Pesticides: UNESCO-approved?

Hvar is rightly proud of its UNESCO-recognized assets, but are they being looked after?

Herbicide in the Stari Grad Plain, March 2016 Herbicide in the Stari Grad Plain, March 2016 Vivian Grisogono

Hvar's UNESCO entries include the 'Following the Cross' ('Za Križen') Maundy Thursday Processions, which is on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, alongside the shared listings of the tradition of making lace from the agava plant, and the Mediterranean Diet,  plus the Stari Grad Plain (Latin Ager, Greek Hora), which is on the World Heritage List. Great efforts are being made to preserve the cultural integrity of these prized historical assets. Yet there are certain obstacles which have not yet been fully recognized, which could undermine the recognition of the Stari Grad Plain and the Mediterranean Diet.

Built for family use and storing tools.

There is ongoing debate about the rights and wrongs of the buildings which dot the Stari Grad Plain. In the main, these are modern-day shelters for people working in the fields, places where tools are stored securely. Many have been built in stone, in keeping with the surrounding landscape. There are some fine renovations of old stone cottages which dated back decades, if not a century or so. There are some simple shacks, adequate for their utilitarian purpose, but not particularly attractive. There are some eco-tourism buildings, usually beautifully made small stone structures designed for shade and shelter, where visitors can enjoy Dalmatian cuisine (part of the Mediterranean Diet, after all) in exquisite natural surroundings. There are a very few more ambitious actual houses, usually very fine stone constructions, designed as holiday retreats for the owners, occasionally as rustic rental properties for guests wanting to commune with nature. All the buildings are, of course, off-grid and dependent on wells and rainwater cisterns for their water supply.

Some authorities, especially those based in Zagreb, take the view that all the buildings on the Plain should be demolished. Local people and local authorities tend to be of the opinion that the buildings, or many of them, should be allowed to stay. Some, after all, were built at a time when approval was granted in principle by the Planning Authorities, even if it was not confirmed by document. Logically, there were buildings on the Stari Grad Plain from the time it came into agricultural use under the Greeks and later the Romans. Animals and people needed shelter against the elements, whether the hot sun, fierce winds or driving rain. There is also the problem of the amount of devastation tearing all these buildings down would cause to the environment. Small though most of them are, the sum total of debris would be sizeable.

The real worry

While the debate continues over the Stari Grad Plain buildings, little attention is being paid to a much more pressing problem: the devastation of the natural environment through the relentless use of chemical pesticides.

Herbicides in a vineyard in the Stari Grad Plain, pictured one January. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The UNESCO description of the Stari Grad Plain states: 'Stari Grad Plain on the Adriatic island of Hvar is a cultural landscape that has remained practically intact since it was first colonized by Ionian Greeks from Paros in the 4th century BC. The original agricultural activity of this fertile plain, mainly centring on grapes and olives, has been maintained since Greek times to the present. The site is also a natural reserve.' For the Mediterranean Diet, the description covers a broad range: 'The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food.'

Herbicide beside olives in the Stari Grad Plain, April 2015. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Herbicides and insecticides are used regularly by many of the Plain's agriculturalists, usually twice a year, but sometimes more. There is a tragic lack of awareness of the consequences: pesticides don't work as people believe they do, but they can cause a lot of harm in many different ways. There is a mass of overwhelming evidence of the harm linked to the widely used glyphosate herbicides, but the die-hard users resolutely ignore it. Many think that pesticide use is 'normal', even 'essential'. During each year, the effects of the herbicides are often all too evident. They even appear in promotional material, presumably unintentionally.

A brochure showing widespread herbicide in fields near Stari Grad.

Wild greens and asparagus, freshly foraged from the countryside, are traditional staples of the Hvar version of the Mediterranean Diet. Nowadays you have to be careful where you go foraging, to avoid being poisoned by chemical herbicide residues. Olives and olive oil are also essentials in the Mediterranean Diet. But they lose their health benefits when contaminated by chemical herbicides and insecticides.

