Middle East
1 Nov 2019

Conserving Rare Plants in Byblos Lebanon

Byblos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Byblos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site ©Sharif Jbour
By Dima Obeidat

As a witness to one of the primary examples of urban organization in the Mediterranean world & the Phoenician civilization, the charming city of Byblos “Jbeil” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest cities in the world.

The ancient city is directly and tangibly associated with the diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet, on which humanity is still largely dependent today. The ancient center of the city of Jbeil is the most well preserved inhabited cultural site in Lebanon today and covers an area of 10 hectares, and like other archeological and historic sites with biodiversity value in Lebanon, this location is given a “non aedificandi” status, which legally prevents development in that area.

The Byblos coast is a key biodiversity area (KBA) characterized by high biodiversity, cultural, and economic value as it hosts a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. It is situated in an Important Plant Area (IPA), holding a significant population of a rare endemic plant with a highly restricted range, and is one of the most visited sites in Lebanon.

Plant diversity is rich in Byblos, containing at least 232 species, including the rare endemic species to Lebanon, Matthiola crassifolia Boiss. & Gail. However, poorly managed vegetation and the misuse of vegetation management interventions creates a “toxic” environment that compromises the chances of rare endemics and native plant assemblages to survive in and around these areas, which are more conducive to invasive alien species and spreading natives, especially ruderals.

Fig 1: Romano-Byzantine mosaic damaged by coastal grassland vegetation © AUB-NCC

 

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Fig 2: Fig tree (Ficus carica L.) growing out of a 6.5 m to 8 m deep shaft tomb completely hiding the archeological remains. The now rusted fence was intended to protect visitors from falling. © AUB-NCC

Figure 1 & 2: show example of damage that resulted from the unmanaged vegetation.

 

Therefore, the site presents one of the very best opportunities in Lebanon for conservation and protection of rare endemic plants & it has great potential for enhancing the engagement of the civil society in biodiversity conservation. That is why the American University of Beirut (AUB), through its Nature Conservation Center (NCC), has conducted field surveys to identify all problem species in the Byblos UNESCO World Heritage Centre, which have compromised the status of the archaeological remains, as part of a project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

A main challenge for the team at AUB – NCC was the constant need for an update of the problem species. Therefore, the team used a Web Mapping Application to map problem species. This application serves as an update/monitoring tool, as it stores data previously set on field preventing them from being edited and it allows the storage of data over time while storing previous content enabling users to track progress & eventually better manage vegetation in the area.

By guiding vegetation management of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Byblos, the project aims to enhance the protection of archeological remains present in the site and facilitate archeological excavation, enhance visitor experience, and ecologically restore habitat patches through reversing ecological succession and eliminating potentially invasive plant species.  This innovative intervention by AUB-NCC will turn the world heritage site into a multifunctional public park for recreation & environmental management.

The positive initial results that came out of this project has revealed how Civil Society actors and local citizens are ready and willing to mobilize efforts around biodiversity conservation in addition to their on-going cultural protection activities.

AUB-NCC Team with BirdLife International’s Regional Implementation Team for the Mediterranean Basin

“Identify commonalities between best practices for addressing problem species for the archaeology, improving habitat quality and expansion of target rare endemic and the needs and capacity of civil society actors” said Moustapha Itani of AUB NCC.

By involving civil society and technical units of public sector in plant conservation through citizen science, this will facilitate the implementation of a vegetation plan through collecting data in real-time on recruitment and distribution of species of conservation interest while monitoring effectiveness of vegetation management of problem species and protection of an endemic species with a highly restricted range.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. Additional small grant funding to the Balkans sub-region has been provided by the MAVA Foundation.

CEPF is more than just a funding provider
A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (expert officers on the ground) guide funding to the most important areas and to even the smallest of organisations; building civil society capacities, improving conservation outcomes, strengthening networks and sharing best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International and its Partners LPO (BirdLife France), DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia) and BPSSS (BirdLife Serbia).