New international report to secure natural riches of North Africa and Middle East



Posted on 01 June 2011  | 
Orchis tridentata in the designated Important Plant Area of Abu Quies, Syria
© Fadi Al-MahmoudEnlarge
An international conservation project has brought together botanists and scientists from Middle East and North Africa – Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria and Tunisia – in an unprecedented bid to secure the future of the region’s wildlife.

A new report published today by IUCN, Plantlife and WWF – Important Plant Areas of the south and east Mediterranean region: Priority sites for conservation – shows that there are more than 200 internationally significant areas for wild plants in the region, rivalling those found elsewhere in Europe and Asia for species richness, and supporting an extraordinary range of wildlife.

In many of these countries, these species-rich landscapes also provide vital resources for local livelihoods.

• 207 Important Plant Areas (IPAs) are listed in the report for the first time, including 33 in Syria, 20 in Lebanon,20 in Egypt, 21 in Algeria, 13 in Tunisia and 5 in Libya.

• Teams from 11 countries around the south and east Mediterranean were involved in the partnership project, meeting at workshops to discuss results and work together to carry out a rapid assessment of wild plants and wildlife-rich areas across the region.

• 75% of the 207 IPAs contain locally endemic species i.e. species that grow only in one country or area.

• ‘Mega endemic sites’ (containing more than 20 species restricted to small geographical areas) were identified in Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria and Libya, meaning that they are extraordinarily rich in their diversity of wild flowers and other plants.

The report is the result of unprecedented cooperation between botanists and scientists from participating countries.

The data collated fills gaps in the knowledge available about the Mediterranean’s important areas for wild plants and their habitats including forests, and can serve as a tool for governments and regional conventions to focus conservation work on the priority areas for conservation.

Many of these countries are in the midst of political instability and conflict, but in the long term natural resources and wildlife areas will continue to be vital for the health, livelihoods and general wellbeing of local people.

Al Jabel Al Akhdar is an Important Plant Area situated close to the town of Benghazi. It is the richest place for wild plants in Libya with 1,400 species, and is also Libya’s most important region for growing cereals, fruit and vegetables.

Half of Libya’s endemic plants grow only here. Similar unique sites with large numbers of endemic plant species exist in Syria, Lebanon and Morocco and some of these are critical in providing income for the local people.

The main threats to the region’s IPAs include overgrazing (67% of sites are affected), deforestation, tourist development, intensive arable farming and unsustainable collection of plants for medicine and culinary uses.

In future, the partners will continue to provide support for botanists, conservationists and local IPA communities across the region so that these botanical and wildlife hotspots can be secured and managed for future generations to use and enjoy.

The project - led by IUCN, Plantlife and WWF and funded by the French Development Agency through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund - aims to take the first steps to conserving this wealth of natural riches.

For more information and images, please contact:
Gemma Parkes, WWF Mediterranean Communications T + 39 346 387 32 37 / E gparkes@wwf.panda.org

Notes
1. The report - ‘Important Plant Areas of the south and east Mediterranean region: priority sites for conservation’ (eds E. A. Radford, G. Catullo and B. de Montmollin) is available to download from the websites of IUCN http://www.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2011-014.pdf, WWF or from the Plantlife www.plantlife.org.uk/publications/IPA-SEMed.

2. Plantlife is the organisation speaking up for the nation’s wild plants. We work hard to protect wild plants on the ground and to build understanding of the vital role they play in everyone’s lives. Plantlife carries out practical conservation work, manages nature reserves, influences policy and legislation, runs events and activities that connect people with their local wild plants and works with others to promote the conservation of wild plants for the benefit of all. For more information, go to www.plantlife.org.uk.

3. IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environmental and development challenges. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation, with more than 1,000 government and NGO members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. The IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, established in Malaga in 2000, reunites more than 170 IUCN member organizations in the region around a common programme of work dedicated to influence, encourage and assist Mediterranean societies to conserve nature and sensibly use its resources towards human development. The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) is a science-based network of some 7,500 volunteer experts from almost every country of the world, all working together towards achieving the vision of “a world that values and conserves present levels of biodiversity." There is an active specialist group working on Mediterranean island plants. For more information, go to www.iucn.org/mediterranean.

4. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. The network of WWF's Mediterranean offices has joined forces to launch the Mediterranean Initiative, a conservation strategy pursuing four major goals: build a future for Mediterranean landscapes; secure Mediterranean water resources; generate a sea change in Mediterranean marine management; equip Mediterranean ecosystems to adapt to climate change. Both WWF Mediterranean and WWF Italy contribute to this initiative. For more information, go to http://mediterranean.panda.org/ and www.wwf.it

5. Plant diversity and threats to IPAs in the Mediterranean - Approximately 10% of the world’s flowering plants – around 25,000 wild plant species – are found in the Mediterranean basin, on less than 2% of the earth’s surface. (The UK – as a contrast - has around 1500 native flowering plant species).

6. This project contributes to activities within the International Year of Forests, during which governments and civil society are encouraged to action for the preservation of the Mediterranean forests and the areas where they occur.

7. The report will also be available in French and Arabic.
Orchis tridentata in the designated Important Plant Area of Abu Quies, Syria
© Fadi Al-Mahmoud Enlarge

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