Hares, birds and orchids: the casualties of peace in Cyprus

Wildlife has flourished in the no-man's land that divides the country – but reconciliation could end all that

A A A

It's called the Green Line, but despite the name, it is a completely accidental wildlife sanctuary. The narrow strip of land that zigzags across the island of Cyprus was imposed in 1974 to separate the parties to armed conflict. As humans moved out, abandoning farms and villages, nature moved in. Thirty five years on, this no man's land has become a safe haven for some of the rarest endemic plants and animals in Europe and a place of special scientific importance. Now however there's a threat hanging over the unique eco-system, not from war, but from peace.

At its narrowest, the Green Line measures only 3.5 metres, and 7.5 km at the widest. But since Cyprus was divided in 1974, the area has seen minimal human activity, barring the occasional patrol by UN peacekeepers. The resulting surge in wildlife became evident early on, but its full scale has become apparent only since Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot scientists began working together to compile the first comprehensive inventories of plant and animal life. An absence of building development has allowed wildlife to flourish. "It means healthy populations of various species have survived without having their habitats fragmented, degraded or destroyed," explains Dr. Iris Charalambidou, a leader of the joint-North South scientific team which has been studying the area.

One of the most exciting finds are populations of two indigenous plants, the Cyprus Tulip (Tulipa cypria) and the Cyprus Bee Orchid (Ophrys kotschyi), both extremely rare. Likewise, a few decades ago, there were only a few hundred Cyprus mouflon, an endangered wild sheep found only on the island. But the Green Line has helped the sub-species to thrive to the point where Cyprus now has a healthy 3,000-strong herd.

In Variseia, one of the crumbling abandoned villages inside the Green Line 200 mouflon have settled happily. Ms Charalambidou, a birdlife specialist, has also found a number of interesting species and a large number of migratory birds arrive every season. For while closed to humans, animals move in and out, and seeds fly freely. "The buffer zone may look wild, but one can still see traces of agriculture, and there are still no deep forests," says Dr Nicolas Jarraud, environmental officer with the UN Development Programme. "Besides, there are species here now that are not endemic to Cyprus – rats and eucalyptus certainly aren't", he added. Packs of wild dogs now also roam the buffer zone. "Cyprus has never had a predator this size, so this creates a whole new dynamic," Dr Jarraud says.

The other new dynamic is political. Since September 2008, the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have been negotiating a reunification deal. A rare alignment of good will between the two groups and a conducive international climate (the EU and Nato are pushing for a settlement) have created the best opportunity in years for a breakthrough. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General last Friday reported "solid" progress. "I am cautiously optimistic that a solution can be achieved," he said. The parties are hoping for a Spring accord.

But the political progress is bad news for the plants and animals. Any permanent settlement will inevitably have to resolve the matter of property rights within the Green Line- most of the abandoned land once belonged to private individuals whose descendants will certainly want to reclaim their rights.

But as soon as the borders are removed, the habitats will feel the sudden impact of bulldozers and human encroachment. "Many of the species won't find a corridor to escape to safety", says Dr Salih Gücel. The idea of the area being turned into a national park has been mooted but it's unlikely the entire area would be covered even if some was.

Most of the scientific mapping of the Green Line was completed last year, and the team's final report is expected soon. "We're hoping that the decision-makers will pick it up and use it as one of their inputs," Dr Jarraud says.

Scientists hope at least to set up micro-reserves making the locals custodians of the natural heritage. And while the politicians struggle to find common ground, the scientists have found their collaboration to have fostered a new climate of trust across the ethnic divide. "Our aim was the same, and therefore we managed to build trust," said Salih Gücel, a Turkish Cypriot.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Factory Operatives

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer ba...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003