Nature notes by Henry

On the craggy limestone hills overlooking the bustling city of Rethymno lies the tranquil village of Kastellos: One is immediately struck by the huge forest of mature Valonia Oak trees (Quercus macrolepis ) which surrounds the settlement and march up the hills to envelop it. These trees yield the huge acorns and cups which were formerly used as a source of tannin and then shipped to England by the boatload. Today the trees give wonderful shade and help to protect the community from the full force of the Cretan summer, and are also of benefit to other plants growing beneath them.

Not only are the oak trunks festooned with a great variety of lichens and mosses,but also the delicate pink Cyclamen Graecum brings delight to autumn days and then spring is ushered in with a superb display of the white angel wings of Cyclamen Creticum. Further contrast is given by the bold stands of the somewhat sinister but spectacular Dragon Arum with its huge purple flowers and snakelike spotted stem.

Orchids flourish in the more open ground with some 15 species being found in an hour or so. The Late Minoan cemetery at the foot of the hill near the main road is a particularly rich source of orchids.

The broken limestone terraces enclosing small fields amongst the trees are home to all manner of other plants and animals such as the stone martin, hedgehogs and badgers. The Green Wall Lizard is also here as are many small birds like the the Black Eared wheatear and the Stonechat. The purring of Turtle Doves and the songs of several different warblers can also be heard. The beauty of the oak forest provides a complete contrast to the sunny beaches for which the island is so famous.