The Greek island of Skyros isn’t famous for much. It goes mostly unnoticed by the multitudes of tourists that flock to the islands of the Aegean each summer. Achilles passed through on his way to Troy, and it’s home to a rare breed of pony, but aside from a small town the island is a peaceful, rural place. In the southern part, a large uninhabited area known as ‘the mountain’, or ‘vouno’ in Greek, hosts a nature reserve for a rare falcon and is where the islanders traditionally let their ponies run wild during the farming off-season. From Magazia, the beach village beside Skyros Town, the mountain can be seen rising up over the sea in the south: a vibrant, spotless wilderness.
Several years ago this land was sold by its owner, the Orthodox Church, and within the next few years it will become Europe’s most concentrated wind farm. The land will be pumped full of concrete to lay the foundations for the wind turbines; the ponies will have to remain tethered in their owners’ plots of land; and the falcon, it seems, will be sacrificed as collateral damage in the pursuit of green energy. To make matters worse, the efficiency of wind energy is currently in question; in effect, Skyros is being sacrificed in the crusade to promote a form of energy which has not definitively proven to be any better than another.
Skyros is a small island, the kind where you mention who you’re staying with to a shop owner and he smiles broadly before offering you a discount. Children run riot in the town square on a Saturday night and no-one worries because the community is watching over them. The farms are almost entirely self-sustaining, producing their own honey, olive oil, milk and cheese. Their carbon footprint is minimal. How is it that an island so distant from the fast-moving modern world has been chosen to bear that world’s burden?
This summer, the islanders held a rally to protest the wind farm plans. In one shop window, a hand-painted poster depicts a turbine being torn down by a mob of angry townspeople led by a saint; in another, a giant ploughs through the island with one arm, thrusting turbines into the ground with the other. Yet it’s become clear that the islanders have no say in the matter. Greece has a European Union green energy quota to fill. This quiet island, population 3,000, will generate enough power to fuel cities the bustling cities on the continent.
The Skyros wind farm plan is a local catastrophe that really puts the Kenly wind farm debate to shame. Six wind turbines in a field aren’t going to change the lives of St Andreans, but the Skyrians are about to see their entire landscape transformed by 111 colossal turbines on an island only 223km square. The Greek government may not be flattening villages to achieve its aim, but it’s destroying something just as essential: one of the last truly wild places, where there are no roads, no modern facilities, only a trusting community whose calm lifestyle has endured for generations.
The islanders are proud, strong-willed individuals who do not take kindly to having this decision made without their input. Above all, it is their island. They’ve worked this land for thousands of years, and now a monumental change is to occur because an executive body somewhere far away have decided it should. It really makes you wonder – do we have no right to a say in our landscape? If the EU keeps setting hoops for its members to jump through, will our national parks be next? Just how much are member countries prepared to sacrifice on the altar of the European Union?