Roads and roadless areas in Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus
Roads are documented as the leading mechanism of fragmentation and habitat loss in protected areas with damaging effects on wildlife populations. The aim of the study is to provide a quantitative assessment of the pervasiveness and distribution of roads in Natura 2000 sites in Cyprus.
The island of Cyprus, covering a land area of 9206 km2, features with a highly dense road network of 19500 km (13483 km of which are loose surface roads). 2718.81 km of road is embedded in the Natura 2000 network (20.5% of road network in Cyprus Republic). In Natura 2000 sites a mean road density of 1.94 km/km2 is recorded which is lower than road density at national level (2.3 km/km2 in Cyprus Republic); road density in individual sites varies between 0.02 and 5.99 km/km2. However, if the Natura 2000 network is treated as a continuous area (overlooking site designation boundaries and overlaps), then highly roaded protected areas are recognized with as much as 25 km/km2 road density. Only 2 designated sites are not intersected by roads. These roadless sites are located in forested and semi natural areas at medium to high altitude.
Roadless areas i.e. areas at least 1 km away from the nearest road were identified at the national level. These areas not yet penetrated by the road network are scattered in 222 fragments across the whole island covering in total 415.21 km2 (4.5% of the island as a whole). Less than 45% (186.51 km2) is located in the territory under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus. Alas, almost 70% of these roadless segments are smaller than 1 km2, whilst roadless areas larger than 10 km2 are scarce (6 on the whole island and 2 in Cyprus Republic). Although 83% (155.16 km2) of roadless areas are included in Natura 2000 (Cyprus Republic), however they are scattered among neighboring or overlapping sites largely in fragments smaller than 1 km2. Only 6 roadless areas ranging from 5.06 to 47.45 km2 were identified.
The importance of roadless areas identified herein, is supported by the fact that they include several priority habitats at the European level such as Coastal lagoons (code: 1150*), matorral with Ziziphus (code: 5220*), Stinking juniper woods (code: 9563*), Scrubs with Quercus alnifolia (code: 9390*) and Pallas's pine forests (code: 9536*).
This preliminary analysis provides a step towards quantifying the effect of roads on habitat fragmentation, an essential step for the development of sound environmental policy and planning solutions to mitigate the threats posed on species of high conservation interest at a European or national scale.