry (formal sector). However, many of the locally consumed NTFPs have a strong potential to enter the organised market and bring benefits to producing communities. Characteristically, some communities produce for the organised market while others use the same NTFP only for local consumption and miss the opportunity for additional income. A problem arises from the fact that it is difficult to quantify the economics of the informal sector. Thus there are cases where intensive logging, clearing and forest substitution by plantations take place, where the value of the NTFPs does not entered assessments or influences decision making. This results in the loss of important resources that could bring sustainable income to local communities

The following overview and examples give a brief introduction to several aspects of Mediterranean forest management and the associated NTFPs.

NTFPs from maquis woodlands

A significant percentage of agricultural production in the Mediterranean comes from certain maquis species, which were domesticated in the past.

The most typical example of maquis species domestication is Olea europaea, the olive tree. Wild olive stands can be found in several places of the region. Traditional olive plantations include trees that have been maintained for several hundred years by means of pruning and grafting of new stock. The planting patterns depend on the local physical conditions and traditions. Olive grove terraces on steep slopes - a typical component of the Mediterranean landscape - preserve the value of natural systems and contribute to soil conservation. Many times oil cultivation is accompanied by additional crop production. In recent years two opposite trends have modified the traditional olive plantation pattern of the Mediterranean. The olive grove abandonment in areas of rural depopulation - especially in uplands - contrasts the intensification of production in other areas, which came with the introduction of pesticides, chemical fertilisers and intensive soil cultivation. All these practices lead to system degradation.

Despite the problems, large areas of traditional olive plantations still exist in the Mediterranean that provide seasonal employment with activities such as pruning, harvesting and sometimes part-time occupation in tourism (agro-tourism).

Another maquis species that produces NTFPs is the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua). Carob pods are very nutritious and give flour that is used for chocolate and pastry manufacturing and for photographic emulsions. Many times human intervention in natural carob tree systems comes in the form of grafting, where male individuals are grafted with selected female varieties, in order to get the maximum benefit from female productive trees. Carob pods are also used as nutritious animal feed, while the herbaceous ground cover makes good pasture. Also, fig tree (Ficus carica) systems are managed for fruit and, occasionally, wheat production and grazing.

Example: Mastic gum production

Mastic gum is a natural resin extracted from a variety of Pistacia lentiscus growing in the Greek island of Chios. Pistacia lentiscus is one of the most characteristic evergreen species of the Mediterranean maquis. Although Pistacia lentiscus is a common species of the region, mastic resins are only secreted from trees on the island of Chios, where large-scale mastic production takes place.

Many ancient writers such as Theophrastus, Pliny the Elder, Galenos and Dioscorides referred to mastic gum, which was considered a panacea for many maladies. Information dating back to the middle of the XIV century reveals the importance of the gum production in Chios, which had peaks and lows as a result of political and socio-economic constraints, including periods of complete abandonment. Production has fluctuated from 7000 to 390.000 kg/yr. with an average of 250.000 kg during the first half of this century.

Pistacia lentiscus var. chia is a slow growing, cold sensitive tree that grows in limestone soil. It reaches full size in 40 - 50 years and is able to produce gum after the 5th or 6th year, but full production potential is reached within 12 to 15 years. Production averages 100 grams per year but sometimes can reach 650 grams.

Mastic gum production takes place between June and mid-October. Preparations start by cleaning the tree followed by sweeping and levelling the ground beneath the tree. Subsequently, the first vertical and horizontal cuts are marked on the bark, twice a week for a period 5-6 weeks. Collection follows crystallisation of the first secreted gum. After that, the second cut is inflicted, and the «tears» are collected once again. Mastic gum production regulation requires all collection activities to terminate after the 15th of October. After collection the gum is sieved and then given to the co-operative for quality control. The co-operative sends the product to the Union of Mastic Producers, where final processing takes place.

There are many products of mastic gum. Gumdrops have a unique pleasant flavour and are sold as chewing gum. Since 1995 there is production and marketing of a processed packaged product in the form of a confection. Other products include mastic oil and rosin, which come from mastic gum distillation. Moscholivano is a solid essence that, when burned, releases a pleasant odour. Mastic gum is a culinary ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine and patisserie and is also used in ouzo flavouring (a sweet, aniseed flavoured Greek spirit). Mastic by-products are used in varnishes and coatings and in a type of cement called asphalt mastic. Mastic is considered an astringent. Currently, there is extensive research to test all the medical properties, attributed since ancient times, to mastic gum.

Mastic from Chios is exported to 50 countries. Saudi Arabia is the biggest importer. The trade delivers US$14.4 million per year to 21 villages located in the southern part of Chios. Since 1938, the village producers have held a monopoly on mastic gum collection and distribution. The future for the producers looks bright, especially in the case that current testing for the identification of additional medical properties in the gum brings positive results.

Mediterranean sylvo-pastoral systems

A number of traditional sylvo-pastoral systems exist in the Mediterranean, many representing efficient and rational woodland management. These systems have adapted to the adverse environmental conditions imposed by low quality soil and harsh climatic conditions, such as the ones prevailing in areas of semiarid plains, cold and dry continental plateaus and mountain ranges. The partial maintenance of the natural structure of the canopy and the understory within the systems has preserved several elements of biodiversity.

