Forests and natural habitats must be protected from urban sprawl

Forest Fire June 2016 - Ayios Theodoros Pros Spilia - Y. Christodouldies (102)_450_850_crp

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In light of the tragic fire events that broke out over the last days BirdLife Cyprus highlights the imperative need for forests and natural habitats to be protected from urban sprawl and states the following:

The significant damage caused by the recent fires is undoubtedly one of the largest in recent decades and constitutes serious damage to the habitats and species, while the deaths, injuries and property damage that occurred cause grief and sorrow. 40 – 50 years ago, these fires would have been equally tragic, but the forest recovery prospects would have been promising as fires are a natural component of the Mediterranean ecosystem. Unfortunately, however, in 2016, due to anthropogenic climate change, which now is a reality, the prospects of forest and wooded land recovery are much more limited because of desertification. The fact that many fires are not a natural element, but incompatible human intervention, worsens the situation even further.

The forests that were burnt, offer invaluable ecosystem services such as retaining water (it is no coincidence that the only healthy aquifer in Cyprus is below the Troodos mountains and Paphos Forest), retaining and enriching the soil, regulating climate, absorbing carbon dioxide, while they are also a habitat for biodiversity (and many endemic species of Cyprus), and play a significant role in human well-being – invaluable ecosystem services now largely diminished.

The fact that the two large and destructive fires were caused by human negligence around homes found in the forest boundaries, stresses in the strongest terms the need to modify the Republic’s isolated housing policy and limit the root cause which enables the construction of houses almost everywhere, even in forest boundaries, dramatically increasing the risk of fire as demonstrated these last few days. The Opinion on an amendment of the isolated housing policy has already been issued by the relevant Departments since December 2015 and the proposed change when implemented will significantly reduce this phenomenon, but unfortunately, it is still pending for publication by the Minister of the Interior.

Dr Clairie Papazoglou, BirdLife Cyprus Executive Director said ‘The amendment of the isolated housing policy, as fully justified in the opinion of the relevant Departments should be published immediately by the Minister of the Interior, in order to curb urban sprawl and the multiple problems that this causes. Protecting the forests and natural habitats, and their priceless value, cannot simply be based on the hope that some people will not behave in a naive and criminally negligent way in the countryside, destroying priceless common goods such as the forest. Appropriate and rigorous, proactive government policy is necessary’.

It is also very important not to carry out rush actions for the restoration of burnt areas. Nature always knows best and it is extremely important to allow natural processes and natural succession to take place, always with the aim of protecting soil and preventing erosion.

Filio Ioulianou, BirdLife Cyprus Natura 2000 Officer, stresses that ‘Climate change is now a reality and the forests of Cyprus will struggle much longer to recover than they would have 40-50 years ago because of climate change and desertification. Some will never recover. It is extremely important that actions in the burned areas are carried out with extreme care and respect, and destructive interventions are avoided, in order to allow the forest to heal its wounds on its own.’ 

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