Case Study Experiment - Soil Erosion
Terraces on mountainous agricultural land
The creation of agricultural terraces on steep terrain can provide an effective solution to preventing soil erosion. The experiment involves testing the effectiveness of maintenance/rehabilitation of dry-stone terraces. It involves a participatory monitoring process.
|Mitigating erosion by water on mountainous agriculture land||Cyprus experimental site|
- Soil moisture indicates runoff reduction and more infiltration
- Peaks more pronounced for the top layer
- Higher soil moisture behind standing terrace wall than behind collapsed
wall (SM1 vs SM5)
- Soil loss reduction of 80% in restored (standing) terraces compared to degraded terraces (open)
- Soil loss reduction of 98% in restored (standing) terraces compared to degraded terraces (closed)
- Soil loss of 3.6 t ha-1 y-1 in degraded terraces (from closed plot)
- Soil loss of 0.06 t ha-1 y-1 in standing terraces (from closed plot)
Christos Zoumides, Adriana Bruggeman, Elias Giannakis, Corrado Camera, Hakan Djuma, Marinos Eliades, Katerina Charalambous (2016) Community-Based Rehabilitation of Mountain Terraces in Cyprus. Published in Land Degradation & Development (2016) August 1 DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2586
Details about the RECARE experiment in Peristerona can be found here
The Peristerona Watershed covers an area of 112 km2 with the highest point of the watershed, Papoutsa Mountain, standing at 1540 m. The Peristerona River flows from the northern slopes of the Troodos mountains into the Western Mesaoria plain. The river, which is deeply incised throughout the watershed, is formed by two main branches, whose confluence is near the entrance to the foothills. The river connects with the Serrachis River at the Masari recharge dam, just north of the United Nations Buffer Zone.
Location and Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of Peristerona Watershed
Based on geology, geomorphology and land use, four main units can be distinguished in the watershed, as described below. The upstream part of the watershed ranges between 1,540 and 900 m a.s.l. Most of the area is covered by sclerophylous forests and mountain agriculture on dry-stone terraces. Between 1100 and 900 m a.s.l., we find eight small communities with a total permanent population of 1,227 in 2011 (Cystat, 2012). The communities of Alona, Platanistasa, Polystypos, Livadia and Alithinou drain into the western river branch (Figure 3.2). Fterikoudi, Askas and Palaichori-Morphou form the eastern river branch. The midstream area ranges approximately between 900 and 500 m a.s.l. and is mainly covered by pine forests. The mean slope in the upstream and midstream area of the watershed exceeds 40%.
The foothills are formed by pillow lavas and outcrops of overlaying sedimentary formations. The elevation of this area ranges between 500 and 350-300 m a.s.l. and includes the communities of Agia Marina and Kato Moni. In the foothills, the mean local slope is significantly lower (20%). Downstream from the confluence of the hillslope streams, the elevation of the riverbed decreases from 440 m to 315 m over 8 km distance. Within the downstream Mesaoria plain, the mean local slope is lower (8%) and the riverbed slope is stable: along the 6.5 km upstream from Peristerona community, elevation decreases from 315 m to 210 m. A series of check dams have been established across the river bed to slow the stream flow and increase groundwater recharge.
Main soil threat
The main soil threat in the mountainous areas of Cyprus is erosion from the steep mountainous terrane. Around the small rural communities in the mountains, large areas have been converted into agricultural terraces. Similar to many other mountain communities in Cyprus, the population of the communities in the upstream areas of Peristerona Watershed has decreased substantially over the past 30 years. As a result, many of the mountain terraces are no longer cultivated and terrace walls are not maintained, causing sometimes a domino effect of collapsing terraces. In some places, nature is taking over and the degradation of terrace walls and soil erosion is more gradual than on the poorly vegetated terraces.
The shallow and stony soils of the highly sloping midstream areas of the watershed are covered by forests. The state forests that cover the largest part of this area are dominated by pine trees (Pinus brutia). These forests are affected by dieback during drought years. The forest is also susceptible to fires during the long hot and dry summers. These problems may become worse as a result of climate change. After fires the land is vulnerable to soil erosion.
Other soil threats
The collapse of mountain terraces and ongoing erosion could eventually result in desertification. In the midstream areas, forest fires may also lead to desertification.
Geology & Soils
The Troodos Ophiolite is a fragment of a fully developed oceanic crust, created during the collision of the Eurasian and African plates. The stratigraphy of the ophiolite shows a topographic inversion, related to the way the ophiolite was uplifted (diapirically) and later eroded (Geological Survey Department, 2014).