The main factors determining the type of a particular sylvo-pastoral system are the partial domestication or natural status of the tree component and the partial modification of the forest structure.

Multi-use agro-sylvo-pastoral system management types



· genetic selection of certain varieties for fruit production
· wild tree grafting (gender selection of female individuals) and understory and other canopy components clearing
· plantations of selected varieties
· soil fertilising

semi-natural structure

· limited genetic selection
· partial canopy preservation
· tree crown modification - pruning
· establishment of diverse pasture systems
· partial soil fertilising

(almost) natural structure

· selection of particular pasture species
· tree crown modification - pruning

Olive, carob, turpentine tree, almond groves

oak, ash, poplar, , turpentine tree, arbutus, pine woodlands

juniper, argania, acacia woodlands

The different types of sylvo-pastoral systems have influenced cultural development in the Mediterranean. The evolution of these systems sprang from the interaction between the particular grazing animals and the vegetation of each area and was also dictated by the subsistence needs at the family or community level. Subsequently, sylvo-pastoral systems defined the dominant socio-economic patterns. Furthermore, sylvo-pastoral system woodland management allowed the regeneration of resources. The patterns evolved and developed over a long period and were always in dynamic dependence with the prevailing political conditions at any time.

By the late 18th century, population growth in the Mediterranean brought a significant change to the regional demographic regime. This population overshoot combined with the arrival of the industrial era and the imposition of new economic planning principles had a negative impact on the delicate balance of traditional sylvo-pastoral systems. Finally, rural abandonment took place in the countries of the northern Mediterranean while in the south and east of the basin, forest use became more intense and natural ecosystem capacities were exceeded.

Example: The "Dehesas" oak agro-sylvo-pastoral woodlands in Spain

The Spanish dehesas are sylvo-pastoral anthropogenic landscapes, which for centuries have preserved a large extent of the natural woodland cover in combination with rational use of the natural resources. Dehesas cover spread to about 7.000.000 hectares of which 3.400.000 hectares is forested land.

The composition of dehesas constitutes of mainly mixed formations of Quercus ilex (86,5%), Quercus suber (7,6%), Quercus pyrenaica (3,9%) and Quercus faginea (2,0%). The mosaic-like structure depends on the management type, soil conditions and topographic relief. Pure pasture alternates with small croplands, open woodlands with pasture-crop-shrub understory, shrubland, or pure dense oak woodlands. The diversified production of these systems include pastures, acorns, tannins, fodder, firewood, agriculture, honey, aromatic plants, cork, livestock and game.

Dehesas are important biodiversity hotspots and constitute habitat for some endangered species such as the imperial eagle, the Iberian lynx, the black vulture and the black stork. The environmental benefits delivered by the dehesa management system are difficult to be quantified, a situation complicated by the lack of statistical information.

A significant portion of dehesas (about 41%) constitute large properties either in private or in public hands. Overall, there are twelve natural parks, one national park (Cabaneros National Park, 41.000 hectares) and many SIBES, established in dehesa sylvo-pastoral regions. Two additional National Parks founded for their high wetland value (Donana National Park and Daimiel National Park) are surrounded by dehesas.

In monetary terms the dehesas represent 34,8% of the total value of the Spanish forestry production. The highest value comes from livestock products, which in properly managed dehesas, represent the 30% of total value. However, in cork oak dehesas forestry products value reaches 50% of total commercial value, followed by livestock (30%) and hunting (20%).

Value of dehesa systems (millions of $US)























rest of Spain






















During the last fifty years, significant changes took place affecting the land cover types of the dehesa system and their internal structure. Reasons for the changes include the abandonment of rural areas, the Spanish swine plague of 1960s, the application of new exploitation systems (intensive irrigation and agriculture and substitution by exotic plantations) and the intensification of secondary activities such as hunting. Also several important changes in the traditional management (abandonment of rotational activities, production mechanisation, substitution of traditional livestock with cattle for meat production etc.) contributed to the decline of dehesas. As a result, the canopy layer has been extremely reduced in favor of crop fields.

This reduction radically affected mostly Quercus ilex systems. The loss of economic value of acorns, basic swine livestock fodder after the plague, decreased the interest of landowners in tree layer conservation of dehesas. In addition, demand for holm oak firewood and charcoal (oak charcoal has excellent heating capacity), grew steadily and exports to some European countries increased.

The remnants of similarly managed areas still survive in the eastern Mediterranean, in Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) woodlands. In certain areas of the Balkans (including some islands) sylvo-pastoral systems of cultivated terraces with Vallonean oak (Quercus aegilops) produce wheat, barley, fodder and dye from the acorn cups.

Another, important ethno-sylvo-pastoral is the Pistacia terebinthus pastoral system in Jaen, Spain that extends on steep rocky slopes and is beneficial to soil conservation. Also, systems of Pistacia vera, which do not occur naturally in the Mediterranean, make a significant contribution to rural economies.

