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Improving the Conservation Status of Fauna Species in Cyprus: from microhabitat restoration to landscape connectivity (ICOSTACY)
Start date: Oct 1, 2010, End date: Mar 31, 2014 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and boasts a rich biodiversity as a result of its biogeographical isolation and 10 000-year civilisation. The LIFE project targeted 20 fauna species and their habitats that are threatened by factors that include land-use changes, destruction of habitat, wildfires, water demand and overexploitation of freshwater water resources, drought, biological invasions and the expected consequences of climate change. Objectives The ICOSTACY project’s overall objective was to improve the conservation status of 20 species [three reptiles, two invertebrates and 15 mammals (bats) – see "name of targeted species" below] and their habitats within 14 Natura 2000 sites, including two newly designated sites. Specific objectives were as follows: 1. Collection of scientific data sufficient for the assessment and further development of the surveillance of the conservation status of the targeted 20 Annex II & IV fauna species, which were previously characterised as “unknown” or “unfavourable”; 2. Restoration of connectivity and mitigation of the impacts of land-use change and climate change, by improving the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network in Cyprus for the targeted species; 3. Improvement of the conservation status of the 20 selected species in terms of increased range, population size, preferred habitats and future prospects; 4. Control of impacts of invasive species on two native targeted reptiles – the Cypriot grass snake (Natrix natrix cypriaca) and the Balkan terrapin (Mauremys caspia rivulata); and 5. Awareness raising among the site users and the general public, as well as training of conservation staff. Results The ICOSTACY project achieved most of its objectives and expected results. These include, overall, the improvement and protection of the targeted species' habitats in the selected Natura 2000 sites; the completion of knowledge gaps and the assessment of the targeted species' conservation status; and the control of invasive alien competitor species. The impacts of climate change on the range and distribution of the targeted species under different climatic scenarios were also estimated; and public awareness and sensitivity about the species and their habitats was increased. The project's concrete conservation actions demonstrated best practice techniques and methods for the conservation of the species. Such methods included: a) construction of ponds and weirs to increase the favourable habitat of fresh water animals; b) restoration of old buildings and mine galleries to protect, restore and create roosting sites for bats; c) construction of stone walls and rock piles to restore and enhancement the microhabitats of species; and d) planting micro-reserves to enhance the habitat for the targeted invertebrates. Captive breeding of three targeted reptile species (water snake, freshwater turtle, whip snake) was also attempted. Although there was no successful breeding during the project, the necessary infrastructure is now in place at the Limassol zoo and the efforts are expected to continue. The conservation genetics of the targeted reptiles and one bat species was successfully implemented, showing that no isolated populations exist on the island. Actions to raise public awareness about the species were also carried out. These included, among others, the production of publicity material (a video, book, TV spots), publication of press releases, and print and Internet articles. Training seminars and workshops were also organised; and an environmental education kit produced. Preliminary monitoring of the impacts of the project actions was performed, albeit to a lesser extent than expected. The monitoring of species and landscapes and is expected to continue after-LIFE, thanks to the trained personnel and appropriate equipment (e.g. bat detector). Importantly, the project's findings contributed to the compilation of the six-year article 17 report for the Republic of Cyprus for all targeted species. (In the previous report, the assessment for most species (except Natrix natrix cypriaca) was unknown.) Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).

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