WHY are habitats important

In an increasingly simplified landscape, vulnerable to disturbances or abandonment by man, habitats such as lakes, valleys, forests, farmlands and plains act as islands of high biodiversity value and ecological complexity. These habitats are very important parts of our ecosystems which provide us with services without which life wouldn’t be possible. Such services include the provision of clean air and clean drinking water and processes like crop pollination and waste decomposition. When monetized, these ecosystem services provide great returns. Studies from several European countries have shown that investments in the Natura 2000 site network can generate ecosystem services worth seven times the amount spent or more.

HOW are habitats protected

One of the most important issues of concern for the EU is the ongoing degradation of these natural and semi-natural habitats and the constant undermining of biodiversity and wildlife populations. As a response to the increasing concern about the declining populations of European wild birds, the European Community, as it was called then, adopted its oldest piece of nature legislation in 1979: the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC). According to this Directive, all Member States should designate the most suitable areas for those bird species which are listed under Annex I, and for other regularly occurring migratory species, with an emphasis on waterbirds. The species listed in this Annex are subject to special conservation measures because they are rare, vulnerable, threatened or migratory. These sites are named Special Protection Areas, the well-known SPAs. In 1992, the EU nature legislation was enriched with the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). Together these two Directives form the backbone of nature protection legislation in the EU. Under the Habitats Directive, the concept of the EU-wide network of nature protection areas called Natura 2000 was introduced. SPAs form part of this network and thus, together with the Special Areas of Conservation (SACs: areas designated for the protection of specific habitats and non-bird species under the Habitats Directive), they form the centerpiece of EU nature and biodiversity policy. 

Cyprus has transposed these European Directives onto its national law: The Habitats Directive through the Republic of Cyprus’ Protection and Management of Nature and Wildlife Law of 2003 153(I)/2003 and its updates 131(I)/2006 and 131(I)/2012, and the Birds Directive through the Republic of Cyprus’ Protection and Management of Wild Birds and Game Law of 2003 152(I)/2003 and its updates up to 129(I)/2012. Having transposed the Directives the Republic of Cyprus designated 40 Sites of Community Importance (SCIs - sites which are proposed to the Commission by the Member State and once approved, they can be designated as SACs) and 30 SPAs (some of which are overlapping with SCIs) since it became an EU member in 2004. Additional sites have been designated as SPA-equivalent in the area of the Akrotiri West Sovereign Base Area under the Sovereign Base Areas Administration’s Protection and Management of Nature and Wildlife Ordinance (26/2007) which broadly replicates the Republic of Cyprus’ 153(I)/2003 Law.

 

BIRDLIFE CYPRUS’ HABITATS AND SITES CAMPAIGN

One of BirdLife Cyprus’ main campaigns and one if its priorities for its work in its Strategy for the period 2013-2020 is to conserve habitats and sites. BirdLife Cyprus directs its efforts in site and habitat protection by lobbying to ensure the designation, protection, management, monitoring and funding of Important Bird Areas (IBAs).

Designation

IBAs are areas recognized by BirdLife International according to internationally agreed scientific criteria (consistent with the relevant provisions of the Birds Directive) for their importance for birds, and which according to ECJ Judgments are ‘in the absence of other analysis the best scientifically available data for the selection of sites to be classified as SPAs’. In practice, and unless a Member State has an equally scientifically rigorous catalogue of candidate SPA sites, Member States should adopt BirdLife IBA Inventories as the basis for designation SPAs. 

The first IBA Inventory was compiled for Cyprus is 1989, but this has gone through revision in 2000 and then again in 2004. After Cyprus’ accession to the EU, the BirdLife Cyprus 2004 IBA inventory proved an invaluable tool in helping secure legal protection of key sites, through their designation by the Ministry of Interior as SPAs under the EU Birds Directive and their inclusion in the Natura 2000 network of sites protected for nature across the EU. The most comprehensive, geographically complete and up-to-date IBA catalogue has been produced in 2013 as a result of the EC-funded two-year (2010-11) bi-communal project entitled ‘All-Island IBA Revision Project’, undertaken in cooperation between BirdLife Cyprus and KUŞKOR (the Turkish Cypriot Bird Protection Society). All of the IBAs under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus are designated today as SPAs by the Ministry of Interior, or as SPA-equivalent by the SBAA in the case of Akrotiri Peninsula – Episkopi Cliffs IBA, albeit in some cases with smaller boundaries than the equivalent IBAs. 

