The following priority habitat types and plant species in Cyprus are considered as having threatened conservation status: Four targeted priority plant species:
Two targeted priority habitat types:
The PLANT-NET CY project aimed to improve the conservation status of the targeted four endemic priority plant species and two priority habitat types in Cyprus. Its chosen approach was to establish and manage a network of five Plant Micro-Reserves (PMRs) in the country.
Delivery of the PMR concept would firstly involve the identification and classification of small plots of land of great value in terms of their populations of the target species and habitats. The project expected to define the network of PMRs to include a significant part of the existing plant populations – between 20 and 85% for most species – and of the two priority habitats.
This would be followed by implementation of specific and targeted conservation measures aiming to:
PLANT-NET CY successfully established a Plant Micro-Reserve (PMR) network within four Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus. The network protected the identified plant species in small plots, where targeted conservation measures were implemented. These were usefully supported by an ex situ conservation programme. This project was the first time the PMR approach had been used for plant conservation in Cyprus and is now part of official government policy.
The project team defined the boundaries of five PMRs of less than 20 ha each based on an initial inventory of the target species and habitats in four Natura 2000 locations. Meanwhile, environmental scientists in Cyprus engaged in international visits and training to familiarise themselves with how PMR has been used effectively in other EU countries.
GPS devices and GIS software were used to provide more detailed mapping of the PMRs and an assessment of the status of the habitats and species and their relationship to potential threats. Specific attention was paid to assessing the genetic variation of the target species using DNA analysis of fresh leaf tissue from each plant, except Quercus alnifolia.
PMR monitoring and management plans identified the conservation objectives and suitable indicators for each micro-reserve. Each management plan comprised a description of the existing situation and the definition of in situ and ex situ conservation management actions to be carried out. These were completed, approved and validated by the official management authorities of the Natura 2000 network in Cyprus.
According to the monitoring plans, 33 smaller monitoring plots were identified within the PMRs to be used to facilitate focused monitoring of species composition changes over time. The project installed digital environmental sensors and data loggers to monitor the chosen biotic and abiotic indicators, leading to the delivery of monitoring reports for the five PMRs.
In the field, signs were placed to mark out the PMRs, patrols conducted by forest wardens and protective fencing and pathways installed to reduce intrusion where necessary. Continuous mild conservation interventions were implemented on site. These included installation of artificial covers to protect emerging plants, sustainable control of fruit/seed predators, and clearing, pruning and weeding of seedlings and saplings of competitor species.
To enrich populations of the target species, the project collected seeds of the target species and developed germination experiments based on international germination procedures. The team undertook hand pollination of 140 individuals of the orchid species and ten Astragalus macrocarpus subsp. Lefkarensis. The plantlets of each species grown in nursery were later planted across the PMR network along with Centaurea akamantis seeds at 28 positions.
To ensure their long-term survival in the face of ongoing and future environmental threats, plantlets of each species were also planted in dedicated sections of local botanical gardens. Seeds of Arabis kennedyae, A. macrocarpus subsp. Lefkarensis, Centaurea akamantis and Cedrus brevifolia were also found to be suitable for storing in the seed bank of the Agricultural Research Institute in Cyprus.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).
An ex-post visit was carried out by the external monitoring team in 2018, 4 years and 11 months after the end of the project. This confirmed that the project had established five PMRs and provisions for long-term monitoring, with naturally-emerging seedlings of protected species and selective fencing to reduce predation. The project team planted seedlings reared from collected seed to enrich the populations of targeted species, and removed competing species and flammable biomass. Seed is stored ex situ in three seed banks, and propagated ex situ at the Botanic Gardens of the Department of Forests. The protected status of the PMRs established by the project has been codified in Cyprus Forest Law since 2013, ensuring sustainability in their protection and conservation. The ex-post visit concluded that there was an overall improvement, or at least maintenance of the conservation status, of the four priority species and the two habitats. The project’s study of genetic diversity, for the four targeted priority species and Cedrus brevifolia, led to the conclusion that a satisfactory level of genetic diversity exists, despite the species being endemic and their habitat fragmented. In total, 10-30 people were trained in the methodology of PMR establishment, monitoring and conservation actions, mainly forestry personnel and field scientists, but also NGOs, teachers and students. ‘Chersonissos Akamas’ was included in the Natura 2000 network of Cyprus on November 2011; this site hosts the priority species Centaurea akamantis in the Avakas Gorge. Continued funding for project actions has been assured through a subsequent LIFE project, LIFE KEDROS (LIFE15 NAT/CY/000850), and MAVA’s CARE MEDIFLORA project. Other long-term funding has been secured through the Structural Funds administered by the Government of Cyprus. It was reported that €8 million have been earmarked for Natura 2000 site conservation until 2021, including €2 million for the Akamas Natura site.