In the upstream and midstream area of the Peristerona Watershed, the geology is dominated by the diabase (65%) and the basal group (19%) formations, intrusive rocks of the Troodos ophiolitic sequence that form a heterogeneous fractured aquifer systems (Mederer, 2009). In the upstream areas we also find gabbros and plagiogranates (plutonic rocks) with relatively high hydraulic conductivities (Figure 3.3a, b).
The Troodos foothills correspond to the transition area between the fractured diabase and basal group formations (49%) and the overlying, impermeable pillow lavas of the ophiolitic sequence (43%). On the downstream end of the foothills we find the sedimentary Pakhna formation (pale yellow chalks). In this unit we find old copper mines just east and west of the watershed in Mitsero and Xyliatos, respectively. In the Mesaoria plain, the geology mainly consists of river alluvium (58%) which overlays the Pleistocene member of the Circum Troodos sedimentary basin (fanglomerate, 34%). This member formed by marl grading upward into clays, silt, sandstone and gravel.
The soils of the three upstream units are shallow and stony. The majority of the soils in these areas are classified as eutric-lithic-leptosols and eutric-skeletic-regosols (Figure 3.3d), on the 1:250,000 soil map (DoA, 1999; Hadjiparaskevas, 2005). The valleys and the terraced areas around the communities are classified as eutric-cambisols with eutric-anthropic regosols. In the downstream areas, the river valley is classified as vertic-cambisols with calcaric-regosols, while the soils on the plateau are calcic- and chromic-vertic luvisols.
The inhabitation of the upstream area goes back to the Chalkolithic era. Large monolithic stones and a baityl stone, remnants from a tomb or sanctuary from a heliolithic civilization (2000 BC) have been found in Fterikoudi (Psillita Ioannou, 2013). There is also a prehistoric copper mine in a steep hillslope at the southern edge of Fterikoudi and Palaichori. Turning to the current age, the area of cultivated and fallow crops land in the watershed’s communities is approximately 3500 ha. The Census of Agriculture (Cystat, 2012) reported 3,273 ha in 2010, while the land owners registered 3,546 ha in good condition for Single Area Payment support (CAPO, 2013). In the upstream areas the main crop is wine grapes, followed by almonds, both grown on terraces. Almost all crops are grown on bench terraces. However, the wine grapes are also grown on broader sloping terraces with shallow soils.
In the foothills and downstream both rainfed and irrigated crops are found. Cereals, especially barley, comprise the main rainfed crop. Barley is generally grown for animal feed and often harvested and bailed whole, especially in dry years. Irrigated crops are found in Agia Marina, where they receive water from the nearby Xiliatos dam (transboundary). Along the river, crops (olives, vegetables) are often irrigated with water abstracted from the alluvial aquifer. In the plain downstream from Peristerona community, crops are irrigated with groundwater.
Wine grapes grown in terraces in Polystipos, June 2014
In the upstream area we also find sclerophylous vegetation, especially the Cyprus golden oak (Quercus alnifolia). These trees contribute to soil stabilization and prevent soil erosion due to their ability to colonize steep rocky hills (Loizides, 2011). The steep sloping midstream areas are mainly covered with coniferous forests (Pinus brutia), which are part of the Adelphi state forest. Grazing of the forested areas was banned during British colonial rule in the late 19th century (Butzer and Harris, 2007). The state forest boundaries are marked with distinguished white cairns (Given, 2002).
Main crops grown in the communities in Peristerona Watershed in 2013 (CAPO, 2013)
|Upstream||Area [ha]||Foothills and downstream||Area [ha]|
|Wine Grapes||112||Cereals (excl. durum wheat)||1,095|
|Apples||13||Vegetables and melons||234|
|Cherry||9||Legumes and fodder crops||182|
|Fruit and nut trees||8||Olives||158|
|Vegetables and potatoes||7||Citrus||158|
|Table grapes||2||Fruit and nut trees||27|
Cyprus has a Mediterranean climate, with rain during the October to May, wet winters and very hot dry summers. The climate of Peristerona Watershed is classified as semi-arid, while the mountains at higher elevations in the watershed are classified as dry sub-humid, according to UNEP (Middleton and Thomas, 1997). The average annual precipitation (1980-2010) ranges between 754 mm at Polystypos in the mountains (1,100 m a.s.l.), 405 mm at Panagia Bridge in the foothills, to 270 mm at Peristerona in the plain (200 m a.s.l). The period between December and February is the rainiest. Little rain falls during the June to September. Daily precipitation extremes of 160 and 170 mm have been observed in the past 10 years. Average monthly daily minimum temperature (1980-2010) in the foothills at Panagia Bridge is 2 ⁰C during the coldest month of January. Daily maximum temperatures (1980-2010) in July and August average to 34 ⁰C.
