The involvement of the Dutch Team in reforestation of Kythira in the sixties. In George Koksma’s “Development Manifesto”, written on request of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva in 1974, a financial overview of the Team’s projects at Kythera from 1960 thru 1971 was added. For the reforestation project from 1960 to 1969 with more than 1.000.000 trees planted, he put down the following figures: donations to the Team from England 1.590.000 drachmas, from America 250.000 drachmas and from Holland 385.000 drachmas. The Team’s costs in this period were 300.000 drachmas. The participation of inhabitants mounted up to 1.100.000 drachmas and funds from the Government were 7.380.000 drachmas. Average one tree costed (only?) 11 drachmas! How much more “green” Kythera could have become, if from the beginning people would have been more interested! But what had been done already made quite a change.


A Dutch summer work camper from the water supply project Livadi 1966 decided after 30 years to go back to Kythera for his first time together with his wife. He had warned her for the dry and bare landscape she had to expect at Kythera. How surprised she was when she saw so much “green” all over the island in 1996!



Forester mr Yiannis Zerlendes with his wife



How was this combined result of Bishop Meletios, Government and WCC Team Kythera achieved?


The very first program point out of 10 points of Bishop Meletios and the WCC Team to improve living conditions on the island was reforestation. Of course, there were two governmental officials appointed to the island, a forester and a chief forester. A governmental plan to plant trees existed, but why very little to downright nothing was done could easily be explained. No tree nursery existed, the forester had no means of transportation, no gardens, no seeds, no helping hands, no idea how and where to start and there was hardly no budget at all to pay the necessary laborers to do any actual work. A first international summer work camp, organized by WCC office Athens, was expected in August 1960. Bishop Meletios proposed to start a tree nursery at Myrtidia and it was decided that these young volunteering people, to keep out the roaming goats, were to fence off an area at Myrtidia where later on treelets could be planted. As long there did not exist a nursery at Kythera, treelets had to be shipped from Athens. To make up a list to order these treelets communities and private people had to be asked how many trees they wanted. The forester, Mr. Yiannis Zerlendes, and a Team member who had means of transport, went around to take orders. But why did Mitata at that time not want to plant trees? A first 1000 seedlings and some young trees were ordered by Karvounades, Kondolianika and Karavas in October 1960. More could be expected from Athens, but future trees should come from nurseries on the island! From WCC Team Ioannina a much used Willys Jeep could be borrowed also in this month October. This Jeep now in the future could be used by the forester so much that everybody thought it was his. Petrol for this thirsty vehicle was naturally paid by the Team. Finding workers in olive picking months they found out, was a sheer impossibility, planting of trees in this period was not at all a priority for the islanders. By mid-January 1961 only 500 of a promised 25.000 trees were planted and local farmers had only managed to dig holes for 400 trees. Nevertheless, by the end of the month 2.500 trees were planted according forester Zerlendes. These trees came from various at that time very small nurseries at Myrtidia, Karvounades and Karavas.





Encountered resistance to planting trees

As soon as the official governmental planting season is over plans have to be made for the coming season 1961 – 1962. At the Karavas agricultural school a planting schedule has to be set up but the 70.000 drachmas from the Government are not enough to install the necessary fences.  It is nowadays unbelievable but in the beginning of the planting of trees there was real opposition to do so. The president of the Teachers Society Committee was asked to make propaganda for the tree planting plans. Private people had to be persuaded to plant trees and not to cut trees like some did in Karavas, or like at Agia Elesa where an old man cut the stems of very young trees just below ground level and then planted them again in the soil. The Monastery of Myrtidia did not yet really care to water the newly planted trees and the Team had to pay for an extra workman, took care of transport of material and seedlings and had to push all work at the tree nursery. For some reason there existed friction between a seemingly not much cooperative chief forester and forester Zerlendes who with support of the Team did his utmost for the reforestation project. Nevertheless, by mid-July there are 8 men working at the Myrtidia nursery and for 100.000 tree lets a location had to be found and holes to be dug. The making of holes at Agios Theodoros (3 August 1961) was duly blessed by Bishop Meletios and the Australian Archbishop. Villages had to be visited to investigate their interest to plant trees. At Pitsinianika 2000 trees were requested and near Chora also. The Team requested the community of Mylopotamos to allow tree planting on the slope west side of the Mermingaris but were denied to do so. To be able however to plant trees at Limnionas first the existing road to the small fishermen harbour had to be improved. The Teachers Committee gave mid-October a sermon to their children to strengthen their love for trees.

