Growing hope for rare plants

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Sofar Iris at Ehmej Plant Micro-Reserve, Lebanon © Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat

Engaging with people to create Plant Micro-Reserves

At shin-height on a mountainous pasture, large purple petals fan out like butterflies taking flight: found only in Lebanon, the Sofar Iris is as much beautiful as it is fragile. With a unique geographical position between three continents and a dramatic mountainous landscape, Lebanon is a hotspot of endemism. For plants (2,600 different species in Lebanon with 12 percent of these endemic), the smallest pocket of ideal conditions – humidity, altitude, temperature, etc. – can be a refuge for an entire species, often completely unknown to people.
But these key sites are increasingly encroached as this already densely populated country urbanises and industrialises, with untold species disappearing before they are recognised or studied.

How to protect these endemic plant “pockets” before it is too late? In Lebanon, they are often found outside national nature reserves, meaning creating new protected areas is crucial. When plants occur on private lands, involvement of local people is crucial.

As scientists, we must gain knowledge about these plants and their threats, but we also have another role: to spread awareness about the unique richness of the area, and to build the skills of local people to manage and protect their plants.” - Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, USJ

Round-leaved Sundew Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat



Where: Ehmej, Sarada & Baskinta in Lebanon

Key species: Sofar Iris Iris sofarana, Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia, Nazareth Iris Iris bismarckiana.

Project partner: University of Saint-Joseph, Lebanon (USJ).



A micro-solution for big wins in Lebanon


Get the science

›  Bring experts together to thoroughly collate and analyse data on plant distribution and abundance. USJ organised a comprehensive three-day workshop of experts, classifying Lebanon’s plants according to IUCN’s Red List criteria.

›  Based on the rarity and threat status of the plants identified, select priority Plant Micro-Reserves. Existing legal framework and management philosophy of nature reserves can be adapted to smaller areas.


Engage with landowners to protect plant micro-reserves


Advice from the field: generating conservation support and stewardship

›  When raising awareness, respect the fact that local knowledge has a long history, and that local people use natural resources in their daily lives.

›  Convince people that it is in their interest to protect these species.

›  Locals who are experts in their field may not necessarily be aware of the importance of conservation, but once enlightened they will do their job better than no other.

›  Build “trustful” relationships: visit stakeholders very often, and try to help build their capacity instead of doing all the work yourselves.

›  “Teach them how to fish” instead of giving just the final product.




"This is a new conservation approach for the Middle East which can be replicated to conserve pockets of high endemism that fall outside networks of protected areas.”

Sharif Jbour, BirdLife/CEPF Middle East


Sofar Iris blooming


Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat |





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The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International (CI), the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. Additional support in the Mediterranean Basin is provided by the MAVA Foundation. More information on CEPF can be found at

A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.



CEPF is more than just a funding provider

A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (expert officers on the ground) guides funding to the most important areas and to even the smallest of organisations, helps build civil society in the region, and shares learned lessons and best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International, including its Middle East office and the BirdLife Partners DOPPS/BirdLife Slovenia and LPO/BirdLife France.