Example: Cork production from sylvo-pastoral woodlands

Cork is the name given to the thick outer bark of the evergreen Mediterranean oak Quercus suber. The largest oak forests are found in Portugal, where the species occupies an area of 660.000 hectares. In Spain, there are 500.000 hectares of pure cork oak stands and 121.000 hectares of mixed stands. In Algeria, there are around 480.000 hectares, in Morocco 348.000 hectares, in Italy, 100.000 hectares, in Tunisia 45.000, hectares and in France, around 43.000 hectares. Cork oak reaches 20 m in height, with an average of 9 meters. Cork oak is a typical Mediterranean species, whose establishment outside its natural range has not been successful in terms of cork production.

Cork is an elastic, light, durable, homogeneous mass of flattened dead cells including a fatty substance that makes it almost impermeable to water and gases and resistant to heat and fire. Its extraction begins when the tree is 15 to 20 years old. Cork is extracted by making horizontal and vertical cuts through the outer bark which is removed after attention is paid not to cause any harm to the living inner bark. Seasoning and boiling follow extraction in order to remove tannic acid and make it pliable. The outer bark regenerates after each stripping. The first stripping gives coarse cork in texture (virgin cork) and is combined with cork production residues for manufacturing agglomerate cork. Subsequent stripping at intervals of 10 years renders a better quality product. The cork produced from the second stripping and afterwards is the reproduction cork, which is mainly used for cork stoppers manufacturing. Portuguese law specifies that cork can be harvested every nine years after the first stripping, which is made when the circumference of the tree over bark becomes larger than 70 cm. An individual tree can produce cork for a period of 150 years.

Cork properties were known since antiquity, but it was not generally used until some centuries ago, when cork stoppers were manufactured for the newly introduced glass bottles. Extensive use of cork was initiated by the discovery of champagne in the 17th century by the abbot Don Perignon and since then, cork production has maintained strong ties with the wine industry. About 25 billion corks stoppers per year are used world - wide. Other uses include construction material (insulation and floors), in the naval industry (extensive use for life belts), in transport, in the textile industry, in the chemo-pharmaceutical industries, the shoe industry (sole manufacturing), for packing and for linoleum.

More than 80% of the global supply of cork is produced in Algeria, Portugal, and Spain. Portuguese production reaches 175.000 tones per year (about 55% of the global output) a worth of US$200 million. The greatest importer of cork products is the EU, which in 1989 imported 56% of total quantity and 57% of a total value. Virgin cork production met a sharp decrease during the last decades and is presently approximately 35.000 tones per year. The reason behind the drop is not reduction in cork oak woodland but reflects also the rising cost of the manual extraction method. In addition, synthetics started to be used as a cork substitute for insulation and in for other products which were originally manufactured from cork. Spirit manufactures, such as gin and whisky stopped using cork since the 1960s. A Norwegian factory has patented a synthetic cork for stoppers made from ethyl vinyl acetate.

In 1990, in Portugal there were in operation more than 900 cork manufacturing factories, occupying about 14.000 employees. The Corticeira Armorim, a family firm currently controls around a third of the Portugal's cork manufacturing. Its case presents an example of economies of scale for NTFP production and distribution, with production consolidation from small co-operatives to a single producer. The firm grew to its current sales of US$340 million because it established factories which use remains from stopper manufacturing for other products, contrary to the traditional way with most cork going to cottage industries that produced only stoppers. In this way, Corticeira Armorim became dominant among cork markets, making 70 percent of the world's cork flooring and almost 95% of the cork-based gaskets that Portugal produces for engine joints.

Sylvo-pastoral systems in the arid transition zone

Traditional management systems exist in the woodlands of the Mediterranean-desert transitional climatic zone. Rural populations in Morocco manage the argan tree, Argania spinosa agroforestry system for fodder, fuelwood and oil from the fruit.

Example: the argan woodlands of Morocco

The argan tree (Argania spinosa) is a spiny, evergreen tree, endemic to Morocco. It is a Tertiary relic species and is the only member of the tropical Sapotaceae to occur north of the Sahara on the African mainland. Argan's ecological and social values make it one of the most important tree species in North Africa. Argan woodlands cover an area of about 820.000 hectares in southwest Morocco (about 7% of the total forest cover of Morocco). The woodlands exist in a region where rainfall hardly exceeds 200 - 300 mm/year, and at times, rainfall is even lower than 120 mm/year.

The species was probably known to the Phoenicians. A medical book of the 13th century AD describes methods for oil extraction from its fruit. Argan oil was imported into Europe during the 18th century, but its strong flavour and competition from olive oil pushed the product out of the market.

Argania spinosa plays a crucial role in stabilisation of environmental conditions. It prevents soil erosion, especially in overgrazed lands where the water absorption capacity of the soil is diminished. Its shade protects pasture grasses from the extreme evapotranspiration that would result from direct exposure to sunlight. It facilitates water infiltration and aquifer replenishment. Finally, in areas of the extreme south of their range, argan woodlands form a green belt against desert advancement.

The argan tree is managed for oil production, pasture and fuelwood, commodities that ensure the subsistence of 2 million people of the rural Moroccan population. It has a great potential to contribute to the economic development of the rural populations and prevent the movement towards the large urban centres of the country. An indicator of argan importance is the number of working days per year that argan management demands from the Moroccan rural economy of people. Specifically, there are estimations of 800.000 working days/year for fuelwood collection and of 20.000.000 working days/year for oil extraction (the production of one litre of oil requires one and a half day of work) respectively.

