Cyprus has failed to protect grass snake
Barbara Helfferich, Spokeswoman for the Environment at the Commission said yesterday “The Commission considered that the Cypriot Authorities had not taken the necessary measures to protect the Cyprus Grass Snake, contrary to the requirements of directives on the conservation and habitats of flora and fauna.”
The case concerns a local species of snake, Natrix Natrix Cypriaca, which is an endemic priority species and which needs strict protection.
After sending an initial notice, requiring the Government to designate a conservation area or Site of Community Importance (SCI), the Commission sent a “Reasoned Opinion” on July 6 2008.
Helfferich alleges that the Government made several promises that designation was imminent but only recently received notification that Paralimni lake, in which the snake lives, had been set aside as an SCI.
She said: “The Commission was informed on December 23, 2009… Nevertheless, designation is considered as insufficient as the northern part of the lake is excluded. Furthermore Cyprus still tolerates activities which seriously disturb the species and destroy its habitat, such as motocross.”
Surprisingly for a conservation area, the government, on March 12 2009 authorised demarcation for 304 land plots in the north part of the lake for a private firm, before changing the designated land use from “Protected Area” to “Residential Area”.
According to Helfferich, construction permits are about to be granted, “Therefore the Commission is taking Cyprus to the ECJ on grounds of insufficient designation and that no protective measures have been taken.”
Dr Pambos Hadjipakkos, head of the Natural Resources and Environment Department of the Agriculture Ministry, said that 12 per cent of the land surrounding the north of the lake was exempt from protection, and that the ministry considers enough is being done to protect the snake.
Hans-George Wiedl, also known as “Snake George” is a passionate Grass Snake conservationist and expert in Cyprus. He is deeply concerned about the future welfare of the endangered snake, and has even run a successful breeding programme, hatching and releasing 100 into the wild.
“This is the last chance for Cypriots to prevent the extinction of this beautiful snake. If people don’t listen, and the snake becomes extinct, then I know who is to blame,” he said.
While Motocross parks and property development in the snakes’ habitat are environmentally destructive, the real cause of their decline, Snake George says, is the fishermen and imported trout.
“There is increasing evidence that trout eat the snakes, and not the other way around as some people claim. In Paralimni the fishermen are also killing snakes, because they believe the snakes eat the trout. They are fully responsible.”
“I have tried to tell the government and to offer my services in the conservation of the snakes but they have kept me in the dark.”
The government also seems to have ignored the recommendations of the fisheries department within the Ministry of Agriculture. Having enlisted the help of a Green Snake expert from Germany, they have submitted their report to the Environmental Department. Maroulla Hadji-christoforou, of the Fisheries department, said yesterday “We conducted research into the Green Snake, published on our website in Greek and English and the issue is now under the Environmental Department. Paralimni Lake has now been submitted to be a protected site.”
Cyprus Mail By Patrick Dewhurst Published on January 30, 2010
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