The Natura 2000 network in Cyprus consists of 63 sites, covers an area of 1 760 km2 and includes 40 Sites of Community Interest (SCI) and 30 sites of Special Protection Areas (SPA). Seven sites are both SCI and SPA. Most Cypriots are either ill-informed about the existence of the Natura 2000 network or are unaware of the reasons for which an area is included in the network. Moreover, the Natura 2000 network has often been the topic of heated discussions both in Cyprus and in other EU Member States with landowners considering that the classification of land as protected site has negative financial consequences for them and is an obstacle to land development. The important role of the Natura 2000 network in preserving natural values and providing and maintaining a range of ecosystem services (and their associated socio-economic benefits) remains poorly understood and undervalued.
The iLIFE-TROODOS project aimed to increase public awareness of the Troodos National Forest Park’s natural values and the ecosystem services it provides. This site is one of the most visited Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus and one of the most important natural ecosystem and biodiversity hotspots of the island.
The specific objectives of the project were to:
- Increase awareness of the need for the Natura 2000 network and, in particular, the natural values of the Troodos National Forest Park that are the reason for its inclusion in the network;
- Change people's negative attitude towards the Natura 2000 network and raise awareness of the importance of ecosystem services by holding rural workshops, carrying out media campaigns and disseminating information materials; and
- Spread knowledge about the natural values and ecosystem services provided by the Natura 2000 network among professional target group (particularly those involved in policy implementation) through mobile Apps, a guide and a documentary.
The project contributed to the objectives of the EU 2020 Biodiversity strategy and to EU efforts to protect Europe’s natural capital, as well as to achieve the priority objectives of the 7th Environment Action Programme.
The iLIFE-TROODOS project developed and implemented a professional awareness campaign that conveyed key messages regarding the importance of the Natura 2000 network and ecosystem services, particularly of the Troodos National Forest Park in Cyprus. The project’s actions engaged almost the entirety of the island’s population, reaching at least 666 381 Cypriots, as well as approximately 1.38 million tourists.
The project’s messages were conveyed in an easy-to-understand and informative way, telling people how Troodos, and the natural environment generally, is vital for the well-being of the country. To achieve this, the project team constructed two Information Kiosks at Troodos National Forest Park, developed two applications for smart devices, and modified Troodos' picnic sites to cater to the needs of people with visual and kinetic impairments. The project team also conducted a significant number of workshops, targeting the local population and local authorities, policymakers and other stakeholders. They presented their results to the scientific community through two conferences and five publications.
The results of the project and its best practices were communicated to more than 250 stakeholders around the EU, as well as to the Natura 2000 Communication Platform. The ‘Best practices guide’ provides concrete suggestions based on the project's experience on how to conduct a successful communication campaign. The ‘Replication plan’ is expected to be utilised by all national authorities in Cyprus responsible for the management of Natura 2000 sites.
The project is relevant for a number of EU policies, particularly the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive, and the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. It also provides input to national strategies on biodiversity and the development of the Troodos mountainous communities.
iLIFE-TROODOS is expected to have long-term environmental and social benefits. A major benefit is likely to be enhanced conservation and protection of species/habitats, through the increased awareness of the Cypriot population and stakeholders of the importance of maintaining diverse ecosystems in Troodos and in Natura 2000 sites in general. The project also has the capacity to increase networking and synergies among various branches of the Cypriot government and other stakeholders regarding management of Troodos.
Promoting Troodos National Forest Park as a tourism destination may provide long-term economic benefits for local communities, which suffer from depopulation due to urbanisation. A project survey noted an increase in recreational activities among Cypriots, such as hiking, photography, and a move away from just visiting picnic sites, with potential long-term health and well-being benefits.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).