Paralimni Lake – A wetland in peril
Paralimni Lake – A wetland in peril
When one thinks of Paralimni, images of sandy beaches usually come to mind. But hidden behind the dense urban fabric is a precious natural wetland. After all, the very name of the village, Paralimni, is Greek for ‘next to the lake’.
Paralimni Lake is a natural, seasonal wetland of the Famagusta district, one of very few such wetlands left in Cyprus. Even though it is relatively small in size, at around 350 hectares, Paralimni Lake is home to an array of unique wildlife. This special wetland is however in great peril, as it is one of the most threatened natural areas in Cyprus and probably the most degraded wetland on the island.
Why is Paralimni Lake so important?
The area is important at national and European level. It was identified as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) in 2004 and gained legal protection status by being declared a Natura 2000 site in 2009.
Paralimni Lake is an exceptional place as it is home to the rare endemic sub-species of Grass Snake Natrix natrix cypriaca. It also provides refuge to an impressive list of wild birds as well as other wildlife such as a rich variety of dragonfly species. A total of at least 186 species of birds have been recorded here, including the charismatic Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus. It is a great stopover for migrating birds as well as an excellent breeding spot for the Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus and Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus.
In addition to their ecological importance, wetlands are also important for minimizing the risk of flooding, particularly during events of heavy rainfalls. Wetlands also provide a relaxing spot for local residents and are an attraction for nature lovers, locals and tourists alike.
What is the issue with Paralimni Lake?
Paralimni Lake is a prime example of a badly managed and degraded Natura 2000 site in Cyprus. Despite being legally protected and home to many important species, the Lake suffers greatly from direct habitat loss and degradation as a result of pressure for residential development around and within the Lake, as well as due to uncontrolled access, which causes great disturbance, especially to ground-nesting waders.
In the past, a model airplane track operated within the Natura 2000 site. While this is not currently active, no restoration has taken place and there are no guarantees that the unlicensed track won’t resume operations in the future.
Furthermore, an array of activities incompatible with the site’s legal protection status take place at Paralimni Lake, including:
The operation of a shooting range within the Natura 2000 area. The shooting range never received an environmental permit, and its operation causes great disturbance and is the key source of lead pollution at the lake. An earthen bank created to keep the shotgun pellets from entering the Lake has proven inadequate, as stated in the site’s Management Plan, which also calls for the relocation of the shooting range. In 2012, the European Court of Justice condemned Cyprus for failing to protect Paralimni Lake and for tolerating activities which seriously compromised the ecological status of Paralimni Lake, including the lack of measures for the protection of the Grass Snake. One of the problematic activities highlighted in the condemnation was the shooting range. Any promises made by the Government to relocate the shooting range to a more suitable location have so far proved empty. The shooting range remains in place and active, even though birds, including Flamingos, have been found dead due to lead poisoning, most likely from shotgun pellets.
Hunting is permitted in 30% of the site every day during November and December. This further adds to the disturbance caused and is a direct threat to protected species, including Flamingos, some of which have been illegally shot.
Both these threats to Paralimni lake, the shooting range and the hunting activity, were highlighted in a letter of the Minister of Environment to the Minister of the Interior (June 2022), expressing the position that both hunting should be banned within the lake and the shooting range should be relocated to a more appropriate location. In this letter the Minister of Environment urged the Minister of the Interior, as the relevant competent authority for the regulation of hunting, to explore this further and to take the necessary actions.
What are we doing about it?
BirdLife Cyprus is one of the many partners in an EU-funded LIFE Integrated Project that focuses on the protection and the proper management of all of our Natura 2000 sites. The LIFE Pandoteira project foresees actions aimed at making the Natura 2000 network more effective and functional as well as sustainable with the overarching goal of achieving favourable conservation status for habitats and species. Paralimni Lake is one of the key sites, which the project focuses on.
Our project work on Paralimni Lake focuses on:
- Targeted field research to fill in the knowledge gaps on the ecological requirement of key bird species in Paralimni Lake, such as the Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Kentish Plover and Greater Flamingo.
- Assessment and quantification of the main causes of disturbance to breeding birds within the lake.
- Water management studies and lead sampling studies in the lake.
- Practical conservation actions for key species at the Lake, such as control of non-native predators, pilot introduction of native mosquito-eating fish Aphanius fasciatus, reed management and creation of nesting islands for the key bird species. Nesting islands will also benefit the sub-endemic grass snake.
BirdLife Cyprus also carries out actions for Paralimni Lake beyond those in the LIFE Pandoteira project, including:
- Speaking out for the Lake and highlighting the issues affecting the site through press releases and interviews in radio and TV as well as through our social media channels and website.
- Organizing birdwatching field trips for local schools to highlight the importance of the area for birds and other wildlife.
- Reporting of any poaching and trapping incidents to the Game and Fauna Service.
- Lobbying the relevant authorities for the proper protection and management of this site, as well as its closure to hunting since it is a hunting blackspot, is polluted with lead and poses a safety issue for nearby residents.
What is the way forward
Like many local residents, we believe that this lake is a hidden gem within the area of Paralimni. It has the potential of attracting thousands of people, locals and tourists alike. If it were well managed with respect to the lake and its species, and promoted for all it has to offer, this wetland could be a year-round destination for families, schoolchildren, nature lovers and tourists. Examples that successfully tap into the potential of an important natural area as a pole of attraction while ensuring its protection, can be found in many places around the world, and we believe this is possible for Paralimni Lake too.
Apart from safeguarding the lake for its ecological importance and its potential to attract nature lovers and birdwatchers, protecting the lake is also crucial for mitigating the risk of flooding. The recent flooding incident of January 2023 in Paralimni town highlights the urgent need to restore Paralimni Lake.
However, we do not need to go far to draw inspiration from a real example where a wetland had been properly restored and protected and is well managed. This is Oroklini Lake, which BirdLife Cyprus – jointly with relevant authorities – ran a restoration project for between 2012-2014, undertaking a series of targeted actions. Nowadays the local residents are proud and appreciative of their local wetland, while thousands of people visit and watch the birds all year round.
What we ask from the State for Paralimni Lake
- To relocate the shooting range immediately and move it away from Paralimni Lake, respecting the promises made to Europe when Cyprus was condemned in 2012.
- Closure of the area as a hunting area.
- To properly and effectively manage the whole area as a Natura 2000 site with the key qualifying species in mind, including, crucially, the drawing up and implementation of a proper water management plan for the site.
- To carry out Appropriate Assessments for any activities that continue or are proposed in and around Paralimni Lake, including the existing motocross track.
- To effectively patrol the area to combat any illegalities, including access, fly tipping and poaching.
What you can do?
- If you suspect that an illegal activity is taking place near or within the lake (illegal shooting, fly-tipping etc), please inform the relevant authorities (Game and Fauna Service, Paralimni Municipality, Environment Department) and contact us as well so we can continue putting pressure on the authorities.
- If you are a school teacher in the area, contact us to arrange a visit to your school to talk about Paralimni Lake with your students or organize an educational field trip at the lake to show them the magnificent birds of the lake.
- Visit the area with your loved ones, take photos of the birds, the flowers and the lake landscape and share the beauty of this wetland far and wide. By raising awareness about this wetland, we encourage more people to appreciate it and therefore protect it.