In December 1961 the planting program moved ahead. Every evening a village was visited and it was explained that reforestation of the island would take at least 20 years and that everybody had to cooperate to achieve this goal. A strange phenomenon was noted: the larger the population of a village the less trees they ordered. 30 People in Dokana wanted 1200 trees, the papas of Logothetianika ordered a lot. The planned tree planting day on 19 January 1962 proved to be a success. In the end a total of over 60.000 trees were requested by private people. Only to interested people the transportation of trees was organized and paid for by the Team. Early March all ordered trees were planted! Transportation for next year however should be taken care off by those who would order the treelets. Also, a start was made and paid for by Kytherians from Athens, to plant trees alongside the road from Potamos to Agia Pelagia. End of March the Team organized the transportation of elementary school children to Myrtidia to help filling the nylon bags for tree seeds. By mid-April 1962 the Bishop appeals to the population to help in the garden of Myrtidia to organize an adequate tree nursery. Summer is now approaching and a watering service had to be organized.  At that time a well-known professional Dutch photographer makes a lot of pictures of tree planting actions by school children in November 1962. Unfortunately, no work reports from the Team were retrieved for the period July 1962 thru June 1964. Discussions between Governmental departments resulted in an increased cooperation with the Team and money was sent to restart the work in July 1964. Near Agia Moni a rainwater tank was built by the Government in August to suit plans for tree planting in that area. Also at Agios Theodoros a rainwater tank was installed for the expanding tree nursery.  Due to lack of rain in the period September thru November no nylon bags with tree seeds could be planted. However, in January 1965 over 1600 trees were planted by 150 people of Potamos, Vironas Dapontes planted 25.000 trees from his private tree nursery at Vroulea and from local governmental nurseries forester Zerlendes planted 25.000 trees and private people 10.000 trees. Mr. Vironas Dapontes informed me in October 2016 that he could plant trees from his nursery at Vroulea for much less costs than those from the governmental nursery.



1962 Greenery at Fratsia



1962 Greenery at Fratsia



1962 Greenery at Fratsia


Near Paleopolis the planting of many trees of various kinds was started in February ’65. From the Karvounades nursery thousands of young clover tree lets were taken in bundles of 50 to the market of Potamos to be handed out to those who were to be persuaded to plant in their unused fields these self-maintaining high-class fodder plants for their animals. A very old and poor looking lady wanted more than 2 bundles, she even asked for four or five. She got only two because she did not have so many fields to plant them all! The Team member who was responsible for the distribution did not trust her and followed her to the donkey parking place to see just in time that her mule devoured the last bundle! By now 36 workers were employed and more than 100.000 treelets were planted. At the Agios Theodoros Church property a new tree nursery, for at least 200.000 treelets, is being effectuated as of April ’65.  The Bishop donated the site. To provide for enough water the Team designed a 40 m3 water container. With this new nursery the Bishop, the local forestry and the Team hope to convince the Government that the at Kalamos started governmental nursery should be relocated to the more centrally located Agios Theodoros area.  In April ’65 an overview of results of 5 years reforestation is published by the Team. The Governmental aim for 1961-1962 was 5000 new trees, but with the assistance of the Team this became 65.000! In ‘62/’63 this figure was 50.000 and went up to 135.000 in ‘63/’64 and became more than 150.000 in ‘64/’65. Preparing the nurseries: mixing soil, filling nylon bags, germinating seeds and planting them, watering and weeding, making of holes often in rocky soil, transporting and planting of all trees up to April ’65 took some 16.000 manhours! A first issue of an agricultural newspaper with articles by the governmental agricultural expert, the forester and the Team appears end of May ’65. An encouraging visit of the chief inspector of the governmental reforestation department happened in July ’65. He agreed to the combined plans of the local forestry and the Team, but also local people should be involved with self-activities. Due to an abnormal dryness this summer the nursery at Kalamos came to a standstill. No more than 100.000 treelets could be planted all over the island. Also, spring and summer of 1966 were very unfavorable for tree planting from the new nursery at Agios Theodoros: not enough rain, too much wind, hot weather and some pump failures. Visiting Australian Kytherians are very much in favor of the tree planting program and the continuation of it. The official planting season started in October, but as usual no hands could be found. When elementary schools are visited in November ’66, to stimulate the children to plant trees, there are some teachers who do not see the need to have trees at Kythera! However, the gymnasium will start planting trees after Christmas.


Proposed change of planting season accepted.

