‘The whole ecosystem was wiped’: living on the frontline of global heating


‘The whole ecosystem was wiped’: living on the frontline of global heating

From extreme weather obliterating homes to rising sea levels ruining crops, climate breakdown is a terrifying daily reality for many

Beekeeper Antonis Vakos checks a beehive next to other destroyed beehives, following a wildfire on the island of Evia.


Throughout the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, the Guardian will be publishing the stories of the people whose lives have been upended – sometimes devastated – by the climate breakdown.

Antonis Vakos, Greece

The seasons as we knew them in Greece are gone. And that’s very disorientating for the bees. One moment you’ve got a bout of extreme weather, the next a sudden change with no warning at all.

In late February, as we were heading into spring, it snowed. In summer you’ll have three days, say, of downpours that are the equivalent of two months’ worth of rain. Then 10 days of unbelievably high temperatures as we had in August before the fires. We’ve never seen anything like it.

The bees aren’t reacting at all well. Insects are sensitive to climate change. After the blazes, their behaviour changed and they were incredibly aggressive.

I’m the third generation in my family to keep bees although the only member to do so professionally. My father first took me to the hives before I even started school. I couldn’t even do up my shoelaces I was that young.

You’re not a beekeeper for the money. You have to love nature and be a bit crazy. It’s a whole philosophy.

Around 40% of Greece’s pine honey is produced up here in northern Evia. It’s unique in taste and antioxidants. A lot ends up in supermarkets in Europe.

To say the fires have been a catastrophe is an understatement. They were the biggest on record and took two weeks to extinguish. We’re still numb. Every tree, every bush, every flower was burned and the whole ecosystem was wiped out. Collecting pollen and nectar is how bees survive. So far we’ve managed to get by feeding them with ecological substitutes.

Antonis Vakos checks his beehives near Voutas village on 11 August.

The forest was our treasure. It made you smile. We had more of it than anywhere else on the island and then suddenly it’s all ashes and charcoal. Thank God I’ve lived to see it, thank God, I’ve got memories and the images live on.

I had 130 hives. Now I have 35. The rest were destroyed. Each hive has between 30 and 40,000 bees and so my losses have been huge.

It will take the pines at least 30 years to regenerate. Pines are vital because they are the source of sap, which nourishes bees and helps them waterproof hives. I’m 48, so I don’t think I’ll ever be seeing them as they once were again. But I’m optimistic by nature. Two months ago there was nothing but black, the landscape was totally bare. Now I see the first green shoots. I’ve begun to smile again.


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