The plum sized argan fruit contains one to three kernels having a high oil content (over 50%). The oil has a distinct flavour, resembling that of walnut oil. The ratio of total unsaturated to total saturated fatty acids is around 4,5 and similar to that of olive oil. Argan oil contains about 80% polyunsaturated fatty acids of which 30% is linoleic acid. This gives the oil a high nutritional value, since it is one of the most important essential fatty acids in the human diet.

Argan oil production takes place at the family level and women undertake the whole task. The dried flesh is separated from the nut and the oil in the seeds is extracted. Subsequently seeds are lightly roasted, ground and mixed with warm water. The floating oil is separated by rinsing and may be further purified either by emulsion with water or the addition of bread. Approximately 100 kg of seed yield 1-2 kg of oil and 2 kg of pressed «cake» (a pasty oil production by-product) plus 25 kg of dried husk.

In addition to cooking, the oil is used for lighting and soap manufacturing. The sun-dried cake residue is fed to livestock (although this reduces the quality of dairy cattle milk). The fruit and foliage are a valuable fodder source for livestock. The hard, heavy and durable argan timber gives good charcoal and argan brushwood is used for fencing. Finally the tree provides valuable shade for humans and livestock in hot days.

Despite the granting of protection status, which, since 1925, regulates the rights of use by local people, argan woodlands suffer from continuous degradation. Fuelwood collection applies extreme pressure to the tree and unsustainable fruit gathering and grazing magnify existing natural regeneration problems. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century there was a balance between grazing pressure and natural regeneration, which was disturbed by continuous herd movement towards the argan woodlands. At present argan woodland regression is estimated at 600 hectares/year at minimum.

The main problem comes from the increasing demographic pressure, expressed as usage intensification of argan systems. Factors that lead to argan woodland degradation include intense ploughing and the development of irrigated agriculture, wood removal and overgrazing.

Argan woodland conservation issues are typical of the plight of forest resources in Northern Africa. Among the priorities, the sound management (and survival) of argan forests is most important, as their loss will not only lead to the extinction of an important relic species but will also have adverse effects to the millions who subsist on its resources.

Mediterranean pine forest management

Lowland Mediterranean pine woodlands were more extensive in the past, but have declined due to intensive timber exploitation. In the eastern Mediterranean, Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) & brutia pine (Pinus brutia) forests are important for resin, fuelwood and forest honey production and also for livestock grazing. Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) is important for resin production in the Iberian Peninsula. In North Africa thuya (Tetraclinis articulata) and Pinus halepensis woodlands constitute the transition to sub-desert plant communities such as alpha grass (Stipa tenacissima) which is important to the production of pulp and fibre. Stone pine (Pinus pinea) produces relished edible nuts.

In general, Mediterranean forests have been managed for all types of resins or resin-like substances since prehistoric times. There are many references in the Bible of the use of myrrh and frankincense. Egyptians used resins in embalming, while mastic and sandarac were used in paint and varnish manufacturing.

Example: Pine nut production

Stone pine, Pinus pinea is an endemic pine species to the Mediterranean. The total area covered by stone pine woodlands is 380.000 ha (75% in Spain, 9% in Portugal, 9% in Turkey, 5% in Italy, and lower percentages in Greece, Lebanon and France. Stone pine woodlands are important in terms of biodiversity (i.e. Donana National Park in Spain) and their management renders a variety of products such as: nuts, wood, firewood, resins, bark, pastures/livestock, hunting, honey.

Stone pine can reach 15-25 meters in height and thrives on coastal sandy areas with a moist but well drained ground, characterised by small temperature variations and shallow water table. The special requirements of stone pine in terms of soil, hydrological and climatic conditions make the tree sensitive to environmental disturbance and difficult to regenerate. The distinguished spherical shape of the crown allows the tree to achieve maximum benefits from solar radiation. The tree starts producing seeds after 12 to 18 years, depending on its occurrence in isolation or in stands. Cones take three years to reach maturity and at this stage they have 10-15 centimetres length and 6-10 centimetres width.

Stone pine kernels are used in the Mediterranean as a culinary delicacy and have a protein value two thirds that of lean steak. In addition to its nutritional value, stone pine nuts have been considered as an aphrodisiac all around the Mediterranean since ancient times. The Roman poet Ovid (born in the 1st century BC) in his Ars amatoria - The Art of Love, a poem that challenged the serious moral reform efforts of Augustus, provides a list of aphrodisiacs including "the nuts that the sharp-leafed pine brings forth". The Greek physician Galenos, of the 2nd century AD, suggests that a mixture of pine seeds, honey and almonds taken before bedtime for three consecutive evenings can increase sexual potency. Apicius, a Roman celebrity who loved good food and his recipes (such as walnut stuffed dormouse) were used up to the Middle Ages, recommends a mixture of pine nuts, cooked onions, white mustard and pepper to achieve the same thing. Finally, the Arab Perfumed Garden referring to Galenos' writings advises that in order to achieve sexual vigour a man should eat 20 almonds and 100 pine nuts accompanied by a glassful of thick honey for three nights before bedtime.

