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The Randi Forest area is a dry rangeland in southern Cyprus (Pissouri region) that is severely affected by land degradation. This process is driven by a high variability in climatic conditions in combination with human land use, and reduces the ecological functioning of the land, as well as its capacity to provide ecosystem goods and services for local land users.
Cyprus is characterised by an intense Mediterranean climate with dry, hot summers, and mild wet winters. The intensive rainfall events in autumn, hitting the dried out soil after the summer month, can easily trigger land degradation by causing soil erosion. In the Randi Forest area, the land is very vulnerable to this process, due to its hilly terrain characteristics, shallow soils and an often scarce or patchy vegetation cover. This vulnerability of the land has been strongly amplified by livestock grazing, that has been going on since the middle of the 20s century. Goats and sheep graze freely in the area, reducing the vegetation cover, and damaging the soil by trampling. Their pathways along the hills can act as a starting points for rill and gully erosion.
Since the 1970s grazing pressure has strongly increased, due to a growing tourism development and coastal urbanization in the Pissouri district, which reduced the total area available for livestock grazing. This has led to strong overgrazing in the Randi Forest (Daliakopoulos & Tsanis 2014). Additionally, there has been a decreasing trend in aridity due to an increasing trend in temperature and a higher frequency of years with low precipitation and drought (Department of Meteorology, Republic of Cyprus). The combination of these factors has promoted rapid land degradation, leaving the land almost bare in many places, and made it less suitable for livestock grazing. After the year 2000 several farms were closed down, and most farmers need to provide their animals with additional fodder.
In April 2017, a NatRiskChange taskforce team travelled to the Randi Forest area in Cyprus, to get a first-hand impression of the land degradation dynamics in the field. The researchers involved were Dr. Saskia Förster (Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences), Professor Eva Paton (Technical University Berlin) and the PhD student Jennifer von Keyserlingk (University of Potsdam / Technical University Berlin). The taskforce team inspected the area together with Cyprian scientist Dr. Michalakis Christoforou (Cyprus University of Technology / European University Cyprus) and PhD student Myrna de Hoop (University of Utrecht). Michalakis Christoforou was a researcher in the CASCADE EU project (CAtastrophic Shifts in drylands: how CAn we prevent ecosystem DEgradation?), which investigated land degradation in the Randi Forest. In her PhD thesis, Myrna de Hoop studies land degradation and grazing history in the Randi Forest based on interviews with the local farmers, as well as field work. Both researchers have a profound field knowledge of the study area and were able to show us examples for different degradation stages and take us to several goat farms, where we were able to talk to local farmers, who are directly affected by the ongoing land degradation. We also met with the scientists Athina Papatheodoulou (IACO Environmental and Water Consultants (http://www.iaco.com.cy/)), and Gerald Dörflinger (Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Cyprus), who provided us with detailed information on the land use history and ecological issues of southern Cyprus, as well as on the water management strategies. This deepened our understanding of the area and allowed us to place our research in a broader context. Gerald Dörflinger also assisted us in requesting long-term rainfall and temperature data from the Department of Meteorology in Cyprus.
The meeting with Myrna de Hoop during the task force in Cyprus resulted in a close working cooperation between her and Jennifer von Keyserlingk, who are currently preparing a joined publication. They combine local knowledge on the grazing history with remote sensing data dating back to the 1980s to study the land degradation dynamics of the Randi Forest area in space and time.
CASCADE (CAtastrophic Shifts in drylands: how CAn we prevent ecosystem DEgradation?), EU project. Duration: 2012-2017. Website: www.cascadis-project.eu
Department of Meteorology, Republic of Cyprus. Climate of Cyprus. Available at: www.moa.gov.cy/moa/ms/ms.nsf/DMLcyclimate_en/DMLcyclimate_en. Accessed: 31.01.2019
Daliakopoulos, I. and Tsanis, I. (eds) 2014. Historical evolution of dryland ecosystems. CASCADE Project Deliverable 2.1. CASCADE Report 04. 126 pp. Available at: www.cascadis-project.eu/documents. Downloaded: 31.01.2019