An Introduction to Nature and the Environment of Cyprus

With such a variety of landscape and the regional differences in climate, Cyprus is a paradise for amateur botanists. There are still areas not fully explored, and nature-lovers will make some surprising discoveries. Species unique to the island are plentiful with 110 recorded so far, including the Cyprus cotton thistle and rare orchids such as the Cyprus bee orchid (ophrys kotschyi).

In low lying areas, the tall, chest high maquis or phrygana is a common feature of the Cypriot landscape. Weeds, shrubs and bushes create a colourful community of plants. Against a background landscape that may well be grey and monotone, the yellow broom stands out brightly. Many herbs such as bay, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint and marjoram, can be detected from the aroma, and the Cypriots have come to appreciate these plants for their medicinal as well as culinary properties. Walkers on the Akamas and Karpas peninsulas will be able to study the plant life in the phrygana more closely.

Desecration of natural features is nothing new in the modern world, but the practice can be traced back to antiquity. By the Middle Ages ore extraction and ship building had reduced the woods of Cyprus to wasteland. Voracious mountain goats nibbling away at the young saplings have also played their part, and now the woods are unable to renew themselves independently. Nevertheless, Cyprus can claim to be one of the most densely wooded islands in the Mediterranean. In the last century, large scale afforestation was seen as a solution to soil erosion. The forestry experts have often chosen the quick growing and undemanding Aleppo pine (pinus brutia) which appreciates the acid soil. This tree now constitutes about 90 per cent of the island’s tree stocks. Only in one or two remote spots, such as in the ‘Valley of the Cedar’s have the endemic Troodos cedars (cedrus libani ssp brevifolia) survived. The last moufflons (ovis ammon orientalis) have their home in these woods, although visitors are unlikely to encounter these timid relatives of the modern day sheep in the wild. They can however be seen in Limassol’s zoo or in the Stavros tis Psokas forest station in the Paphos Forest. The moufflon appears on the island’s coat of arms.

Turtles: Increasing pollution in the Mediterranean and the development of sandy beaches for tourism has seriously restricted the natural habitat of the sea turtle, caretta caretta, and the green turtle, chelonia mydas. Although the animals are protected species and their flesh is no longer to be found on the supermarket shelves, only one out of every 4,000 young turtles that are born will reach maturity and produce their own young. Even in northern Cyprus, there are organisations actively seeking to save these primitive armoured creatures. Signs are posted on the beach asking the public to take due care.