Spain has the most organised pine nut production among Mediterranean countries. The production varies in cycles of 2-6 years. The number of pinecones per tree is a function of tree diameter and the average yield is about 15-22 kg of pine nuts per 100 kg of cones. Collection takes place by men who climb on trees and gather the cones by hand or with a special tool. Each worker can collect about 400 to 600 cones per day. The collection period is from November to February. Extraction of the nut takes place by drying the cones in the sun. Empty cones can also be used as firewood. Before reaching the market the external hard cover of the pine seeds is removed by the use of special machines, a process that adds extra cost to the product.

The average annual production of Spain is about 6.250 tones/yr. and represents 40 to 60 % of world production of pine nuts (including the nuts coming from other pine species). Most of the production is exported, mainly to the USA through Italy.

Example: The Strofilia Pinus pinea forest in south-western Greece

This case is a typical example of an opportunity loss for rural communities to reap the benefits of products from an adjacent forest area. The Strofilia10 forest constitutes the only remaining woodland of Pinus pinea in Greece11 that can still be characterised as a «forest» and represents 80% of the total stone pine forest in the country. Located in the western Peloponnese, the forest covers a north-south coastal strip with a length of 15 kilometres and an average width of 1,5 kilometres. Pinus halepensis and Quercus aegilops are other important tree species to the Strofilia forest structure. The forest belongs to a wider system of coastal dunes and wetlands that are included in the RAMSAR Convention. In 1993, a Common Ministerial Decision gave special protection status to the whole ecosystem.

Pine nut gathering is a popular activity in Strofilia, which does not take place in an organised way that could provide valuable income to adjacent communities. In addition it is believed that this form of unsustainable gathering imposes a threat to the integrity of the forest, by hindering stone pine regeneration. The lack of organised gathering is only one of the many threats to the Strofilia forest. One of the main problems is overgrazing that disturbs the understory, necessary for maintaining soil fertility. A recent study has shown that the grazing capacity of the whole area is only 7.200 grazing units much lower than the current 53.670 units, which burdened the forest. Finally, habitat deterioration comes as a consequence of unplanned tourist growth and the disturbance of soil and hydrologic conditions caused by intensification of agricultural activities, illegal road construction and sand mining. The overall result is the retreat of Pinus pinea and in many cases the expansion of other, less sensitive species, such as Pinus halepensis. Illegal hunting presents a threat to the wildlife of the forest. Recently the killing of hundreds of turtles (Testudo hermanni and Testudo marginata) and the consumption of turtle eggs has been reported.

The lack of serious management in the forest can be detrimental to forest welfare. In March 1998, a severe windstorm destroyed many stone pine trees (estimated to 10 - 20% of the total population). Subsequently, heavy vehicles of the forest service entered the forest to remove dead wood for fire hazard elimination. However, only the trunks were removed (apparently to be used as firewood) while dead crowns were left in the forest and thousand of saplings were destroyed by the impact of the activities.

There is an urgent need for the implementation of a serious management plan targeting the protection of Strofilia, which will impose order in human activities within the forest. A permanent Presidential Decree will implement the provisions of the management plan, including guidelines for the sustainable gathering of pine nuts. The guidelines should be the result of a stone pine regeneration study accompanied by yield studies, which need to give a reliable measure of forest productivity in terms of pine nuts and define a sustainable harvest level. In parallel, socio-economic studies shall indicate the most appropriate and efficient method to organise production for the benefit of adjacent communities (co-operatives, enterprises etc.). A marketing plan will also be needed to promote the product in the market (along with other existing forest products such as honey), which could be accompanied by the potential benefits of eco-labelling.

The Strofilia forest is another example of a unique ecosystem which remains without serious protection efforts while its full potential for contribution to the economic well-being of the rural communities neighbouring the forest is not utilised in a systematic and sustainable way.

Example: Pine resin production

Resins are plant chemicals produced by several plant taxa and the order Coniferales. The term embraces a group of sticky, liquid, organic substances that usually harden when exposed to air into brittle, amorphous, solid substances. Natural resins are classified according to their physical and chemical properties into hard resins, oleoresins, and gum resins.

Turpentine is a semi-fluid, yellow or brownish resin (oleoresin) secreted by pine trees. Pine resin flows on the external surface of a tree after a wound is inflicted to form a protective coat that seals the wound to pathogenic microorganisms and prevents loss of sap. To obtain resin commercially, a tapping cut is made in the pine bark and the resin drops are collected into buckets or bags. The principal products of pine resin are rosin and turpentine oil. The most significant hard resin from a commercial point of view is rosin, which is obtained by distillation of pine resin. Rosin is used in paper glue and soap manufacturing, as a constituent of varnishes and paints, and for coating strings of musical instruments. Oil of turpentine is also produced by pine resin distillation and is used for thinning and dissolving paint and varnish, as well as for shoe polish and sealing wax manufacturing. It also has medical properties and can be used as stimulant, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic and anti-pathogenic. In the past, crude pine resin had been used in sailing vessels as packing material and for waterproofing.