Hydrology and hydrogeology
The Peristerona River recharges the underlying formations through its coarse gravel and cobbled streambed. The river is especially wide, compared to its current day flow, in the downstream area of the watershed (Butzer and Harris, 2007). Surface runoff measured by the Water Development Department at the Panagia Bridge weir in the foothills averaged 11.86 Mm3/yr, for the years 1980-2010. The lowest annual runoff was 1.85 Mm3 in 2007/08 and the highest was 25.94 Mm3 in 2003/04 (Sep-Aug hydrologic years). The maximum one day flow during this period was 58 m3. The river is usually dry during August to October. The runoff constitutes on average 23% of the precipitation over the up-and midstream watershed (Le Coz et al., 2014). The Western Mesaoria Upper Aquifer in the downstream plain is the largest and the most important groundwater reservoir in Cyprus (UNDP, 1970). The indirect recharge of this aquifer through the river alluvial is crucial (UNDP, 1970). Therefore, a large recharge dam (Masari) was built at the confluence with the Serrachis River in 1973 (Konteatis, 1974). The recharge dam is located in the area that is currently outside the control of the Cyprus government. To improve groundwater recharge for the water supply of the downstream communities upstream of Masari dam, large gabion weirs have been constructed across the wide streambed. The structures slow down the flow and enhance groundwater recharge. The recharge structures quickly fill up with sediment, especially upstream of Peristerona community. This obviously reduces the groundwater recharge. The sediment is removed by the Water Development Department on a regular basis.
Drivers and Pressures
Various driving forces have affected the communities and land use in Peristerona Watershed over the past 30 years. Considering the small size of most agricultural holdings, farming does no longer form a major source of income. Agricultural incomes have also been affected by lower crop prices and changes in agricultural subsidies, as well as the removal of trade-barrier protectionism following Cyprus’ accession to the European Union in 2004. Data from the past four agricultural censuses show a decline in the crop area of the watershed’s communities from 1985 to 2010. The decline is especially clear for permanent crops (vines, fruit and nut trees) in the mountain communities. It should be noted that 2003 presents somewhat of an anomaly. Crop area increased due to high rainfall, which allowed more land to be irrigated, and due to expectations for agricultural support, as a result of Cyprus’ accession to the EU in 2004.
The 2010 agricultural census recorded 591 agricultural holdings in the eight upstream communities and an average holding size of 1.0 ha (Cystat, 2014). The number of holdings in the four foothill and downstream communities is 733 and the average size is 3.5 ha. The majority of the holdings in the watershed (76-77%) also reported owning livestock. Obviously, these small farms do not provide sufficient income and many families farm only part-time. On average, 50% of the Cypriot farm holders and their family members do not have agriculture as their primary or sole occupation (Cystat, 2014).
Grazing of small ruminants (sheep and goats) affect the vegetation cover and thereby the land’s susceptibility to erosion. However, the current number of animals in the upstream farms is small, except for chickens. The census of 2010 (Cystat, unpublished data), recorded almost 24,000 chickens in the upstream communities, but 95% of these are in Palaichori (42 holdings). There are 284 goats, distributed over 19 holdings, upstream. Intensive livestock farms are found in the foothills and downstream. Kato Moni, Orounda and Peristerona communities count ten pig holdings totalling nearly 60,000 pigs. There are also almost 3,000 sheep (18 holdings) and 3,000 goats (23 holdings) in the four foothill and downstream communities. Many livestock farms dump their manure on nearby fields, degrading the vegetation with nutrient overloads, polluting the groundwater and streams, and emitting greenhouse gasses (NOx, NH3, CH4).
Limited economic opportunities and services in the mountain communities, combined with affordable loans, housing and jobs has led to migration to urban centres. Over the past three decades, the total population in the mountain communities has more than halved. The population in the foothills and downstream areas has remained relatively constant (Figure 3.7, left). These communities have a larger number of economic activities, while people also commute to the urban area of Nicosia.
