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Improving the conservation status of the priority habitat types *1520 and *5220 at the Rizoelia National Forest Park (LIFE-RIZOELIA)
Start date: Sep 1, 2013, End date: Feb 28, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background The Natura 2000 site, Rizoelia National Forest Park, covers only 0.001% of the surface area of Cyprus, yet it is a reservoir of threatened plants (a so called ‘biodiversity hot spot’). The site contains four habitat types that are protected under the Habitats Directive, three of which are priority habitats (1520 * Iberian gypsum vegetation (Gypsophiletalia), 5220 * Arborescent matorral with Zyziphus 5420 Sarcopoterium spinosum phryganas, and 6220 * Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals of the Thero-Brachypodietea). It is also home to 179 indigenous species (11% of the indigenous flora of Cyprus) of which 11 are endemic (7.9% of the endemic flora). Furthermore, the site is home to 34 birds (one listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive and 33 migratory birds) and 31 important fauna species. Rizoelia is close to heavily populated areas and has suffered intense human-related pressure over the years, the worst being the afforestation of the park, which took place between 1974 and 1977. Plantations of exotic, invasive species dominate between the fragmented patches of the targeted habitat types. Habitat fragmentation has led to a decrease in size of two protected habitats (1520 * Iberian gypsum vegetation (Gypsophiletalia) and 5220 * Arborescent matorral with Zyziphus) and leisure and access infrastructure (playing field, picnic site, parking, roads etc.) disrupt the continuity of the site. The dense road network also allows vehicle access to all areas of the park. Such fragmentation has a major impact on the genetic variability of the keystone species and populations in both priority habitats, leading to a reduction in the number of species, mean population sizes, and genetic diversity, and an increased incidence of inbreeding. These effects can lead to the species population genetic drift and a loss of the evolutionary potential of species. The risk of forest fires is also extremely high in the area due to the long dry season. Fires may also favour the further expansion of the invasive species Acacia saligna. The targeted habitats are also threatened by leisure activities such as asparagus collection, hiking, four-wheel driving and motorcycling. Objectives The primary aim of this project is to promote and enable the long-term conservation of arborescent matorral with Zyziphus and gypsum steppes in Cyprus by quantifying and halting natural and human pressure and threats that contribute to the long-term degradation of these habitats. The specific objectives of the project are to: Contribute to the consolidation and dissemination of a knowledge base for the protection, restoration, monitoring and evaluation of these two priority habitat types; Increase habitat connectivity for arborescent matorral with Zyziphus; Reduce the risk of fire affecting both targeted priority habitat types; Eradicate competitive vegetation for both priority habitats; Manage leisure activities and accessibility in the park in a way that is favourable to the conservation of the priority habitats. Expected results: Habitat demarcation, improved inventorying and mapping; Restoration of 1 ha of habitat type *5220; Restoration and enhancement of gypsum steppes (0.1 ha and 0.1 ha respectively); Habitat restoration in a 2 ha area with Arborescent matorral with Zyziphus spp; Updating of the Natura 2000 site regarding the two priority habitat types; Creation of European and national networks, as well as after-LIFE conservation and communication plans, to ensure a longer term impact of the project results;The establishment and communication of a knowledge base on: o The plant communities composition and structure of priority habitat *1520. o The effect of anthropogenic threats on the ecological conditions of priority habitats *5220 and 1520. o Effective participation and governance for habitat conservation. o Effective monitoring and conservation methods through the drawing up of habitat protection and restoration guidelines and monitoring protocols.
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