Cyprus now has 34 IBAs, some of which were already identified in the previous Inventory of 2004, and formed the basis for the designation of Natura 2000 sites for birds in Cyprus (known as  Special Protection Areas (SPAs)), and some of which are new.

Protection

With designation being only the first step towards actually safeguarding the sites, BirdLife Cyprus is lobbying for their effective protection. This can be achieved through the correct implementation of the Appropriate Assessment process for all proposed plans and projects which could affect Natura 2000 sites, as required under Article 6 of the Habitats Directive and article 16 of the 153(I)/2003 Law. In Cyprus at the moment, as a result of malpractice in the use of the Appropriate Assessment, Natura 2000 sites are currently threatened by plans and projects which are being approved on the basis of poor quality assessments. This is especially evident with large-scale developments for renewable energy sources being installed or proposed to be installed in Natura 2000 sites. The Natura 2000 network is also threatened by established or proposed tourism infrastructure; especially golf courses accompanied by vast housing developments and isolated housing projects in the countryside. The violation of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive due to the malpractice of the Appropriate Assessment process in Cyprus has already been the center of some cases opened by the European Commission against the Republic of Cyprus for a number of plans or projects which could affect Natura 2000 sites. BirdLife Cyprus is actively participating as an expert on SPAs and birds in the ad hoc Committee for the Appropriate Assessment set up by the Environment Department, providing comments on plans and projects being proposed which may have effects on SPAs. BirdLife Cyprus is lobbying for the Appropriate Assessment process in Cyprus to be consistent with what the Habitats Directive requires.

Management 

Ensuring that these sites are safeguarded also involves the effective management of the designated SPAs. BirdLife Cyprus evaluates that this can be achieved through the development and implementation of targeted and comprehensive good quality Management Plans. Natura 2000 Management Plans in Cyprus are not obligatory nor legally binding, and thus far were only being produced for the SCIs. Provisions from Management Plans however are integrated in Ministerial Decrees. So far, although the Management Plans for the SCIs have been developed, only 3 SCIs have had their respective Ministerial Decree and measures proposed under these Ministerial Decrees were of a general nature.  BirdLife Cyprus has been active in providing comments on Management Plans developed for SCIs and in lobbying for them to be of significantly better quality, for all Management Plans to be implemented and to have their respective Ministerial Decrees. BirdLife Cyprus is also member of the Management Committee of Paphos Forest SCI. For SPAs BirdLife Cyprus, in a consortium with IACO Consultants, has won a Ministry of Interior tender to prepare the Management Plans for Cyprus’ SPAs until 2016.

Monitoring

Effective conservation action is impossible without reliable information. To develop a better understanding of the state in which these important sites are, to detect the threats they face and to be able to act on time, as well as to assess the progress made towards protecting them, or the lack thereof, monitoring of these sites is necessary. Monitoring has been deeply embedded in BirdLife Cyprus’ areas of action since its formation in 2003 and it is one of its top priorities in its Strategy for 2013-2020. Inspired by similar examples from other BirdLife International Partners, BirdLife Cyprus envisioned the enrichment of its ongoing monitoring action, expanding it from monitoring species to monitoring sites, through the establishment of a network of volunteers who would become the watchdogs of the island’s most important areas for birds. In April 2014 BirdLife Cyprus has launched the one-year ‘IBACareCY’ Project funded by the EEA and Norway Grants, which embodies its vision for site monitoring and protection. The main objective of the project is to implement BirdLife Cyprus’ Important Bird Area (IBA) Caretakers Strategy through the establishment of a network of volunteers for the 34 IBAs in Cyprus. This network of volunteers will play an active role in the protection of those important sites for biodiversity, through monitoring the site threats, the birds and taking action for their protection and promoting their importance. The network will be called the ‘IBA Caretakers Network’ and will be established for the first time in Cyprus, although it is quite widely established in other European and non-European countries, as part of the BirdLife International Strategy.

If you are interested in becoming part of the IBA Caretakers Network and become a steward of an IBA please contact our Natura 2000 Officer at vasiliki.anastasi@birdlifecyprus.org.cy or 22455072.

Funding

Lastly, BirdLife Cyprus is lobbying for the development of a good funding framework for Natura 2000 sites. Without adequate funds dedicated to finance the conservation measures of the network, the effective management and protection of these sites cannot be guaranteed.