Precipitation over Cyprus has undergone an important reduction in the recent past, showing a step-change around 1970 (Rossel, 2001). Average precipitation over the Republic decreased from 541 mm during 1901/02-1969/70 to 469 mm during the past 44 years (Department of Meteorology, 2014). Results of numerical climate models indicate that a further decrease is eminent, but also that there is a large uncertainty attached to these projections. Droughts have also affected agriculture. In the upstream area, many terraces are irrigated, using springs, surface water diversions, small reservoirs and groundwater. In severe drought years, such as the 2013/2014 season, stream flow does not reach the check-dams that enhance groundwater recharge in the downstream area. Thus, a sequence of drought years may have severe consequences for the water supply of the downstream communities.
Status of soil threat
Most European soil threat studies do not cover Cyprus. No erosion research has been conducted in Peristerona Watershed in the past. Zaimes et al. (2012) measured one season of erosion from 10 by 5 m experimental plots on highly sloping land (35-40%) in a pine forest (Pinus brutia) at a higher elevation in the Troodos Mountain. They found an annual soil loss of 21 kg/ha for the 20 most intense precipitation events, under an annual precipitation of 1,073 mm. Djuma et al. (2014) measured the sediment deposition at the Orounda check-dam in the downstream area of Peristerona Watershed in the summer of 2013. Assuming a 15% trap efficiency, they estimated an average sediment yield of 1 ton/ha over the watershed. Degradation of terrace walls can be observed throughout the watershed (Figure 3.6). There are also areas where natural vegetation has taken over the abandoned agricultural terraces. The vegetation protects the soil against the direct impact of rain events. However, the lack of terrace maintenance after large storm events still results in a gradual degradation.
Abandoned, degraded terraces downstream of Askas, December 2011
Maps on the current state of land use, soil degradation and soil conservation in the case study area have been produced using the WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) methodology
The steps of this process are as follows:
1) The area to be mapped is divided into distinctive land use systems (LUS). 2) The team gathers the necessary data on soil degradation and conservation for each LUS using a standardised questionnaire, in close consultation with local land users, and supported where possible by remote sensing or field data. 3) For each LUS, the soil degradation type, extent, degree, impact on ecosystem services, direct and indirect causes of degradation, as well as all soil conservation practices, are determined. 4) Once collected, the data is entered in the on-line WOCAT-QM Mapping Database from which various maps can be generated.
Following the principles of all WOCAT questionnaires, the collected data are largely qualitative, based on expert opinion and consultation of land users. This allows a rapid and broad spatial assessment of soil degradation and conservation/SLM, including information on the causes and impacts of degradation and soil conservation on ecosystem services.
More details about the methodology used to produce these maps and their interpretation can be found here.
Land Use (click on maps to expand)
The degree of degradation reflects the intensity of the degradation process, whilst the rate of degradation indicates the trend of degradation over a recent period of time (approximately 10 years).
The "effectiveness" of conservation is defined in terms of how much it reduces the degree of degradation, or how well it is preventing degradation. The Effectiveness trend indicates whether over time a technology has increased in effectiveness.
The table below summarises and ranks the effects of soil erosion on the soil functions in the Peristerona Watershed.
|Functions of soil||Explanation||Effect|
|Biomass production||Loss of soil and terraced land in the steep and stony mountain environment reduces the capacity of the land to grow crops and natural vegetation.||H|
|Environmental interactions||Soil erosion and terrace degradation increases surface runoff, accelerates further erosion, causes downstream sedimentation and flood events from the steep mountainous terrain.||H|
|Gene reservoir/ Biodiversity pool||Soil losses will negatively affect biodiversity of microbial communities, agricultural species, natural vegetation, insects, birds and reptiles. Dry-stone terrace walls also provide a habitat for different species of fauna and flora and collapse of these walls reduces such habitats. On the other hand, the mixing up of soils as a result of landslides can also rejuvenate soils, favouring new biological and ecological systems development and fast restoration.||H|
|Physical medium/ Source of raw materials||Due to their limited quantities and loamy textures, mountain soils are not so critical as physical medium or source of raw material.||L|
|Carbon pool||The mountain terrace soils contribute to carbon sequestration (e.g., Cohen et al., 2012).||M|
|Cultural heritage||The terraced landscapes form part of the cultural heritage of Cyprus. They are also inherently linked to the production of traditional Cypriot products such as zivania, palouze, soutzoukos and spoon sweets (e.g. walnut). Large monoliths and a baityl (2000 BC) have been found in the soil in Fterikoudi (Figure 3.1).||H|
Administrative and socio-economic setting
The institutions that contribute to the governance of natural resources in Cyprus are the various departments of the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment (MANRE), especially the Agriculture Department, Forestry Department and Department of Environment. The Cyprus Agricultural Payment Organization (CAPO), who handles all agricultural support measures, and other organizations related to the CAP, i.e., the National Rural Network and the Institute for Rural and Regional Development (IAPA) could also play a role. The Forestry Department supports the implementation of CAP measures 2.4 and 3.2 (afforestation of agricultural and non-agricultural land). The Department of Environment is responsible for the Natura2000 Vounokorfes Madaris-Papoutsas site that covers part of the forests in the upstream and midstream area of the watershed. The Water Development Department is the national authority responsible for all water resources. The Cyprus Geological Survey Department (MANRE) monitors groundwater resources and groundwater quality. The local community councils, especially the community leaders, govern the communities, including water supply. The mountain communities are also represented by the Mountainous Communities Committee. The most important policies that affect the land use and management in the watershed are the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including the National Strategy Plan and the Rural Development Plan (DoA, 2012); the Water Framework Directive, especially the new water pricing policy (WDD, 2010); the national Forest Policy (DoF, 2013); and the national strategy for adaptation to climate change (DoE, 2014), which is still under consideration by the Parliament.
