Thousands of Macedonians took a day off work on Thursday to plant three million trees to revive the nation’s forests after fires ravaged an estimated 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of greenery.
“There is no better feeling than when you plant a tree and after some time come and see it growing,” Macedonian opera singer and UNESCO Artist for Peace Boris Trajanov told reporters.
Trajanov launched the initiative three years ago, gaining wide support from the government, local authorities, non-governmental organisations, foreign representatives and businesses.
Around 30 million trees have previously been planted on more than 8,500 hectares.
“This has become a nice tradition that is not only increasing the awareness among citizens about need for protection of the environment, but is making Macedonia more green and more clean,” the Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska said as she planted a tree near the capital Skopje.
Along with human rights activists and artists, many citizens took the opportunity of a day off work as volunteers to plant the trees.
Wildfires often destroy thousands of hectares of forest in the Balkans country, mostly caused by human error, but also due to extremely high temperatures, especially in July.
In 2006 and 2007 at least 35,000 hectares of forests are estimated to have been burned, causing damage worth up to 30 million euros (37.8 million dollars).
Experts said that restoring the damaged ecosystem could take up to 50 years.