Darwin Plus Project

Phoebe Vayanou

Darwin Plus Project: DPLUS141 “Habitat Restoration & Wise Use for Akrotiri & Cape Pyla”

Darwin Plus Project: DPLUS141 “Habitat Restoration & Wise Use for Akrotiri & Cape Pyla” is a 3-year project (July 2021 – June 2024), which aims to restore important wildlife habitats within the Cyprus SBAs, focusing on Akrotiri wetlands and native scrub on Cape Pyla (Dhekelia), to promote wise use of the area and at the same time to develop eco-tourism opportunities to support the local economy.

The Project is funded by Darwin Plus (also known as The Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund), which provides funding for environmental projects in UK Overseas Territories.

The project partners are BirdLife Cyprus (leading role), Terra Cypria – the Cyprus Conservation Foundation, Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas Administration – Environment Department (SBAA ED) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Why these two areas?

Akrotiri peninsula and Cape Pyla are recognized and designated for their biodiversity importance. The effective management of these areas -something this project is designed to enhance- can make a significant contribution to efforts to conserve biodiversity in Cyprus. Akrotiri peninsula has been identified as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, following recognized BirdLife International criteria, and the wetlands on the peninsula enjoy protected status under SBA Ordinances. Cape Pyla is designated as protected for its habitat value and for key flora and fauna. The Akrotiri wetlands are also characterized as a RAMSAR site (wetlands of international importance).

Though enjoying legal protection, the reality on the ground is that both areas urgently need conservation action allied with management for wise use. Currently, there is increasing visitor pressure (especially at Akrotiri), insufficient practical conservation management and growing pressure for development. Most areas are heavily disturbed by vehicle traffic -especially off-road- and excess amount of litter. At the same time, the expansion of reeds at the marshes has resulted in loss of biodiversity and has obstructed the views for visitors and nature lovers. The need for a balanced management is identified both in the BirdLife Cyprus 2014 IBA inventory and in the SBAA management plans for the protected sites. Cattle grazing at the marsh can do wonders for managing the reeds, but its economic viability, as well as its management, needs to be enhanced. At the same time, threatened plant species need targeted actions to boost their populations. Invasive acacia remains hard-to-tackle, especially on Cape Pyla, where acacia thickets are also used by illegal bird trappers. Finally, access and traffic to the Akrotiri peninsula needs to be managed in order to protect important wildlife species and habitats.

How will the project benefit these areas?

The project aims to address these problems through targeted habitat and visitor management actions and contribute to long-term sustainable management for key sites at Akrotiri and Cape Pyla. It will benefit the local Akrotiri community and the wider public in Cyprus, through biodiversity conservation actions allied with promotion of wildlife-friendly tourism on the peninsula (thus also enhancing ecosystem services). It will also promote this alternative tourism to the area during “quieter” touristic periods, i.e. early spring and winter.

What will the project team do?

The project partners and team will address the restoration and wise use issues at Akrotiri and Cape Pyla, with the following actions:

  1. Acacia saligna post-clearance habitat restoration methods at Cape Pyla

Acacia saligna is an invasive plant species outside its natural range, due to its high copying and reproductive ability and it can have a wide range of negative effects on native biodiversity and ecosystems. Large-scale clearance of Acacia saligna takes place regularly at Cape Pyla, but due to its aggressive root systems and production of large number of viable seeds, Acacia regrows. In the context of this activity, the project team will proceed with a desk exercise to identify sustainable habitat restoration options to prevent or minimize regrowth of Acacia, in areas where clearance has taken place, based on current literature. Based on that, different management and restoration methodologies will be tested on the field in trial plots to assess and evaluate their effectiveness.

    1. Reed management solutions at Zakaki Marsh

Reed expansion within marshes reduces biodiversity, because it blocks out native marsh vegetation and at the same time eliminates preexisting habitats for wildlife. Zakaki Marsh has been taken over by reeds in recent years resulting in lost habitat diversity and the open pool area, which was important for key bird species, such as Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca and Black-winged Stilt Himantopus Himantopus. To identify reed management solutions for Zakaki Marsh, a hydrological study will examine water quality and water flow (input-output) of the marsh, that together with reed ecology requirements, will pave the way for the drawing up of a set of recommendations for long-term reed control. At the same, mechanical reed clearance actions will take place.

    1. Sustainability of cattle grazing as a conservation tool at Akrotiri Marsh

Cattle grazing can be a very successful way of long-term reed management and already a lot of progress has been achieved on this under a previous Darwin Plus project (DPLUS034, 2015-2017). Reestablishment of open and effective communication channels with graziers is an important aim of the project team.  In addition, the support the economic viability of cattle grazing is vital and this can be enhanced through the elaboration of a marketing plan of Akrotiri Marsh ‘eco-beef’. In addition, conservation actions of important marsh flora will take place as part of the wider habitat mosaic, through identification of key sites for threatened plant species and the building of seed banks.

    1. Reducing disturbance to key wildlife species through development and implementation of an access management plan for sensitive Akrotiri habitats

The mapping of sensitive wildlife sites will be the starting point, followed by the drawing up of a plan (agreed by all relevant stakeholders, including local communities and other users) for limiting human access to these sites. Limitation of access will be on a case-by-case basis and may be seasonal. This action will be carried out alongside with actions to restrict existing road access to highly sensitive wildlife sites to be completed under a MAVA-funded project led by Terra Cypria.

    1. Enhancement of eco-tourism opportunities within Akrotiri peninsula

The project team will implement various actions that enhance eco-tourism opportunities within Akrotiri peninsula in order to increase the number of visitors to Akrotiri in a safe way and to also further encourage the understanding of the importance of the area for wildlife. The project will support the local community to develop its eco-tourism potential by creating a dedicated Akrotiri eco-tourism website, holding nature-based festivals and creating wildlife guides for visitors to the peninsula. These will take place in parallel with the creation of carefully designed walking routes in the area, so visitors can experience the peninsula without the risk of increasing disturbance.

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