Although birds can be found everywhere in Cyprus, important species gather in larger numbers in some areas of great importance. Such areas are the 34 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) identified by BirdLife Cyprus and recognized by BirdLife International. IBAs are priority sites for bird conservation based on internationally agreed and standardised criteria.
BirdLife has been very successful in ensuring that IBAs in the EU are recognized as the ‘blueprint’ for the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive, forming part of the Natura 2000 network: the largest network of protected areas in the world.
What is the problem?
While almost 29% of Cyprus’s land area is under the legal protection of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas under national laws transposing the Habitats Directive (1) and the Birds Directive (2), loss and deterioration of valuable habitat is among the biggest threats to birds on the island.
Change of use of land from natural, semi-natural and traditional to artificial and urban has had a great impact on Cyprus’s protected natural places, especially during the last few decades. So much so, that the European Commission called on Cyprus to correct its failure to protect Natura 2000 sites. It is indicative that the rate of land sealing due to urban development and construction has been consistently higher in Cyprus than any other EU country by a long way and that Cyprus had twice as high a density of motorways than the EU average in 2012.
What is the solution?
Cyprus has a very powerful tool in its tool-shed to protect its important natural places. If properly implemented, the Natura 2000 network system and relevant EU and national laws can ensure the survival of our most valuable and threatened species and habitats, while working together with local communities and people.
What are we doing about it?
We are working to secure the designation, protection, sympathetic management, monitoring, promotion, restoration and adequate funding for these sites for the benefit of birds, wider biodiversity and people. We are working both at the national and the European level, through our umbrella organization in Europe (BirdLife Europe and Central Asia).
On the national level
- We have updated the Inventory of IBAs, creating the most comprehensive, geographically complete and up-to-date inventory of key areas for breeding and visiting birds in Cyprus.
- We have been lobbying for the adequate designation of IBAs to Natura 2000 sites so that they enjoy legal protection. All IBAs under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus and within the Sovereign British Bases have been included in the Natura 2000 network or designated as equivalent. However, some sites are significantly smaller than their equivalent IBAs – notably Akamas Peninsula.
- We are striving to ensure that marine habitats are also protected, by pushing for the designation of Marine SPAs among other actions.
- We are actively participating as members of governmental committees assessing the impact of various projects or plans on Natura 2000 sites and the wider environment.
- We raise the alarm in cases where the green light was given to plans or projects potentially affecting Natura 2000 sites without properly complying with the relevant Directives and without ensuring no impact on the sites. Examples include the campaign to save akrotiri and Akamas from dangerous zoning proposals.
- We act as watchdogs, through our network of dedicated members or through reports from the public, for illegal or unapproved interventions in Natura 2000 sites, raising the alarm with the government and the public.
- We are lobbying for appropriate conservation measures to be adopted and enforced for Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus. Our aim is that they enjoy sympathetic management with specific goals corresponding to the ecological requirements of each site. To this end, we were contracted by the Government of Cyprus (as part of a consortium) to draft Management Plans for all the SPAs. We are now pushing for measures included in Management Plans to gain legal standing, through the issuing of Management Decrees.
- We have been part of two large-scale site restoration projects in two IBAs/SPAs during the last decade: the LIFE Oroklini Project (2012-2015) and the Akrotiri Marsh Project (2015-2017) for the restoration and management of these important wetlands. These project successes were the result of working closely with relevant departments and other stakeholders and stand testament to the work that has been done to help these sites bounce back to life, giving birds and other wildlife a place to thrive in and people the opportunity to enjoy them. We are now part of a third project which aims to restore important habitats in Akrotiri and Cape Pyla (2021-2024).
- We are participating as partners in the long-term and large-scale LIFE IP Physis project, dedicated to the protection and proper management of all of our Natura 2000 sites.
- We are lobbying for the proper financing of Natura 2000 sites.
- We are promoting Natura 2000 sites through our awareness raising and educational activities
On the european level
We take part in campaigns aiming for the proper implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directive in Europe. Notably, in 2015, we participated in the Nature Alert campaign aiming to defend the EU’s nature laws against revision and weakening. More than 500.000 people joined their voices to ask the European Commission to keep the Birds and Habitats Directives as they are, and ask for better implementation. This campaign resulted in a great victory, as the Commission agreed that the Directives are fit for purpose and in need of better implementation.
In 2021, we participated in the Restore Nature campaign demanding nature be properly restored across Europe. A total of 104,188 citizens participated in the campaign, asking the EU Commission to deliver a law to restore nature through meaningful and transformative change and help reverse the fate of nature in Europe, and beyond.