Nature and Heritage Conservation Week begins

Researchers work to restore shrubs and trees to Ein Gedi slopes, save rare swamp iris.

Gilad Erdan at Ein Gedi 390 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Erdan at Ein Gedi 390
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) will open 22 of its nature reserves and national parks for free to the public for a couple weeks in honor of Nature and Heritage Conservation Week.
Adhering this year to a theme of “endangered flora,” park rangers will host special tours and activities for families to raise awareness about these at-risk plants and Israel’s rare wildlife. Events take place from Friday through a week from Saturday.
“During the Nature and Heritage Conservation Week, we invite the community to take partnership in and responsibility for the fate of nature in Israel, during which we intend to raise awareness on subjects of nature conservation, heritage, landscape and water, in order for future generations to be able to enjoy the wild plants and natural treasures around us,” said INPA CEO Shaul Goldstein.
Stressing that this week allows the parks authority to show the public the “tip of the iceberg” of the institution’s ongoing work, he said the “amazing bloom” covering parklands today could not have occurred without the contribution of his rangers, who have saved so many threatened species from extinction.
One of the many areas where researchers are working to preserve a rare species is the Beit Netufa Valley – a “hotspot of the plants of Israel” where there are more than 60 species of unique plants, according to INPA ecologist Yiftach Sinai. In particular, within the channels of the National Water Carrier of Israel that perforate the valley, teams have identified a rare type of yellow-petal iris called Iris grant-duffii (Grant- Duff’s Iris) that grows abundantly but is not bearing fruit as it should.
Because the area surrounding the iris plots now contains artificial agriculture growth, Sinai said he hypothesizes that the native insects that historically pollinated the flowers may be having trouble reaching them. But to determine that there is a problem for sure, Sinai and the area’s head ranger Shay Koren, along with researcher Bosmat Segal, are artificially breeding flowers – in cooperation with the National Water Carrier’s operator, Mekorot, Sinai told The Jerusalem Post. If these new irises bear fruit next season, then the researchers will know for certain there is a problem and will then need to determine its cause.
Another region that INPA researchers and rangers are attempting to rehabilitate is Ein Gedi, whose slopes were still rich with flora about 60 years ago, some of which are now extinct in Israel. Among the prominent species were not only acacias – like those along the riverbanks of the Arava – but also about 10 other types of trees and large shrubs, which are typical of tropical and dry areas and not of the extreme deserts like the Judean Desert, according to the INPA.
The vegetation disappeared in part because Kibbutz Ein Gedi began pumping water and thereby dried out the flora, and farmers also began physically clearing the trees and brush to grow agriculture, said Ein Gedi nature reserve manager Dudi Greenbaum.
The INPA has been planning the project to restore the area for the past 15 years, and park staff planted the first new flora about four years ago. Rangers studied and planned meticulously exactly how to plant, germinate and take care of the newly planted trees and shrubs, according to the INPA. Initially, they set up a nursery and grew hundreds of plants, and from there, initiated 19 experimental plots, where they ultimately mastered how to properly water and prune the trees and shrubs. The restoration has been far from easy, according to Greenbaum.
“We have lots of problems with the ibex and the rock hyrax,” Greenbaum said, noting that these animals often ruin young plants. “But in the next level we are supposed to put a fence around the whole area for a couple of years.”
Thus far, a team of rangers from the Ein Gedi nature reserve has planted bout 700 to 800 trees and shrubs in an area of approximately 55 dunams (5.5 hectares), Greenbaum said. The staff is beginning the second stage of planting, in which it hopes to increase the total number of plants to over 1,000, he said.
Among the reinstituted flora are 13 species – those that had been extinct from Israel: Leptadenia pyrotechnica (broom brush), Capparis deciduas; those endangered in Israel: Cordia sinensis (gray-leaved saucer berry), Grewia villosa, Maerua crassifolia, Moringa peregrina; rare plants nationwide: Salvadora persica (toothbrush or mustard tree), Periploca aphylla (milk broom); and other plants that play important ecological roles: Balanite aegyptiaca (Egyptian myrobalan), Cocculus pendulus (Autumn crocus), Ziziphus spina-christi (Christ’s thorn jujube), Acacia tortilis (Umbrella thorn acacia) and Acacia raddiana (twisted acacia).
On Wednesday, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan visited the site to help plant some milk broom shrubs.
“You cannot return to the past but you can restore partially the special floral landscape of Ein Gedi,” a statement from INPA said.
The national parks and nature reserves open for free during Nature and Heritage Conservation Week include: Nimrod Fortress, Nahal Snir, Tel Dan nature reserve, Tal Grove, Nahal Ayun, Gamla, the Hexagon Pools, Arbel, Hamat Tiberias, Tzipori, Ein Afek, Crocodile Stream, Mekorot HaYarkon, Ein Hemed, Beit Guvrin, Ashkelon, Good Samaritan, Herodion, Einot Cliffs, Tel Arad, Avdat and Hai-Bar Yotvata.