Life Among the Olives

Biodiversity tends to be high in traditionally cultivated olive groves, which provide a variety of habitats (e.g. dry stone walls, patches of natural vegetation etc.) supporting a diversity of wildlife including reptiles, butterflies and other invertebrates, birds and mammals.

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Life Among the Olives

Olive trees are synonymous with Greek culture; part of their fascinating landscape, social and economical history and heritage. In Greek mythology, the olive tree was created by Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, during a contest with Poseidon, God of the Sea to become the protector of a region within Greece. The city would be named after the one who presented the most precious, divine and useful gift and Athena’s gift of an olive tree, a symbol of peace and fruitfulness, was chosen by the citizens – and so it is that the capital came to be Athens.

It seems only fitting that the setting for Aroha, our tented wellness retreat, should be among olive trees, an ancient and beautiful symbol of peace and fruitfulness that has weathered sun and storms to stand proudly for thousands of years. It will also deepen our connection to Greek culture, as like communities here have done for generations, we live among, farm and use one of their most celebrated exports. There are various different approaches to farming olives across the islands and we have been looking into them closely, learning more about the best way to nurture the land we’ll become custodians of. We’re choosing to create a tented retreat to keep our community close to nature and the site earmarked for development will place us at the heart of ancient olive groves – predominantly the low-input traditional plantation type – which we’ve explained more about below. It’s so important to us that our presence has a positive impact and doesn’t disrupt the rich biodiversity of the land.

The following is taken from “LIFE among the olives” a publication by the European Commission focus group LIFE.

“Olive farms range from very small (<0.5 ha) to very large (>500 ha) and from traditional, low-intensity groves to Intensive, highly-mechanised plantations. Olive trees range from ancient, large-canopied specimens, cultivated by grafting onto wild olives and maintained by pruning for over 500 years, to modern dwarf varieties planted in dense lines, to be grubbed up (dug up) and replanted every 25 years. Tree densities vary from as few as 40-50 stems per hectare to 300-400 stems or more per hectare in the most intensive plantations.

Overall, there are three broad types of plantation:


Low-input traditional plantations

Often of ancient origin and planted on terraces. They are managed with few or no chemical inputs and their labour input is high. Due to their particular characteristics and farming practices, such as the grazing of animals under the olive trees, these plantations have a high natural value in terms of biodiversity and landscape, and a positive environmental impact (such as controlling water run-off in upland areas). However, it can be hard to make money from these plantations, and they are thus vulnerable to abandonment.


Intensified traditional plantations

Similar to traditional plantations, but managed more intensively. They use more artificial fertilisers and pesticides and more intensive weed control and soil management techniques. They can also increase the tree density and introduce irrigation and mechanical harvesting. With more tree density, fertilisation and/or irrigation, such plantations are referred to as intensive plantations.


Super-intensive modern plantations

Made up of smaller tree varieties that are planted at high densities of 1,600 -1,800 trees/ha. They are also managed under intensive and highly mechanised systems, requiring irrigation to create a humid micro-climate that increases olive tree growth, and heavy usage of certain agrochemicals such as copper sulphate, which is used at least 5-6 times per year.

In addition, there’s a growing trend for organic plantations managed without chemical input, and subject to the most rigorous production standards. Organic farming is increasing rapidly, though it can require higher subsidies to be competitive.

The intensified traditional and modern intensive systems can present low natural value and produce negative environmental impacts. Particular problems are soil erosion, run-off into water bodies, exploitation of scarce water resources and degradation of landscapes and habitats.

Biodiversity tends to be high in traditionally cultivated olive groves, which provide a variety of habitats (e.g. dry stone walls, patches of natural vegetation etc.) supporting a diversity of wildlife including reptiles, butterflies and other invertebrates, birds and mammals. As well as many passerine species, other nesting birds include the Hoopoe (Upupa epops), European roller (Coracias garrulus) and owls including the European scops (Otus scops) and little owl (Athene noctua) that hunt insects, lizards and small mammals. Older trees provide an abundant food supply for fauna, as they host a high density of insects along with the tree’s fruit. A low level of pesticides also encourages a rich flora and insect fauna.”

If you’re interested to learn more, further information about improving environmental performance in the olive oil sector can be found here:

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