University Forest in Taxiarchis
The University Forest in Taxiarchis, in Chalkidiki, is a publicly owned forest estate. It covers an area of 58,000 hectares on the southern and southwestern slopes of mount Cholomontas (at an altitude of 1,049.86 to 3,822.17 feet, latitude 40° 23′ - 40° 28′ and longitude 23° 28′ - 23° 34′).
Broad-leaved species that grow in Greece prevail in the area of the university forest. They are regenerated naturally and, when weather conditions are adverse, they are artificially regenerated. The systematic and sustainable management of the forest over the last decades has encouraged local populations to continue to reside in their villages. The main forest products include oak, beech, pine firewood and charcoal. Since the forest is not mature enough, little timber is produced (wooden beams, planks, parquet elements, etc.). In total, 30-35 people work in the timber industry every year.
There are mainly deciduous forests in this area, which is divided in three zones: Quercetalia ilicis, Quercetalia pubescentis and Fagetalia. These zones are formed based on flora composition, altitude, petrology, soil conditions, the exposure and incline of the slopes, air temperature and rainfall. The area is mostly covered with broad-leaved oak trees. The flora of the area also includes beech trees, black pine trees, brutian pine trees and Aleppo pine trees, as well as other ligneous plants, such as Quercus ilex, Erica arborea (a plant of beekeeping interest), holly oak trees, arbutus trees, fraxinus trees, plane trees, willow trees, etc. Fir trees are very important to the region; they are planted by villagers in order to sell them as Christmas trees. Villagers have been trading Christmas trees for 30 years. There are more than 2 million fir trees in the area, offering income opportunities to villagers, protecting the land and providing shelter to wildlife. Hence, there are about 60 ligneous plant species and more than 200 herbaceous plant species. The area is also home to rich fauna, including large populations of wild boars. The animal species displayed in the museum can also be found in the forest. Villagers coexist harmoniously with wild boars and refrain from poaching. Moreover, Mount Cholomontas was granted protection under an EU order, mainly with regards to the predator birds living in the forest; there are many wildlife shelters in the forest, where any form of hunting is forbidden.
Implementing a different policy for sustainable forestry development, focusing on forest preservation and, at the same time, trying to meet human needs, the University Forest Administration and Management Fund has spent money on the following infrastructure:
- A large forest road network (Α-Β-C category),
- A firebreak and water intake network, observation posts and a state-of-the-art remote sensing system for additional firebreak protection,
- Two shelters for wildlife, covering an area of 3,000 hectares,
- A large number of experimental fields, established in collaboration with the Faculty of Forestry and Natural Environment,
- Projects to promote tourism in the area, such as constructing trails and greenways, an artificial lake, stands, kiosks, as well as embellishing chapels, etc.
A sufficient number of building facilities has been constructed over the years in the area of the University Forest, which houses the administration offices and offers accommodation for the administrative personnel, teaching personnel, students and researchers who carry out various projects. The building complex has many dormitories, a restaurant, laboratories, storerooms and two conference halls.
The Forest Museum is also housed in the building facilities of the University Forest. Native flora and fauna, as well as natural resources are displayed in the museum, which was founded in 2008. Its founding was funded by the Aristotle University Property Development and Management Company. There are special cases in the museum where aspects of forest management planning are represented, and stuffed birds and animals are displayed. Moreover, all plant and seed species lie in cupboards, drawers and cabinets, providing visitors and students who specialize in the field of forestry with information. There is also a multi-purpose room where visitors can watch special videos and get relevant information through computer applications. The Forest Museum at the University Forest in Taxiarchis provides students of the Faculty of Forestry and Natural Environment with training, as well as providing visitors and students of all levels with environmental education, while promoting at the same time tourism in the area.