By Evie Andreou
The British Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) announced on Tuesday they have designated almost half their total expanse on the island as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).
In an announcement, the SBA said that on December 30, “after several years of rigorous scientific research and wide consultation with local communities”, they have designated five sites as SACs, a total area of over 12,000 hectares (around 120 square kilometres).
The total SBA area covers around 254 square kilometres. The area designated represents almost 50 per cent of the total area of the bases.
The SACs concern 8,000 hectares (80sq km) in Akrotiri, 2250 hectares (22sq km) in Episkopi, 380 hectares (3.8sq km) in Dhekelia, 1100 hectares (11 sq km) in Cavo Pyla and 390 hectares (3.9 sq km) in Ayios Nicolaos.
“These SACs will safeguard important, high-quality conservation sites that contribute to sustaining internationally important habitats and species considered to be most in need of conservation within Europe,” an announcement said.
“The Bases are determined to safeguard the threatened habitats for future generations; this is why we have designated these areas,” said Chief Officer of the Bases Dr Philip Rushbrook.
The five sites within the Bases will complement existing Special Protection Areas for birds and will support the existing network of protected areas in Cyprus and across Europe.
“The new SACs cover some of the most important environmental areas in Cyprus and include diverse habitats and species of flora and fauna. Examples include some of Cyprus’s most endangered mammals such as monk seals and various bat species, including the fruit bat, and the green and loggerhead turtles,” the announcement said.
It added that the bases are also “exceptionally attractive for birds with more than 300 bird species recorded to date and the cliff faces in Episkopi are home to the only nesting pairs of Griffin vultures found on the island”.
Furthermore, more than 900 plant species have been recorded within the Bases representing almost 50 per cent of the total species recorded in Cyprus.
“Many of these species are rare; in particular there are thirty-five endangered plants which grow within the Bases that are listed in the Red Data Book of the Flora of Cyprus. The areas are also host to more than 30 different orchid species, representing around 60 percent of the orchids in Cyprus,” it said.
“This is an important chapter in the Bases efforts to protect and manage these sites of European significance. The designation of this network of important high-quality conservation sites will make a significant contribution to conserving the natural habitat types and associated species,” said David Reynolds, head of the Bases Environment Department.
Although the Bases are not technically in the European Union, the announcement said, they have adopted legislation similar to that in the Republic of Cyprus. The Bases SACs, it said, are designated under legislation which mirrors an equivalent Republic law for implementing EU regulations. “These regulations protect large numbers of endangered areas across Europe called the Natura 2000 network,” it said.
“Now that the designation of the SACs has been completed it is important we all ensure the areas are properly managed and protected,” Dr Rushbrook said.
He added that the SACs complement the SBA’s investment in improving environmental education by the building of the new Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre, “I encourage everybody to visit”.
Management plans will be prepared to safeguard the conservation status of the areas. Several measures have already been implemented such as the protection of turtle nesting beaches with barriers, the reinstatement of Akrotiri marsh, and the management of rare plants at Pyla Beach. To further protect the SACs invasive plant species, such as acacia, will be selectively removed.
Commenting whether the designation of SCAs would affect property development within the bases as per the 2014 agreement between the Republic of Cyprus and the UK, an SBA spokesman told the Cyprus Mail that an “SAC designation does not equate to zero development”.
In 2014, during a visit of President Nicos Anastasiades to the UK, the two countries had agreed on lifting restrictions and to enable the integration of a large part of bases’ territory in planning zones which will allow for property development.
“Proposals for development will be subject to appropriate consideration of their potential adverse effect on the integrity or the character of the SACs. This process is known as an ‘appropriate assessment’ and applies both within the sites themselves and their surrounding areas. For most development proposals the appropriate assessment is an uncomplicated, straightforward procedure,” the spokesman said. He added that the appropriate assessment process has been in use since 2007 in relation to candidate SACs and continues to apply to the designated SACs.
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