Last of the swamps

Israel's pioneers fought to drain the swamps for health reasons, but now they are a unique natural habitat.

swamps 521 (photo credit: Itsik Marom)
swamps 521
(photo credit: Itsik Marom)
Israel’s most important natural resource, water, is in short supply, as we well know. Another scarce resource is untouched wild land. And a special combination of water and land creates the swamp.
Israel’s pioneers fought to drain the swamps for health reasons, but we now understand that swamps are not as horrible as was once thought. In fact, they are a unique natural habitat.
Part of the last swampland in Israel can be found in the Acre Valley.
Since 1979, Ein Afek has been a nature reserve sitting on the remaining 3 percent of the original swampland that spread out on both sides of the Na’aman River. During the time of the Crusades, this landscape was known as fertile farming land. Farmers grew grains that were ground in the local flour mill, built like a citadel for protection.
The mill still exists and today serves as the reserve’s visitors’ center. A pleasant and sweeping view of the area can be found atop the roof structure.
Close by is another viewing point on top of the hill – Tel Afek, containing the remains of 4,000 years of ancient settlements. This piece of land, full of history, continues to play a role in preserving the relics of older times.
Nature has been here forever; but as a result of human activity, most of the swampland has been lost; what remains is barely viable. A walk along the paths of the reserve – partly on wooden floating bridges – can still reveal some natural treasures: swamp vegetation, kingfishers, kestrels, dragonflies, beetles, chameleons, water snakes and turtles. In the murky water one can find fish, molluscs and crabs.
Ein Afek is one of our last swamp ecosystems. Real-estate developments are closing in on the reserve, threatening damage and even its future existence.
We cannot afford to lose our dwindling natural treasures for the convenience and profit of developers.