Viz: Natura 2000 areas and construction works

Description: The aim of this project was to visualize and create a data story of the Natura 2000 areas in relation to land-use change (constructions) and road networks in Cyprus. Analysis was performed based on the Gaea geospatial tool, developed by the SuPerWorld research group of CYENS.

Collaboration with: Athena Eftychiou (Summer Internship 2023 at CYENS)

Techniques used: GIS analysis, data visualizations

Started: June, 2023

Status: Finished

Data story:
The “Natura 2000” European Ecological Network is a wide European network of natural areas with a significant presence of floral and faunal species as well as bird and other habitats. The network forms the cornerstone of EU policy on the protection of the environment and its biodiversity, having as a goal the protection and management of the most vulnerable species and habitats.
The Natura 2000 network comprises two major site categories, Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas for Conservation (SACs). While SPAs are centred around the conservation of threatened bird species, designated on a global scale under the Birds Directive, SACs are aimed at protecting wildlife habitats as designated by the Habitats Directive (DG Environment 1979, 1992; Trochet & Schmeller, 2013).
Cyprus is currently among the five top EU countries in terms of land area included in the Natura 2000 network, with 28.8% of its terrestrial area falling inside the Network (Figure 1). The 63 sites included in the Natura 2000 network in Cyprus make up 1,789 square kilometers, and span across marine and terrestrial habitats (Koumettou, 2020).
Map of Cyprus showing the distribution of Natura 2000 sites
Figure 1: Map of Cyprus showing the distribution of Natura 2000 sites across the island and their respective designation.

Based on the philosophy that man should coexist with nature, the establishment of Natura 2000 areas does not prohibit any activities within its boundaries but rather allows projects to go ahead while enforcing an obligation for monitoring and reporting to ensure that Member States maintain a Favourable Conservation Status within the Network.
This data story looks at the geographical distribution of Natura 2000 in relation to land-use change/construction and road networks in Cyprus in an attempt to better understand the current state of these areas on the island. Past research has shown that development as well as deforestation is more likely to take place within close proximity to roads and is therefore vital to realise the potential destruction that can be brought about by an increased road density within and near Natura 2000 areas.
While only three new construction developments were completed within Natura 2000 areas in a 6-month period between 2022 and 2023, 28 others were recorded within a distance of less than 500m from Natura areas (Figures 2 and 3). While the three areas that underwent construction developments fall within the borders of Larnaca, there was significant construction near Natura 2000 areas in all four cities of Southern Cyprus.

Map showing the location of the construction that took place within Natura 2000 areas between 2022-2023.
Figure 2: Map showing the location of the construction that took place within Natura 2000 areas between 2022-2023.

Detailed map visualizing the distance between any construction that took place between 2022-2023 and Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus.
Figure 3: Detailed map visualizing the distance between any construction that took place between 2022-2023 and Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus.

It’s also notable that more than half of the construction changes over the time period took place within 4km of a Natura 2000 area, while more than 150 of those were within only 2km from these areas (Figure 4).

Graph showing the distribution of construction/LUC that took place between 2022-2023 in relation to Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus.
Figure 4: Graph showing the distribution of construction/LUC that took place between 2022-2023 in relation to Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus.

In regard to road networks, analysis of road data in Cyprus in relation to Natura 20000 reveal a significant presence of roads within these areas. A total of 1595km of roads were found to be within Natura 2000 borders, while the distribution of these roads differs drastically between districts across the island. The district with the greatest road length within Natura 2000 areas was Neo Chorio Paphou, with a total of 58,063m, followed by Mylikouri in Nicosia and Lysos in Paphos with 54,046m and 51,558m of roads respectively. In regard to the relative density of roads within Natura networks, Troodos ranked first, followed by Saranti and Prodoromos (Figures 5 and 6).

Map showing the relative road density within Natura 2000 areas per district of Cyprus.
Figure 5: Map showing the relative road density within Natura 2000 areas per district of Cyprus.

Graph showing the ten districts with the highest relative density of road networks within Natura 2000 regions.
Figure 6: Graph showing the ten districts with the highest relative density of road networks within Natura 2000 regions.

Conclusion: The strong human presence inside Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus is undeniable and has been proven by the analysis of road networks within these areas. In addition, the concentration of new constructions within close proximity to Natura 2000 areas poses an additional threat to the resilience of these natural regions. As the world’s biodiversity is facing a rapid decline, more strict processes might be necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the network in an attempt to halt the loss of biodiversity in Europe in the immediate future.
When it comes to surveillance, Cyprus has been heavily criticized, as significant illegal construction has been noted in coastal communities in the Paphos district in the past years (Cyprus Mail, 2022). Similar studies using LUC data for specific time periods could be instrumental in detecting these illegal activities, ensuring the survival of these critical ecosystems and habitats on the island. The cooperation between communities and people and the integration of policies which affect biodiversity will be instrumental in this effort at a time when the conservation of these areas will be vital in ensuring a liveable future for the island.

References:
Koumettou, J. (2020) 29% of cyprus land is natura 2000 protected territory, In-Cyprus. Available here (Accessed: 07 August 2023).
Cyprus Mail (2022) Natura 2000 network in cyprus fraught with weaknesses and omissions says auditor general, Cyprus Mail. Available here (Accessed: 07 August 2023).