Resin collection activities in Mediterranean countries had always played a significant role in the welfare of forest communities, some of which lived marginally at the edge of subsistence. In some low-income areas, resin collection was (and continue to be) the only reliable source of labour. In addition, many of the resin producing forests are community forests and production benefits go to resin community co-operatives. Another important aspect of these forests is that multiple purpose forestry is applied and other activities other than resin collection co-exist, such as apiculture (usually honey production is undertaken individually and not by co-operatives), herbaceous plant gathering (from the understory) animal husbandry or employment in recreation. The preservation of resin production and the associated forest structure, along with several accompanying activities are beneficial to both forest conservation and the economic viability of dependent rural communities in the Mediterranean. Income from the wood of a Pinus halepensis tree, for example, is only 2% of the income generated from resin throughout the lifetime of the tree (an average size tree can produce 3 - 4 kilograms of resin per year). Moreover, it has been observed that forests that have active resin production have lower incidence of forest fires. This results from the fact that adjacent communities have an active interest in preserving the integrity of the forest ecosystems.

The low income and low market value of resin have reduced resin production in the Mediterranean, although world production of resin has remained almost constant since 196112 (despite the many changes, which have occurred in the resin industry). What has occurred is a geographical displacement of resin production to developing countries, mainly due to the labour cost factor. The data from the Mediterranean - Western European countries that produce pine resin are very informative and give a clear picture of the declining trend:

Annual resin production

(in tones)


















The case of France is characteristic: although the country has extensive potential stands for resin production, French resin tapping and production ceased in 1991. Italian production ceased in 1980.

Considering the following:
· the European deficit in rosin is 128.000 tones per year
· the deficit will increase
· the total installed rosin production capacity (in the above mentioned countries) is 290.000 tones per year
· Mediterranean resin products are considered to be of top quality;
it is obvious that resin production needs to be enhanced in all Mediterranean countries. Currently importing lower quality resin products, mainly from China makes up the deficit. However, the situation is complicated and innovative solutions need to be developed. The problems that need to be considered are the abandonment of rural areas in southern European countries, and the high cost of production, which could make resin collection a non-viable activity. Also, competition from petroleum based synthetic resins presents an additional problem.

Mountain woodlands

In mountainous areas of the Italian and Balkan peninsulas, there are very productive coppice forest systems including mixed deciduous oak (many times up to eight oak species) together with maple, hornbeam, ash and other trees. These systems are important for fodder and food production (chestnuts, walnuts etc.). Walnut tree systems (Juglans regia) are managed for walnuts, wheat and livestock.

In high mountain and plateau areas, juniper woodland sylvo-pastoral systems are managed for pasture and cattle raising.

Example: chestnut production

The Parnon mountain range at the eastern part of Peloponnese in southern Greece spans a length of 70 km, with its highest peak reaching 1.936 meters. Forests mainly of Greek fir (Abies cephalonica) and black pine (Pinus nigra) cover the range. A relic juniper species, Juniperus drupacea has its only European occurrence in Parnon. Chestnut (Castanea sativa) woodlands occur naturally in Parnon, but are also planted by local populations. Parnon forests have rich bird and reptile fauna. Also, more than 80 endemic, threatened, rare and protected floral species occur in the Parnon, 12 of which are endemic.

Three sites in Parnon have been characterised as Natura 2000 network sites, in accordance to the European Union Habitats Directive. At the national level, the Juniperus drupacea stands and the chestnut woodland of Castanitsa have been declared Natural Monuments, while three Parnon villages have been characterised as Cultural Heritage sites.

Future plans for Parnon concentrate on the establishment of a region-wide Parnon National Park, which shall include the coastal wetland of Moustos, one of the most important wetlands along the eastern shores of the Greek peninsula. Representatives of local communities supported the initiative for the establishment of the protected area. A Management Plan for the Park has already been produced.

Three are the main chestnut tree woodlands in Parnon: Castanitsa, Aghios Petros and Cosmas.

The woodlands of Castanitsa cover an area of 450 hectares, having about 35.000 trees. The woodlands are considered secondary or semi-natural forest, and come from trees that were planted more than 150 years ago.

For the chestnut tree woodlands of Castanitsa and Cosmas the Forest Service defines the forest management operations, while the Bureau of Agriculture is responsible for fruit production. The two woodlands are subject to management plans produced by the Forest Service on a 10-year basis. The woodlands of Aghios Petros have plantation structure, with trees interspersed among cultivated fields and terraces. In terms of land tenure the woodland of Castanitsa has a community property status; it belongs to the dwellers of rural communities as a whole. The woodlands of Cosmas cover an area of 260 hectares, while the plantations of Aghios Petros cover about 300 hectares. Overall, Parnon chestnut woodlands and plantations cover an area of about 1.000 hectares.

Fruit production starts when the tree reaches 5 years of age. Local varieties are edible, but fruit morphology limitations do not allow high competence in the market (compared to Italian or French varieties), as Parnon chestnuts are more difficult to be processed. Local farmers in Parnon often graft chestnut trees with the maron variety, which has better confectionery properties. About 1/3 of the woodland has been given organic certification. Chestnut producers have organized themselves in a Co-operative. Average chestnut production is about 250 tones per year.

Trees are not timbered. The chestnut tree woodland has a thin structure, about 8 chestnut trees per stremma (1.000 m2). This density encourages crown development and does not allow the production of good quality timber.

