Monthly Archives: October 2012

above Kotor, with October storms

Today’s post is unashamedly a travel post – with a fine tree enjoying the view from high above Kotor, on the road from Cetinje, in Montenegro – “One of the most dramatic trips in Montenegro, if not the whole of Europe” [Rough Guide to Montenegro].

For those more comfortable in the virtual world, here’s a modern view of the same stunning route.

turn, turn, turn!


Today I was lucky enough to enjoy a picnic lunch sitting by a wonderful old olive tree, estimated as 2000 years old, and claimed to be the oldest tree in Europe.

Ancient olive tree at Mirovica, Near Bar

It sits majestically, and these days peacefully, in a village just outside the town of Bar in Southern Montenegro, just a few kilometres from the Albanian border.

But just think of the swirling currents of history a tree growing on this religious and cultural fault line has witnessed over the last 2 millennia! The birth of christianity; the split of the western and eastern roman empires; and then the split of the orthodox church; the rise and fall of the Venetian empire in the Adriatic; the arrival of the muslim Ottomans; and centuries of trouble while Montenegro became a flash point between the Austro-Hungarian Catholics to the North and West, the Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox to the East and beyond to the Black Sea, and the Albanian and Ottoman muslims to the South and South East. And, at the beginning of the last century, the arrival and departure of its one and only King.*

And exactly 100 years ago this month (October 1912) the Montenegrins invaded Albania as part of a Slavic alliance with Serbia and Bulgaria, launching the first Balkan War in an effort to liberate the Southern Balkans from Ottoman rule. On this day (26th October) in 1912 the Serbians, recently victorious over the Turks at the Battle of Kumanovo entered Skopje in (Ottoman) Macedonia, effectively signaling the end of Ottoman rule in the Southern Balkans. Around this time the Bulgarians successfully advanced across Thrace and were re-grouping just 20 miles short of Constantinople…

Just two years later, an assassination in nearby Sarajevo would plunge Europe into a wider crisis.

watcher of wars and survivor of earthquakes

Its twentieth century memories are scarcely less traumatic: betrayal by the allies at the end of the first world war and annexation by Serbia; axis occupation during WWII; the arrival of communism with Tito and the liberating partisans**; a devastating earthquake in 1979 (7.1 on the richter scale, with the epicentre no more than a few kilometres away) and bombing by NATO in the aftermath of Serbian aggression in the 1990s…

Today we flew into Podgorica unchallenged from Istanbul on a Boeing 737 and sauntered down towards the Albanian border courtesy of Avis rentals, stopping to picnic by this splendid survivor.

Montenegro achieved its independence from Serbia just 6 years ago. Who knows what the future holds for the oldest tree in Europe? We wish it and its local carers well.



* Norman Davies: Vanished Kingdoms – The History of Half Forgotten Europe. Chapter 12: Tsernagora: Kingdom of the Black Mountain (1910-1918).

** Fitzroy Maclean: Eastern Approaches.


(and you may never again see a cardboard box or a wooden pallet in the same innocent light)

Wood in the service of mankind, 6: The Big Picture

The lumbering story of how our appetite for timber and (wood) fibre has rocketed in the last twenty years, and how Northern consumers are outsourcing their supply chains, and (perhaps unthinkingly) their consciences to the “Global South”. How on our behalf the “Big Box Retailers” ( Walmart, IKEA, Carrefour, Tesco and many others) are driving down costs to the point where the supply chains suck in illegal logging from countries with weak governance and poor health and safety arrangements.

Did you know?

  • Annual global timber production runs at around 3.6 billion cubic metres, or around 1.5% of the global timber reserve.
  • Around 50% of this is used for “global industrial” purposes. The other half is consumed locally for fuel and cooking etc.
  • 50% of timber by value is used for “pulp” products – covering everything from toilet paper and disposable nappies to playing cards and traditional (analogue) books.
  • “Pulp” includes the enormous quantities of packaging consumed by the big box retailers to satisfy our consumer appetites – a global middle class forecast to triple by the year 2030.
  • Developed countries – with 20% of world population – consume 75% of solid wood (“roundwood”) harvested and around two thirds of all paper products.
  • Per capita consumption of paper products in industrialised countries is estimated at 200Kg per annum.
  • One Company in Brazil (Fibria) controls 37% of the global market in eucalyptus pulp – highly favored for the production of super soft toilet tissue.
  • Estimates suggest that 40% of wood imports into China, the new “wood workshop of the world”, are sourced through illegally logged timber. Most is then re-exported to first world markets.
  • Walmart has 10,000 separate suppliers in China, and is that country’s 6th largest trading partner
  • IKEA markets 9000 wood products and annually produces 200 million (wood fibre based) catalogues in 27 languages in 38 countries.
  • US households receive an estimated total of 100 BILLION pieces of junk mail every year, consuming around 100 million trees to produce it.

The first 5 chapters of this book are a depressing and shocking tale of how the biodiverse resources of the “Global South” are being consumed by excessive appetite in the North. As a life-long member of that exclusive Northern club it would be hypocritical for me to preach to fellow members, or to criticize individual producers. IKEA and the big box retailers are here to stay. We can never return to a cosy world of local artisans, to William Morris or Grinling Gibbons.

But as the final chapter explains (with guarded optimism) there are opportunities, as well as imperatives, to encourage and enforce better governance and improved sustainability, by leveraging the power of the “big box retailers”. No doubt many who have studied these issues much closer than me, and have plumbed the depths of corporate cynicism, will scoff at the idea of these Wall Street driven juggernauts offering anything more substantial than greenwash. But there are some promising signs.

For example, the Forest Footprint Disclosure project aims both to improve transparency in global corporate supply chains, and also to inform us consumers so that we can differentiate between  products produced in more  and less harmful ways. (Just visit – And the European Timber Retail Coalition (formed in 2010) is working to ensure minimum “ethical” standards for timber sold in the EU. Even IKEA is now producing an annual sustainability report (but hopefully not 200 million hard copies), and is apparently conducting unannounced audits of its Chinese suppliers.

Will these private sector governance initiatives be enough? The authors remain cautious, and give the impression that they think not: governments, voluntary civil agencies and increasingly eco-conscious consumers will also need to play their part. And that last and important group includes you and me…


One final irony: “Timber” isn’t available in forest friendly Kindle format. So if you have an Amazon Kindle account, then tell the publisher NOW: “I’d like to read this book on Kindle”.

Tell the publisher you’d like to read it in e-book format!