Akrotiri Peninsula SOS
Akrotiri Peninsula SOS
Akrotiri Peninsula, within the British Bases, is the southernmost tip of Cyprus. Here, one can find unique archaeological and cultural sites, turtle nesting beaches, as well as a wealth of plants, birds, reptiles, mammals and habitats, many of them extremely rare.
Here, the oldest signs of human presence on the island are found and while man and nature coexisted on the Peninsula for millennia, Akrotiri is now in unprecedented danger from human actions, decisions and aspirations.
A habitat mosaic
Lady’s Mile is one of the most popular beaches in Cyprus. But behind the umbrellas, sunbeds and restaurants, lies a unique natural landscape with immense ecological importance. Small saline pools and low scrub vegetation merge to create salt meadows that are crucially important for breeding birds, such as the Kentish Plover and the Black-winged Stilt. There are environmental protection laws that should keep Lady’s Mile and its wildlife safe. But continuous disturbance and uncontrolled access degrades this natural area and puts it at risk. Can we strike the right balance between recreation and protection?
Just a stone’s throw away from Lady’s Mile lies a small oasis for birds: Zakaki Marsh. Despite its importance, most of this area has already been swallowed up by the nearby port and further developments threaten what is left of the precious Marsh. Species of global conservation concern, such as the Ferruginous Duck, breed here in spring. How much development pressure can this fragile wetland take?
Akrotiri Marsh is a beautiful and unique wetland on the west side of Akrotiri Peninsula. Boasting a rich variety of birds as well as rare and threatened plant species, this area is one of the few in Cyprus where one can find free-ranging cattle of the unique Cyprus breed. Important restoration work has taken place to preserve Akrotiri Marsh and give the area a much-needed management boost. Restoring, protecting and properly managing our most important natural areas is key to the preservation of biodiversity, but long-term support for this is uncertain.
Next to St. Nicolas monastery is an artificial but important wetland. Among lush green plantations, the small and well-hidden Bishop’s Pool provides a key refuge for birds. The surrounding fertile farmland and citrus groves provide the beautiful and threatened Red-footed falcon with an ideal habitat for hunting and rest during migration. A massive photovoltaic park is being sited within this important agricultural landscape. Why does a ‘green’ development need to happen where it degrades an important area for birds?
Akrotiri Salt Lake
Situated in the heart of Akrotiri Peninsula is the island’s largest salt lake and one of the most important areas for biodiversity. Akrotiri Salt Lake, a popular wintering spot for flamingos, is also a vital stopover for thousands of migratory birds as they undertake nature’s most wondrous journey, every autumn and spring. There are environmental protection laws that should keep Akrotiri Salt Lake and its birds safe. But development is closing in all around the salt lake. Golf courses, villas, casino resorts, photovoltaic parks and other developments are encircling this precious wetland, while changes in water inputs are a less obvious but equally serious threat. Why are we letting this go on and sacrifice our most treasured natural sites in the process?
Episkopi Cliffs are home to the largest Griffon Vulture colony in Cyprus. These awe-inspiring cliffs also attract breeding pairs of Peregrine and Eleonora’s Falcons, drawn here by the safety and inaccessibility of the area. There are environmental protection laws that should keep Episkopi Cliffs and its magnificent raptors safe. But the track record on implementation suggests nowhere can be assumed to be safe from development and disturbance.
Akrotiri Peninsula Coast
The coastline of Akrotiri Peninsula is among the natural highlights of the island. Hundreds of years in the making, its sand dunes are now home to rare species of flora and fauna. The Schreiber’s Fringe-fingered Lizard Acanthodactylus schreiberi, an endangered species found only in Cyprus and a few surrounding countries, depends on these dunes for its survival. Loggerhead Caretta caretta and Green Turtles Chelonia mydas arrive in this remote area to lay their eggs in the summer months, while the nearby sea caves provide one of the last remaining breeding refuges of the Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus.
What is special about the Akrotiri Peninsula?
It hosts the largest complex of natural wetlands on the island and is arguably the most important area for birds in Cyprus, in terms of both diversity and abundance.
It is probably the best place for birdwatching in Cyprus, as every spring and autumn many migratory bird species gather here, while many winter in the wetlands of the area.
It offers unique opportunities for hiking in nature trails, visits to the environmental education centre, archeological sites and medieval churches as well as experiential visits to homes in the village of Akrotiri, where the art of basket weaving survives, plus swimming off quiet beaches, beach sports and other activities.