Money from the Directorate of Reforestation for the tree planting program is given only for the official tree planting season, being the months October and November and some in December. The Government did not pay for the transport of the only few laborers and the treelets in December, the Team did. The Bishop and the Team had already asked many times the Directorate before and now again in November for money and a work permission for the first months of the year. For prove that it was possible to plant trees still in March and April the results from the Team’s experimental garden at Agia Anastasia were shown. This request was granted for the year 1967! The year 1966 was an important year, the Agios Theodoros tree nursery was completed and now in full operation. The permission to plant trees in the first two months of the year obliged the Team director and the forester to leave for Potamos every morning before 07.00 hours. Here they collected treelets and laborers and transported them to the tree planting areas, where in the previous year already plant holes had been made. There fell abundant rain! But also there appeared the first rumors that the governmental forester Zerlendes was going to be promoted to another place! A severe setback happened when a (new or existing) law had to be implemented. The governmental foresters all over Greece were obliged to bring to court everybody who was building on State property! This was especially, for instance, the case around Avlemona. Forester Zerlendes had an old foreman who especially liked to go around shouting “in the name of the King and in name of the law, I take this terrain for the States plantation”. However somewhere he proved to be wrong, a certain terrain was legally obtained years ago. The legal owner of course used some insulting language and therefore got himself in problem with the office of the public prosecutor. This all came down on the head of forester Zerlendes who now is warned by some people that they will send in herds of sheep and goats in the newly planted areas! Nevertheless, the planting of trees is strongly going on. The nursery at Agios Theodoros is enlarged in May and again in June ’67. An elderly man who did not take care enough for watering the seedlings was replaced by a competent young man. Holes, more than 1000, were dug by an ecumenical summer work camp from Holland in July ’67 to enable tree planting along the road from Karvounades to Dokana by another Dutch ecumenical winter camp in February ’68. In George Koksma’s work report of July ’67 he mentioned that 700.000 trees up to now had been planted. Forester Zerlendes is still using the Team’s old Willys Jeep and people seem to have forgotten what input the Team had in reaching this achievement. But seemingly reforestation is coming into interest by the islanders by the end of 1967. Forester Zerlendes with some 30 laborers could move and plant all trees from the Myrtidia nursery in January 1968. A winter camp from Holland to plant trees was organized through the Kythera Vriendenkring Nederland” to come in February 1968. From the region Westfriesland, north of Amsterdam, came 32 ecumenical youngsters who were lodged outside the Monastery of Myrtidia in unheated bedrooms with only one stove in their main living room. The Bishop had offered them a better accommodation inside the Monastery but this was refused by the supervising committee of the Monastery! These youths in 4 weeks’ time, with supervision of Miss Ida Blok, agricultural engineer for the Team, in very hard weather conditions had to dig holes for and planted almost 15.000 trees along the road from Karvounades to Dokana. In a tree planting afternoon, students from the gymnasium at Chora and work campers planted 450 trees within 2 hours. Most of the holes were dug with aid of a hole making machine and although the head-mistress had ordered for this machine she did not come to see the actual planting of the trees. Students and work campers had fun together and worked so hard that an onlooker from Chora asked “why do you work so hard?”


The Government takes over the reforestation project.

The tree nursery at Agios Theodoros that was started by the Bishop and the Team in 1965/66 was finally taken over by the government in May 1968. This nursery had been a very rewarding and important project for the Team, but at the same time for the past a very heavy burden on their budget, hours spent on organizing work and transport of laborers and treelets and for the future no more funds were available. Governmental officials stated that the Kythera reforestation project was one of the best in Greece and plan a budget for 1969 of over 2.000.000 drachmas, 66.000 US dollar at that time. Nevertheless, there are still village presidents not in favor of planting trees and locals near Agios Theodoros, although many of them find work at the nursery, do fear that the government will take away their fields. Forester Zerlendes is promoted away to Athens and must leave Kythera in April 1969. At the same time also the Willys jeep, which was so much used by the forester, had to be returned to the owner CWC Inc. of America. The turn-over at Agios Theodoros nursery consisted of 200.000 treelets still to be planted and some 50.000 nylon bags.

When reforestation officials discussed with George Koksma their plans for the bare region at Gerakari in July 1970, George said that if their plans would succeed the result would be enormous and terrific. This really became true!

Mr. Nico Fatseas, who as an administrator, has been working many years on the reforestation project, but had not stayed until the project was closed, told me in October 2016 that he thought that the project came to an end in 1978.


**Also read Water and Trees 


Click on a photo to enlarge



(By Jean Bingen, from the Team’s work reports, July 2016)







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