Herbicide round vines: the poison penetrates and lasts! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In the video below, land contaminated with herbicide is visible at intervals, especially on a path between vineyards, shown at 2 minutes 42 seconds. Such devastation of the soil and the natural environment is an ecological disaster. Contrary to commonly held belief, the herbicide spreads through the air when it's sprayed, through the soil, and through underground water, of which there is a lot on Hvar. It lasts in the soil too. And it penetrates all the plants it is in contact with. That's why glyphosate, currently the most widely used herbicide ingredient on this planet, is found in the animal and human food chains.

The World Heritage List Criteria

Pesticide use was recognised as a threat in Croatia's Nomination to include ther Stari Grad Plain in the World Heritage List:

Yet no official action has been taken to persuade land-owners to switch to organic methods of farming. This could lead to the Stari Grad Plain being transferred to the Endangered List:

The criteria for designating natural landscapes as endamgered are set out clearly, and include pesticide use:

Opportunity for change

If the Plain was added to the Endangered List, it would not be a major disaster. On the contrary, it would present an opportunity to make the situation better. UNESCO is committed to providing help to endangered properties. In this case, it would probably consist of education in the reasons why pesticides should be outlawed from the Stari Grad Plain. But such outside intervention really should not be necessary.

Chemical pesticides have no part in Hvar's historical traditional assets. The widespread use of chemical pesticides in the Stari Grad Plain, (as all over Hvar Island), undermines the basis for including it in the UNESCO listing. This holds true for Hvar's inclusion with the Mediterranean Diet. The real heritage of the island lies in organic agriculture. That is what people expect when they come to a place which has been put on the international map as a prized heritage. The few organic farmers on the Stari Grad Plain are showing the way: it can be done! Chemical pesticide users need to wise up and follow suit. The various authorities responsible for Hvar's environment and heritage should be encouraging organic agriculture in every possible way. Only then will Hvar's Stari Grad Plain and Mediterranean Diet once again truly deserve their places on the UNESCO lists.

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2016

Media

HRT4 Video of the Stari Grad Plain
You are here: Home health articles Nature Watch Pesticides: UNESCO-approved?

Eco Environment News feeds

  • The shopping frenzy will see 82,000 diesel delivery vans on UK streets, with plastic toys and electronic goods among the most popular purchases

    The online shopping frenzy of the Black Friday weekend will see 82,000 diesel vans and trucks on UK roads, raising concerns of air pollution spikes on residential streets as more than £7bn of purchases are delivered.

    In the UK online shoppers are expected to spend up to £1.35bn today alone, according to analysts at IMRG, the UK’s online retail association. Plastic toys, games and electronic goods are among the most sought after items in the biggest weekend of shopping in Britain and the US, with environmentalists and health experts warning that it will add to the mountain of plastic waste and increase air pollution.

    Continue reading...

  • Cumbria MP says government is dragging its feet, as torrential rain causes flooding in area hit by Storm Desmond in 2015

    Torrential rain has forced dozens of families from their homes and caused disruption across the north-west of England, prompting a local MP to accuse the government of dragging its feet over £25m of flood defences promised two years ago.

    Lancaster and the nearby village of Galgate were the worst-affected areas, with 70 people rescued by firefighters and 27 people evacuated from their homes as rivers burst their banks and drains overflowed. Emergency services said they received 500 flood-related calls and attended 100 incidents in Lancashire overnight.

    Continue reading...

  • The new service by Great Western Railway has reduced bike space, a troublesome booking system and fails to meet the needs of disabled, elderly or less mobile cyclists

    Great Western Railway’s (GWR) new high-speed Intercity Express trains made headlines last month with their gaffe-filled launch that saw new trains temporarily taken out of service after several on-board malfunctions, on a service that arrived 41 minutes late, with the transport secretary on board.