British Bases Decrees designated it as an equivalent to a Special Protection Area (Natura 2000 site for birds) and a Special Area of Conservation (Natura 2000 site for habitats, flora and fauna other than birds) in 2010 and 2015 respectively. It is a declared Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and has been recognized as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
It suffers from serious lack of management, especially lack of on-the-ground conservation actions that would take the needs of protected species into account. There is also a lack of effective wardening against activities and developments that are not in line with the protection status of the area.
It is threatened by immediate loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitats by various developments being promoted in the area, mainly residential and tourism-related.
A closer look at the threats
A huge resort is currently being built near the island’s most important wetland, in what used to be a rural landscape. It received environmental approval without an appropriate assessment of its impact on wildlife. The lack of an appropriate assessment is particularly worrying for the survival of the Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) and the Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae), two birds of prey that feed and roost in the rural habitat of the area.
This concerns the division of 78 plots and the construction of two towers and ten villas. A large area on the fringes of the salt lake comprised of agricultural habitat will be divided to 78 plots with the aim of building an even larger number of houses and other facilities. The project has received an environmental approval without an appropriate assessment of its impact on wildlife. The lack of an appropriate assessment is particularly worrying for the survival of the Red-footed Falcon and the Eleonora’s Falcon that feed and roost in the rural habitat of the area. Additionally, the approval of this project renders the conditions set by the Environmental Authority for the protection of nature by the Casino useless and meaningless, since this development will occupy the buffer area between the Casino-Resort and the Salt Lake. The development of two towers and ten villas was also approved without an appropriate assessment of their impact on wildlife. In addition to the potential impact on the two birds of prey from the conversion of the farmland habitat into a residential area, there is also concern about potential light pollution in the wetland area from these 14-story buildings.
Golf course & villas
This enormous development, which will be built in a rural landscape on the fringes of the wetland, has received environmental approval without an appropriate assessment on its impact on wildlife. The lack of an appropriate assessment is particularly worrying for the survival of the Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) and the Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae), two birds of prey that feed and roost in the rural habitat of the area.
This Solar Park, one of the largest to receive environmental approval in Cyprus (12MW with an intention for expansion to 20MW), will be located next to Bishop’s Pool, in a rural landscape. The Park, in combination with all other projects promoted or already in the area, will deprive the Red-footed Falcon and the Eleonora’s Falcon of additional feeding and roosting area. Measures proposed to mitigate its effects on the birds are not only unsatisfactory, but mainly consist of measures that should have already been in place for the area as part of its management. There is also the risk of birds colliding onto the solar panels due to the ‘lake effect’ phenomenon. The project received the green light by the British Bases.
The Lady’s Mile area and its sand dunes and salt pools found on the west side of the coast are especially important for various species of birds that breed or feed in the area, especially the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). Lady’s Mile is part of the protected area of Akrotiri, as designated by British Bases Decrees. The lack of implementation of a regulatory plan for better management of Lady’s Mile, which would be compatible with the ecological needs of the area’s species, does not help in striking a balance between recreation and nature protection. Without the required management and law enforcement, uncontrolled access to ponds, driving within habitats, the seemingly unlimited expansion of restaurant parking spaces on precious dunes and ponds and the organizing of events without environmental permits are only some of the ways through which the area is being severely degraded.
In addition to all this, a Policy Statement has been drafted concerning changes in the spatial planning regulations outside military areas within the SBAs. This was based on an agreement signed between the Republic of Cyprus and the United Kingdom in January 2014. The Policy Statement has gone through a Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment, which concluded that some of the Statement’s provisions may significantly damage some environmental aspect of the area. The Policy Statement is currently pending final approval. If not significantly amended before approval, to remove proposals with negative environmental impacts and which would lead to loss of valuable habitat, the Policy Statement could add significant pressure to this already threatened site. In practice, the protection or destruction of Akrotiri Peninsula will largely depend on the urban zoning provisions included in the final Policy Statement.
Help us save Akrotiri Peninsula
Express your concerns with the SBA Administration about the future of Akrotiri Peninsula. A sample letter, addressed to Mr. Michael Smith, Chief Officer of the SBAs in Cyprus, can be found here. If you wish to, you can also cc BirdLife Cyprus on your email.
BirdLife Cyprus is a membership-based organisation and derives its strength from the support of its members. With every new member, our voice becomes louder and stronger, and our campaigning and lobbying for change becomes more effective. Become a member today and join us in our mission to protect nature in Cyprus.