"Ochi" has a variety of landscapes owing to its geographical position and the diversity of its terrain. The terrain of Ochi is mountainous, the main mountains being the Prophetis Ilias range (1339 m.) and Giouda (1386 m.). The northern and northeastern sections are intersected by ravines and they slope steeply towards the sea. The rock is mainly shale and cipollino marble. The terrain of the southern and western sections is smoother, but rock formations intermittently rise up in the landscape.
The region is geographically distinctive in that it has two radically different and discrete terrains: The northern and northeastern section of the mountain has steep forested slopes and is reminiscent of Pelion, while the southern and south-western is similar to the Cycladic islands. Ochi is situated between two seas. To the south and west is the Evoikos Gulf (Evia Gulf ), a large, protected gulf with relatively shallow waters. To the northeast is the Aegean Cavo d’Oro that has strong currents and very deep waters, even near the shore. In terms of climate, the north that looks out over the Aegean is humid and colder than the south, which has less rain in the winter and is dry in the summers. Ochi is a mountain on a cape full of contrasts.
Wetlands, rocky ground, forests and other wildlife habitats
A habitat is the natural environment of an animal or plant. Every habitat type has specific conditions and a relative homogeneity, such as, for example, a forest, a rocky shore or a swamp. A habitat can consist of several kinds of biotopes (insofar as these are delineated by discrete types of vegetation). In contrast, the habitat of micro-organisms is microscopic and can comprise only one species of plant.
For many insects a rotten tree trunk is their exclusive habitat. Most fauna species use more than one habitat. Some habitats can contain species that live mainly or exclusively there, because they have specific needs for feeding or reproduction. The very important habitats of the Ochi region are rocky areas, deciduous, evergreen and sclerophyllous evergreen forests, as well as wetlands.
Many specialised species that cannot be found in other habitats dwell in wetlands such as swamps, wet fields, puddles or ravines. For all their small size, the Karystos lowlands are very important because they are the exclusive habitat for many species that cannot be found elsewhere in southern part of the Karystia district.
Approximately 50 bird species (waterfowl, waders and other wetland species) have been observed just in the lowland wetlands. Also, Ochi ravines and springs constitute a true source of life for many small creatures, such as water insects, molluscs, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
The habitat type that is formed by rocky ground includes cliffs, rocky outcrops, caves, bays, gorges. These inaccessible areas are the exclusive breeding site of several species. In total, 27 bird species make their nests on rocky formations and 11 of these species are endangered or protected. Within this category are birds of prey, rock partridges, the blue rock thrush, crag martins and other birds that live in open rocky fields. Bats and many invertebrates find shelter inside the caves and the rocky crannies.
Deciduous, evergreen and sclerophyllous forests
Hundreds of different insect species and invertebrates which are food for many kinds of animals live on deciduous trees. An ancient oak tree can be home to 200 different species of invertebrates. The remains of the forests are home to many birds of prey and forest animals. Such woods in steep and inaccessible slopes are rare on islands.
Areas that are barren to the human eye are anything but barren for nature
The open treeless areas of Ochi have a rich variety of interesting reptiles and birds. Twenty four species of reptiles live in coppices and on rocky formations: 2 species of tortoises, 10 species of lizards and 10 species of snakes. Eighteen of the 20 species of birds of prey that have been spotted in this area hunt in such open, non-forested habitats. Some very rare birds of prey such as vultures, golden eagles, long-legged buzzards, peregrine falcons and Bonelli’s eagles hunt in open areas. It is interesting that age-old human impact on the environment (fire and grazing) has helped create the varied thicketed landscapes on Ochi. Despite one’s first impression that it is barren and infertile, this truly pastoral landscape plays a major role in protecting the local wildlife.
Rich bird life
Despite the fact that Ochi is an island mountain, it has over 211 different bird species. The area is of great interest to ornithology for the following reasons:
Southern Karystia is placed strategically in Evia’s southernmost point, and thus constitutes a replenishing stopover for many bird species that have to follow the flyway over the sea. It is indicative that 80% of the bird species that can be found in the area of Ochi are migratory. The cape and the shores of Kafirea, the top of Ochi and particularly the lowlands of Karystos are watch points from where one can watch the migration of many birds as birds of prey, waterfowls, waders and passerines.
A communications channel
Due to its geographical position, the area functions as a communications channel between the birds of Sterea Ellada (Middle Greece) and the islands. The mass of Ochi is a natural breeding ground for some species that can then disperse south to the Cycladic islands. Such species are forest passerines, some rare birds of prey and species that have a very small nesting population in southern Greece.
Birds of prey
Twenty (20) species of diurnal and five (5) species of nocturnal birds of prey have been recorded in the area. Some of them have permanent populations in the area. Bonelli’s eagles, short-toed eagles, falcons, peregrine falcons and many horn owls reproduce there. Bonelli’s eagles, long-legged buzzards, marsh harriers and black kites stop in the area during migration
Many nesting species
Sixty nine (69) nesting bird species, a large number for an island, have been recorded in the area. In addition, the area has populations of protected species whose numbers have been greatly reduced in Europe. Protected species that live in noteworthy numbers on Ochi are shags, nightjars, rock partridge, wood larks, tawny pipits, Rufous-tailed scrub robin, fan-tailed warblers, the black-headed bunting and Protzschmar’s bunting.
A haven for endangered species
The populations of many bird species have been reduced. Birds of prey particularly are disappearing at a frightening rate. Waterfowls and waders have ever smaller wetlands in which to hunt for food. Ochi is a haven because it is a habitat for populations whose numbers have fallen in the Aegean. If the natural environment is preserved, some species that have been lost or reduced will be able to return. Vultures and Bonelli’s eagles that used to nest in southern Evia might come back to the area if they and their habitats, are protected.
“Kastanolongos” - The last primordial chestnut forest of south Evia
Just east of the highest peak of Mt Ochi, at an elevation of 900– 1,100m is a very small, ancient wild chestnut forest that covers an area of approximately 60 hectares. Kastanolongos is a natural museum, where every ancient tree constitutes a living piece of natural sculpture. It creates a green oasis under the untamed peaks of Mt Ochi, providing a panoramic view of the southernmost peninsula of Evia and from the Southern Evoikos Gulf to Attica and the north Cyclades. Because its aesthetic value is of national importance, Kastanolongos has been ranked as a Region of Particular Natural Beauty.
In autumn, walking on a soft carpet of fallen leaves, one can watch the foliage of the trees dancing in the blowing wind, its colours shifting between gold and shades of bronze. Because of the fact that hardly any chestnut forests with such ancient trees remain in Greece.
Kastanolongos is an extremely valuable ecosystem indeed, it is the last genuine chestnut forest of southern Evia. Each ancient chestnut is a hub of life with hiding places in its cavities, its hollow branches and stumps, where insects, reptiles, birds and small mammals find refuge. In the broader vicinity of the forest, 59 bird species, at least 16 of which nest in the forest, have been recorded.
There are small springs, ephemeral streams and small meadows that are valuable, not only to undomesticated nature, but also to livestock breeding. It is from the Kastanolongos vicinity that one sets off to reach the peaks of Mt Ochi. A trail connecting it with the Demosaris Gorge also exists. A forest road, through the village of Metochi, in addition to the good traditional trail from the village of Myloi, leads to the chestnut forest.
Just a breath away from the beautiful forest is the Mt Ochi climbing refuge. It offers shelter to anyone that wants to explore the forest and the mountain peaks.