06 Oct

Casualties of the oil business

Intensive olive production is killing the wildflowers of the Med. Mary Keen reports
The European Union is doing terrible things to wildflowers in the olive groves of Europe. One of the pleasures of springtime in Mediterranean countries used to be finding little yellow tulips and wild gladioli, or seven kinds of orchid in the stony soil under olive trees. Adam Nicolson wrote recently in this newspaper about spring in Ithaca, where flowers are scattered across the island “like scraps of beautiful multi-coloured confetti” in a landscape of “shining, untramelled freshness”. He was lucky.

In Corfu in February, I noticed that the grass was looking rank and had turned that shade of green that only high-nitrogen fertilisers can produce. I was looking for jonquils, but I saw nothing but heavy grass. As I drove through a village, I noticed an old man flinging pellets in the air, as though he were feeding chickens. He was feeding the olives.

Old trees everywhere on the island – and all over the Aegean, as well as in Italy, France and Spain – are being dosed with chemicals to kick them into production. Substantial grants are paid for this, at the expense of the wild flowers, which cannot survive in nitrogen-rich soils.

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