During our first trip to the hills around Lefkara, to see ancient olive grows with trees of around 1000 years old or more, it soon became evident that Cyprus, like the UK, is a prosperous country with an aspiring and educated population that no longer want to continue working on the land when they can earn higher salaries in other vocations. Thus traditional farming practices that are no longer economic to maintain will die out and the cultural landscape will change. Whether or not these changes may or may not be of benefit to biodiversity was discussed along with ways in which new farming and land-use methods may help to preserve the current landscape of ancient olive groves over pasture. The labour on these farms today is imported from India and elsewhere, we saw shepherds from the Punjab herding goats in the area we visited.
Like Scotland, Cyprus is aiming to increase the percentage of woodland cover from around 18% to 25% but no timescale is set for this. Unlike in Scotland it hopes to do this with predominantly native planting and has a policy of no new non-native planting outside of municipal areas. This will be great for biodiversity and reduce the problems associated with invasive non-native species; if only we could get a similar approach to forestry in Scotland.
The primary driver for new woodland creation in Cyprus appears to be afforestation to improve the climate and reduce the impact of climate change. It is recognised that that trees can help to reduce air temperature by several degrees and measurements in Cyprus have shown reductions of around 6oC under tree canopies and higher levels of humidity. They can also reduce soil erosion by lowering wind speed and therefore stopping topsoil from blowing away. There are also many other possible benefits of these plantations; screening roadsides to reduce noise levels and filter out some of the exhaust pollutants, roadside planting can be used to slow traffic and makes driving less boring which also may improve road safety.
At the Koshi forest we met with a local forester who explained how a small percentage of the small limestone hills in the lowlands had been converted from limestone grassland and scrub to forestry plantations. The aim of these plantations started in the 1990s is not commercial forestry but to improve the climate of Cyprus. What I found interesting about the establishment of trees on these hills was method of terracing to retain water and the planting of trees into ripped rock that had very little existing topsoil. Most interesting was that no additional organic matter was added when planting. Therefore species choice for these plantations was critical to the trees survival in these harsh conditions. The spacing of trees at six metres along each ridge with intermediate planting of shrubs was also carefully considered to reduce the need for future thinning of the forest. In the UK when trees have been established on poor soils like these there have often been large amounts of organic matter added to provide nutrients and improve water retention for establishment. In some cases in the UK it has been documented that trees have died after establishment due to the initial input of nutrients being used up, but in Cyprus where no nutrients have been added and the trees are still healthy and this was said to be because the trees did not have a sudden loss of nutrient availability. Also with lower density planting there would be less competition between planted trees.
We also met the state energy company who gave a presentation on the predictions for future energy requirements in Cyprus over the next 50 years and how these would be met. Currently Cyprus imports most of its energy in the form of oil, but as this runs out it will be replaced with gas. There did not appear to be any plans to use a great deal of biomass or other energy produced locally to make a significant impact on their reliance on imported energy. Given the rising costs of energy and changing economics of biomass it is likely that the current position of not using forests for any sort of production may change to help fund the future management of the forests.
We also spent a day at the Forest Service nursery where we saw trees being propagated from seed and cuttings. The design of the green houses and watering systems was very interesting and they had experimented with the environmental conditions to vastly increase the successful percentage of seeds germinating and cuttings rooting. There must be some similarities with the propagation of difficult to grow species in Scotland i.e. juniper, apsen, etc that could improve the success of methods used here.