    There could be more bad news down the line for those travelling with cycles, with the prospect that bike space on the new trains is reduced to zero at times, and those who have not booked a bike ticket told they won’t be able to board at all, whether there is free bike space or not.

    Continue reading...

  • UK high court extends wide-ranging injunction sought by Ineos which prohibits campaigners from interfering unlawfully with their operations

    A multinational firm has secured a long-term, sweeping injunction against anti-fracking protesters despite critics calling it “draconian and anti-democratic”.

    On Thursday, a high court judge extended the wide-ranging injunction sought by petrochemicals giant Ineos, which covers all anti-fracking campaigners.

    Continue reading...

  • Normal methods of political action and protest are simply not working. If we don’t reduce emissions boldly and fast, that’s genocide

    A little over a year ago, four friends and I shut down all five pipelines carrying tar sands crude oil into the United States by using emergency shut-off valves. As recent months have made clear, climate change is not only an imminent threat; it is an existing catastrophe. It’s going to get worse, and tar sands oil—the dirtiest oil on Earth—is one of the reasons.

    We did this very, very carefully—after talking to pipeline engineers, and doing our own research. Before we touched a thing, we called the pipeline companies twice to warn them, and let them turn off the pipelines themselves if they thought that was better; all of them did so.

    Continue reading...

  • Sadiq Khan says capital will not be included in the chancellor’s £220m clean air fund despite having 40% of the most polluting roads in England and Wales

    London cannot bid for a £220m clean air fund announced in the budget – despite being home to 40% of the most polluting roads in England and Wales, Sadiq Khan revealed on Thursday.

    Giving evidence to the Commons joint inquiry into air quality, the mayor of London revealed he was lobbying the government to support a £515m London-based two-year diesel scrappage scheme.

    Continue reading...

  • Official figures show a 9% decline between 2010-15 in birds living and breeding on the UK’s farmland

    Birds living and breeding on the UK’s farmland have seen numbers decline by almost a tenth in five years, official figures show.

    Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows.

    Continue reading...

  • Greenpeace alleges 12 companies continued to trade with Madeireira Cedroarana after its founder was accused of ordering torture and murder

    More than a dozen US and European companies have been importing timber from a Brazilian logging firm whose owner is implicated in one of the most brutal Amazonian massacres in recent memory, according to a Greenpeace Brazil investigation.

    The first-world buyers allegedly continued trading with Madeireira Cedroarana after police accused its founder, Valdelir João de Souza, of ordering the torture and murder of nine people in Colniza, Mato Grosso, on 19 April, claims the report by the NGO.

    Continue reading...

  • Links between pollution and other conditions are already proven. Maybe the heterosexual men who run the world might pay attention this time

    • Jenny Jones is a former chair of the Green party

    There is nothing like the image of deformed sperm to grab the attention of male politicians. The tentative link between male fertility and pollution has been put forward by medics in China and in a world where heterosexual men still make most of the decisions, I hope it makes pollution a personal priority for a few of them. It’s only one bit of research, among hundreds of more definitive studies into proven health conditions linked to pollution, but the world may become a slightly better place as a result.

    When I was first elected to the London Assembly 17 years ago, we were told that air pollution was yesterday’s issue and the technological solutions were rolling off the production line. I wasn’t convinced and argued that we needed to change our lifestyles by driving less, but very few in the media, or politics, saw this as a priority. That changed as the medical evidence mounted and the technological fix failed to deliver. The number of premature deaths linked to air pollution escalated dramatically, with links to heart disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes, kidney failure, autism, as well as asthma. Air pollution kills, but still we drive.

    Continue reading...

  • People evacuated in Lancashire as rain causes widespread flooding and power cuts in north-west England and north Wales

    Firefighters have rescued more than 70 people as torrential rain caused widespread flooding and power blackouts across north-west England and north Wales.

    Parts of north Lancashire, including Lancaster and the village of Galgate, were the worst affected as heavy rain fell in areas badly hit by Storm Desmond two years ago.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds