Save the Cretan Landscape: Stop Golf Development on Cavo Sidero

Crete is not just crowded holiday resorts.  It still has its remote, wild places, even on the coast.  One is the extreme north-east tip, a dry jagged peninsula of lonely, vulture-haunted crags, grey-green bushes and white limestone desert, far from the tourist crowds.  Into this unlikely location developers are trying to insert several golf-courses, holiday villages and hotels, on land leased from a venerable but sadly declining monastery.


The sport of golf has moved far from its ancient beginnings in Scottish sand-dunes, when it was played in an unaltered landscape by shepherd-boys and kings and did nobody any harm.  It was transformed by Americans who industrialized it, bulldozed it and watered it into unsuitable parts of the world.  Modern golf in the wrong places can do immense environmental and social damage.  Golf-courses now try to keep green all through the year, even the rainless summers of the Mediterranean, and use immense quantities of water and polluting chemicals.
    The proposed development by Minoan Group and its subsidiary Loyalward is comically unsuited to this site.  Anyone who has experienced the merciless winds will be sceptical about playing golf here at all.  There is no infrastructure, and providing any would do great damage to the ecology.  There is no local population; workers will have to be brought in from outside. Cliff-bound, rugged coasts and rough seas are unattractive to conventional seaside tourism: the few tiny beaches are choked with sea-brought rubbish. The site is several hours' journey from the places that tourists come to Crete to see.  What will they find to do when they get tired of golf?  Two smaller developments in the peninsula have already failed.

The development is unsustainable because of lack of water for the golf-courses, hotels, workers' dwellings etc.  It goes against the best principles even of American golf-course design: instead of working with a well-adapted site, the developers would force golf on a dry and rocky area that is absurdly ill-adapted to it.  They propose desalination, but a large desalination factory will do further damage to the ecosystem: it will either cover a great area of land with wind turbines and/or solar collectors, or will demand a large supply of energy, which is scarce in Crete; and disposing of the salt produced will result in further destruction.

The island of Crete is one of the world's biological hot-spots.  This particular corner is the home of special, drought- or salt-adapted vegetation including some of the world's rarest plants.  Like many semi-deserts it is rich in species: tiny, colourful plants that spring up after the winter rains and are gone before summer.  A small part of the area is the palm-grove of Va%uFFFD, known to the outside world as the largest area of the special, native Cretan palm-tree.  In other countries Sidhero would long ago have been a National Park.  It is a part of Crete belatedly designated for conservation under the Natura 2000 scheme, which is utterly inconsistent with large-scale development. Please see
    The peninsula is also of the greatest archaeological importance, for a peculiar reason.  In antiquity, probably under a more favourable climate, it was farmland.  In Greek and Roman times it supported the city of Itanos, until the decline of the Byzantine empire.  Then came the corsairs. Pirates especially haunted this corner of Crete, where they preyed on passing ships and also raided on land.  With the fall of Itanos the peninsula became untenable and remained uninhabited for a thousand years. In consequence, Neolithic and Minoan farms, terraces and fields and check-dams of Ancient Greek and Byzantine cultivators survive on a landscape-wide scale, not hidden or destroyed by the works of later cultivators.  Here, as nowhere else except on a few remote islets, one can see what the farmed countryside of Mediterranean Antiquity looked like.

The environmental impact assessment that we have seen is perfunctory.  It sets out vague general principles but lacks essential detail.  It deals with those areas proposed to be built on in the first instance, and says nothing about effects on the rest of the peninsula.  In practice, development of parts of the peninsula will threaten the remainder.  If the first development is successful it will lead to demands for expansion.  Even if this does not happen, areas not built on are likely - whatever the present intentions of the developers - to be encroached on by service buildings, car-parks, earth- and rubbish-dumps and litter.  The grazing regime, essential to maintaining the vegetation, is likely to be affected.  The famous palm-grove, though not directly encroached on, is threatened by contamination of the ground-water on which it depends, and also because developers find it difficult to resist bringing in foreign palm-trees, and with them the red palm weevil, a deadly insect for native palms.
    The developers' archaeological assessment of the area is entirely inconsistent with what we have seen ourselves.  Proposed for protection are the site of Itanos itself, two scraps of landscape, and five isolated sites (one of which is a Minoan villa already heavily damaged by bulldozing). Two of the ancient sites are in the wrong places on the map, suggesting that the investigators did not actually visit the area. The proposed road to the desalination plant will run right through an important site, where substantial ancient building foundations are clearly visible. Singling out these few places for protection, however, is sadly inadequate; nearly the whole landscape is, in effect, an archaeological site.  Its features, though perfectly capable of surviving if left alone, are fragile and easily destroyed by the kind of casual earth-moving that inevitably goes with commercial development Please see

The World Archaeological Congress has also written a letter to the Prime Minister of Greece protesting the destruction of antiquities by the Cavo Sidero development. Please see:

We are not opposed to development as such.  Such a scheme might be acceptable in the right place, next to an existing resort where it might lengthen the holiday season and provide valuable employment.  It is pointless and absurd in a remote corner.  North-east Crete needs only to be left alone, or perhaps developed for more sensitive eco-tourism that would make its unique landscape available to those who are interested. The north-west corner of Crete is another rugged Natura 2000 area with endemic plants and antiquities; instead of golf-courses, a network of marked footpaths with signs pointing out what makes it special is being installed.


There is another disturbing aspect.  The land belongs to the Holy Monastery of the Panayia Akrotiriani (Our Lady of the Cape), which has been allowed to decline and now has very few monks (and presumably has little need for funds).  The monastery's lands are under the jurisdiction of His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople.
    The Orthodox Church has a well-developed theology of the environment and of humanity's spiritual, as well as material duty, to live in harmony with the natural world and to care for God's creatures.  This has been repeatedly urged by the Patriarch on public occasions.  He has travelled all over the world and has spoken eloquently of the need to protect the world's special places such as Greenland and the Amazon.  The north-east corner of Crete is such a special place, over which the Patriarch has very substantial authority and influence, which so far he has not used to prevent its destruction.
We the undersigned strongly object to the proposed tourist development at Cavo Sidero by UK-based Minoan Group and its subsidiary Loyalward, in collaboration with the Abbot of Toplou monastery. This is a declared Natura 2000 Special Protection Area (SPA # GR4320009 & SCI # GR4320006) of unique environmental and cultural significance on Crete and should not be turned into a golfing resort. It is home to the nearly unique palm oasis at Vai, endemic flora and fauna, and significant archaeological remains, all of which will be irreparably damaged by such a development. Please see this report on the website of the Hellenic Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works:
Furthermore, the northeast corner of Crete already struggles with annual water shortages, making the construction of thirsty golf courses and rooms for 7000 thirsty people absurd. The proposed desalination plant will do further damage by covering a great area of land with wind turbines and/or solar collectors, or by demanding a large supply of energy, which is scarce in Crete. The disposal of the mineral refuse from the plant (salt, etc.) will result in significant pollution. Please see this recent article in The Guardian:
The Greek Supreme Court's hearing of the case has been postponed until November 7, 2008. There is still time to make a difference. If you have supported this project in the past, please reconsider your position. Please do not allow such an environmental and cultural disaster to happen. Take a stand against this development. Preserve this unique landscape.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
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