Good day to you my fellow citizens and friends! Dobar den! Mirëdita! Günaydın! Sukar dive! Dobar dan!
Don’t you know me by now? Well, I know you — at least I know all your stories. I’ve been recording them for a very long time. Allow me to share some of them with you.
I’d better introduce myself first. Some of you know me as “the Plane Tree”, others as Platanus. I live in the courtyard of Gazi Isa Bey’s Mosque in Skopje, behind the Bit Pazar hospital. Believe it or not, I am no less than 544 years old! But that’s not all — I’ve also just found out I’m officially the oldest tree in Skopje! How did I find out? Because of the new Green Cadastre…
1. The Green Cadastre
What is the Green Cadastre? Well, the Green Cadastre knows even more about the trees of Skopje than I do. All of my relatives and friends are registered in it.
The Green Cadastre is the first of its kind in this country and the information it records can help all of make Skopje a greener, leafier, healthier city. That’s because all this precise data is being used to
- prevent the unnecessary cutting or damaging of trees
- stop the devastation of greenery by construction
- develop an evidence-based plan for preserving Skopje’s existing greenery
- improve the maintenance of the green surfaces in the city
Now I will disclose some interesting information about some of my relatives — the trees and bushes in Skopje. I already knew most of them myself, of course, but now every one of them has been recorded with great precision in the Green Cadastre. So now we know that
- Until now, 65,844 treed and 28,395 bushes have been recorded in Skopje
- 71.35% of the trees are deciduous, while 28.65% are evergreens
- the five kinds of tree most vulnerable to damage in Skopje are Indian lilac trees, wild olives, willows, poplars and catalpas
- the five kinds of tree most recommended for urban environments because of their resilience and ecological characteristics are lindens, ash trees, plane trees, maple trees and pine trees
- the five kinds of trees that most effectively reduce the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide are ash trees, catalpas, maple trees, honey locusts and acacias
- trees in Skopje currently produce 17.852M kg of oxygen, equivalent to the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza!
So now we know just how much trees and greenery can help combat climate change, let’s aim even higher and make our capital green!
Over the centuries I have witnessed many instances of land erosion and flooding caused by the devastation of trees and greenery in Skopje and its surroundings.
The first measures against erosion, including planting thousands of trees, were implemented at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, however, humans have since embarked on many other destructive activities.
In the mid-20th century, for example, people began maltreating Mount Vodno. Some of you may even remember? My heart broke as so many thousands of my fellow trees were cut down to make way for plowing and grazing for cattle.
All that tree-felling and farming laid the surface of the mountain bare. In 1951, as a direct result of this erosion, catastrophic flash floods surged down the mountain bringing enormous amounts of eroded alluvium into the city and causing terrible damage, both material and ecological, and even loss of life. These floods made the citizens realize they had to change their ways, and so they undertook many activities to reforest Vodno. It is these activities that made Vodno what it is today –a forest park. But Vodno is still not safe even today, and many other areas of Skopje are also endangered.
I have to say a word or two more about floods in Skopje. I’ve seen a lot of them and some of them were really scary. In the records of the city, from the very beginnings of hydrological monitoring in 1923, five floods were registered as the most dangerous: in December 1935, December 1937, November 1962, November 1979 and August 2016.* These floods caused great economic and ecological losses.
Skopje gets flooded from several sources: the River Vardar, atmospheric waters (sewage floods), flash floods from Mount Vodno, rising groundwater overflowing the dams of Matka, Sveta Petka and Kozjak.
And let me add something really alarming: flash floods have become more common and much more destructive in recent years. I can remember when such floods occurred just once every hundred years, but they are much more frequent now, occurring at least every fifty years!
There are several reasons for this = frequent flooding, but the key reasons are
- exploitation and mismanagement of forests, leading to a reduction of the forest vegetation
- unsustainable agricultural practices and inappropriate management of arable land
- uncontrolled urbanization.
4. Skopje is heating up
Let me tell you something else. I find it really hard to accept that so many citizens use wood for heating! By doing so they partake in the uncontrolled cutting of my relatives and friends, exacerbating air pollution. We trees are the lungs of this city –if we are destroyed it is your lungs that will suffer!
That’s why I suggest you inform yourselves about how Skopje is heating up and about the main sources of pollution. By being informed, you too can contribute to its reducing the heat.
5. Hot spots/Hot islands
One other thing… Did you know there are ‘hot spots’, or ‘urban heat islands’, in our city? These places have become hot spots because they have the lowest proportion of trees. If you’re thinking of moving home it would be good for you to know where these spots are and how to avoid them. I can disclose them all to you! What else can the oldest green resident of the city do but help?
Some of you will have already been wondering how these hot spots can be eliminated. The answer is simple — by planting new trees of course! A planting campaign should be organized for all areas that are completely stripped of vegetation or that have only bushes and trees of lesser quality. Trees should also be planted on the sides of the streets.
That’s all for me from now. But remember these are just some of the stories I know. And I also know how to keep secrets, so if you ever feel like having a chat with me, to hear a story or simply sit in my shade, come and visit me in the courtyard of Gazi Isa Bey’s Mosque.