Two are the main problems of the Castanitsa (and generally the Parnon) chestnut tree woodlands: chestnut blight and aged structure. Chestnut blight is a fungal infection caused by Cryptonectria (Endothia) parasitica that inflicts severe damage on the tree. Two studies were produced in order to deal with the chestnut blight problem. A 4-year program of biological "treatment" is ready to be implemented that is based upon these studies. The "treatment" centres upon the introduction of weakened fungus, infected by a particular virus, in order to replace healthy fungus, which causes tree damage. To deal with aged structure, the second problem, suggestions have been made to assist regeneration by planting the more productive maron variety (which is already grafted on Parnon chestnut trees). A strategic study to deal with chestnut woodland management is due, which shall take an integrated approach to chestnut woodland issues, including aged structure. To preserve the woodland structure, young fir trees that grow within and threatened to replace chestnut trees, are cut and sold for Christmas trees. Recently, a fir tree nursery was also established.

There is no management plan for chestnut harvesting. The fruit is harvested traditionally and directly from the tree or the ground, after the tree is shaken for the fruit to fall. The forthcoming strategic study needs to incorporate issues such as yield, sustainable harvest level etc. However, organization of production will take place at the processing stage, while no major intensification of harvesting is expected.

No fire incident within the chestnut woodlands has occurred for more than 30 years (since 1966). This is attributed to the fact that human presence within the woodlands, with activities such as chestnut harvesting etc., results in good fire management of the forest.

There is a need to develop activities that target sustainable management and production of chestnuts in the area, and at the same time, raise awareness at all levels on the importance of chestnut production for the conservation and development of the region. A positive step is the recent establishment of a co-operative to co-ordinate chestnut producers. Furthermore, the co-operative needs to lead the way for the elaboration of appropriate management practices through all stages of the production and develop a dynamic strategy to promote chestnuts into the market. Finally, an issue, which needs more appropriate attention, is the fact that importing foreign grafts may threaten the local variety.

Example: Styrax oil production

Asian styrax oil is a balsamic oleoresin extracted from Liquidambar orientalis. It is a medium size, deciduous, dense crown, tree, 15 - 20 meters tall. It grows on lowlands as well as in riparian woodlands up to 700 meters altitude. The geographical distribution of the tree in Turkey is south-western Anatolia.

The balsam exists in the bark of the tree. Asian styrax is extracted by boiling pieces of bark. The crude soften balsam settles in the bottom of the boiler. Sometimes styrax is obtained by incision on the exposed stemwood and subsequent collection in cans.

Styrax oil contains cinnamic acid and is widely used by the drug and cosmetic industry. It has good antiseptic and anti-parasitic properties, can be internally used for of upper respiratory system ailments, such as asthma and bronchitis or applied externally to soothe dermatitis, fungal infections etc. The cosmetic properties of styrax oil are used in the production of soap and detergents and in perfume manufacturing. The residual material from the boiling process is used as fumigant in mosques and churches.

Styrax oil and fumigation material are extracted both from state owned and private forests in Turkey. Exports of styrax from Turkey peaked to about 70 tones in the late 1960's but have declined since then. Importing countries were the UK, Germany, France, Italy and the USA, although the USA largely imports American styrax coming from Liquidambar styraciflua in Mexico and Central America. A better knowledge of the market is necessary to determine the development potential of styrax. However, if labour costs in Turkey increase and it becomes uneconomic to produce styrax oil, there will be expansion in production from Southeast Asia (from Liquidambar formosana) and Central America.

Medicinal and aromatic plants

The tradition of gathering wild greens, medicinal, aromatic and bulb plants, wild fruits and mushrooms in the Mediterranean is ancient. The therapeutic properties of Mediterranean medicinal plants have been known for centuries. During classical times many scholars compiled catalogues on the properties and uses of medicinal plants. The widespread tradition of folk doctors (healers), who gathered medicinal plants and were the knowledge keepers of plant use and preparation, survived for generations until recent times.

However, after the beginning of the 20th century and the spread of modern medicine practices, the traditional use of medicinal plants started to be abandoned. A widespread substitution took place by chemically manufactured medicines promoted by large pharmaceutical companies. The mainstream medical community dismissed popular healers as charlatans. The result of this change was not only abandonment of medicinal plant uses but also loss of traditional knowledge. However, still more than 25% of all prescription drugs in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and up to 60% of those in Eastern Europe consist of unmodified or slightly altered higher plant products.

Recently, a significant trend has been emerging towards re-evaluation of old medicinal plant knowledge. Widespread scientific studies are undertaken to test old methods based on medicinal plant use. Pharmaceutical companies are conducting research to locate areas of traditional plant knowledge, the associated flora, and extract substances from the relevant plants. The results are compared to synthetically manufactured «chemical» medicines. In addition, the increased trend among middle-class, urban dwellers to pursue a more natural, healthy lifestyle has increased the market demand for medicinal plants.

In the Mediterranean, the majority of medicinal plants are gathered in the wild. Unfortunately, the recent intensification of collection has negative effects on the conservation status of many medicinal plants, as unsustainable gathering of plant resources results in regeneration problems. The low prices paid to gatherers (who many times come from rural communities) do not contribute significantly to the economic and social growth of the communities who own the traditional knowledge of plant use. Also, there is insufficient legislation to regulate medicinal plant harvesting and trade, lack of awareness among end users on the detrimental effects coming from the demand their habit has created, and reluctance among traders to provide information related to their practices. Finally, the low price of gathered material makes any investment in medicinal plant domestication units unattractive.

Among the many threatened medicinal plants in the Mediterranean are: pheasant's eye (Adonis vernalis), mountain tobacco (Arnica montana), common sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea), liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), bogbean (Menyanthes trifollata), Orchis spp., the turkish endemic Origanum minutiflorum, paeony (paeonia mascula), butcher's broom (Ruscus aculeatus), and many endemic Thymus species.

In addition to medicinal plants, many Mediterranean aromatic plants exist that are used for the preparation of herbal drinks, in cooking or for phyto-cosmetic uses, such as: Laurus nobilis, glary (Salvia sclarea), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), mint (Mentha puleggium), oregano (Origanum vulgaris), fennel (Foenicolum vulgare), common lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Capparis spinosa, a wild green used in salads, Salvia sp., a medicinal herb that its consumption is considered good for liver conditions and Crocus sativus, a bulb used for dying.

Example: unsustainable exploitation of medicinal plants in the Mediterranean

TRAFFIC International published a comprehensive report on the use, trade and conservation status of Europe's medicinal and aromatic plants. The report sheds light on the exploitation patterns and the trade of aromatic and medicinal plants in Europe and gives a set of guidelines for action to ensure the legal and sustainable use of these resources. The document is based on field surveys in eight European countries, which are scattered throughout the continent and exhibit a large variation in terms of socio-economic structure and eco-physical characteristics. The results of the survey show that wild collection still plays an important role in medicinal and aromatic plant trade. Overall in Europe, at least 2000 medicinal and aromatic plant taxa are exploited commercially, 1200-1300 of which are native to Europe. The research results are enlightening in relation to this particular trade in the Mediterranean.

1. Medicinal plant trade in Spain

Spain is home to many endemic species of medicinal plant. Despite the extensive trade occurring in the country, which depends mostly on unsustainable gathering, the old tradition of medicinal plant use knowledge in the country keeps diminishing.

Although medicinal plant imports exceed exports, about of 5% of the Spanish people use medicinal plants, compared to other figures (such as Germany where 40% of the population uses medicinal plants). Spain imports about 6.500 tones of medicinal plants per year. The export trade of Spanish endemic medicinal plants is established mainly with Germany and the USA.

The southeast is the most significant area in Spain in terms of medicinal plant diversity. About 800 species are known and used in Spain for their properties, a figure that includes cultivated and imported plant species. Among them, 102 are gathered in the wild, while 11 of the 102 are also cultivated. Only thyme and Siderites spp. (Siderites tragoriganum and others) can be considered endemics of high commercial value. About 8 to 10 species can be considered rare, in regression or protected to some degree. For 15 additional species indications exist that they are threatened and there is a need for monitoring of trade. Harvesting in the wild for commercial use is the dominant practice in Spain. Some gathering practices collect only renewable parts of the plant, while other practices destroy the plant by the collection of non-renewable parts. Cultivation is limited to about 6 to 8 species, (lavenders being the most important cultivated plant).

2. Medicinal plant trade Albania

Very little is known about the exploitation of medicinal plants in Albania. The country's tradition of use and knowledge of medicinal plants is disappearing, as more people use imported pharmaceutical products.

Albania is a supplier country of medicinal and aromatic plants. Exports reached 8.000 tones in 1995, valued at 10 millions $US. Albania is the main supplier of raw plants to Germany, exporting about 1.800 tones annually. The most important plant material exported is sage (Salvia officinalis). About 200 plant species in the country are used as sources for drugs. Mostly rural women and children practice plant gathering. Only 40 species are cultivated. Cultivation is being abandoned as a practice and the existing lots date back to the past regime. However, since 1992, with the change in the political situation, the number of private companies that process and trade medicinal and aromatic plants has increased.

Overharvesting, a result of the increasing demand from abroad, and habitat loss, expressed by deforestation or overgrazing, impose pressure on medicinal and aromatic plant populations. The main medicinal and aromatic plants threatened with extinction in Albania are yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) used in the preparation of Enzian Schnapps, mountain tea (Siderites raeseri) and autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale).

3. Medicinal plant trade Turkey

Many people in Turkey still use medicinal plants and a total of 337 native medicinal and aromatic species (including 37 endemics) are traded commercially. About one-third is exported, notably liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), capers (Capparis spp.), laurel (Laurus nobilis), oregano and thyme species, almost all collected in the wild. Gatherers are rural people who know the plants and their uses. Plant gathering is a very important activity for rural communities, as sometimes it is the only income source. In general, income generated from NTFPs in Turkey, including medicinal plants, is equal to or exceeds that of timber products. Most of medicinal and collection of aromatic plants takes place in state owned forest territory

Turkey exports medicinal and aromatic plants to France, Germany and the UK. Turkey is the most important supplier of Origanum vulgaris to the EU. The annual exports of medicinal and aromatic plant in the country amount to 3550 tones.

6 the last 2.000.000 years

7 the period between 65 and 2 million years ago

8 landscape managed for pasture, crop and forest production

9 study of pollen

10 The name strofilia in Greek means stone pine and its place name affiliation to several locations in the country betrays the past existence of extensive Pinus pinea stands

11 Pinus pinea is one of the seven pine species in the country

12 Estimations of all-origin resin products world production give about 1.200.000 tones of rosin and 269.800 tones of turpentine

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