Land management such as the establishment of terraces and contour banks has always received attention in the rural mountains of Cyprus. In the early half of the 20th century, land owners could form Soil Conservation Divisions for carrying out large scale soil conservation works, with the Government subsidizing up to half of the cost (Christodoulou, 1959). Under a comprehensive program for soil conservation and land management, supported by FAO and the World Food Program, 1000 ha of land has been bench-terraced by Government or contractors, each year, since 1968 (Michaelides, 1988).
Since 2004, when Cyprus entered the EU, supportive measures in the form of subsidies were given through the Rural Development Programme (RDP). During the period 2004-2006, subsidies were given for the maintenance of 43,500 m of terraced walls at a national level. In the following period (2007-2013), there were no specific measures for terraces. However, farm activities were indirectly related and subsidised through measures such as the Single Area Payment Scheme (including additional support for least favourable areas), preservation of traditional vineyard varieties and endangered species (Sub-measure 2.3.5) and agri-environmental obligations for traditional trees and bushes (Sub-measure 2.3.6). In addition, supportive measures were given to minimise land abonnement risks, such as the afforestation of agricultural land (Sub-Measure 2.4.1). Experience has shown that these measures were not sufficient to implement or maintain indigenous technologies such as terraces, or to proceed to afforestation of agricultural land. Regarding the former, for instance, stakeholders complained about the complexity of application procedures and the limited information provided about the existing measures. In the case of the latter, there were no afforestation projects in the watershed, which is indicative of the lack of interest and the low financial incentives.
In addition to the above measures, a national program for supporting the wine sector has been operating in the past two years, with specific measures and guidelines for terrace maintenance (i.e. Sub-measure 1b3: construction and maintenance of terraces). However, this initiative requires well maintained vineyards, which limits the eligibility for most grape plots in the watershed from receiving subsidies.
In the forthcoming RDP period (2014-2020), there is a number of measures related to mountain farming and terraces maintenance, including agro-environmental and investment measures. Nonetheless, the RDP has not yet been approved by the European Commission.
Relevant end-users and local stakeholder groups include:
• Agriculture Department (District Offices)
• Forestry Department
• Cyprus Agricultural Payment Organization
• Rural mountain communities (community councils)
• Local schools and youth organizations
The project will organize stakeholder meetings with the rural mountain communities, agriculture and forestry department officers to identify sustainable options for mountain terrace management and innovative mechanisms for achieving this. The project will also involve agro-tourism businesses and organize meetings with local schools. At a climate change scenario workshop at a local high school recetly the students were very motivated to work for their communities; nearly half of the 39 students envisioned themselves living in the mountains 30 years from now. The project will also hold meetings with agricultural officials to analyze current and potentially new support measures.
Gender and stakeholder workshops
The participatory activities are split up into stakeholder workshops (1st held in 2014 and 2nd in 2015) and Mountain Terrace Rehabilitation Workshops, held in 2015 on 14 July, 12 October and 14 November. The Terrace Rehabilitation Workshops are announced on Facebook and by posters and flyers in the mountain communities. They have attracted people from all over the island and of all ages! Women attended all the workshops, although about two thirds are men, and in the terrace rehabilitation more men than women showed up to undertake the heavy work. Still both women and men do technical, practical and scientific tasks.
”Good vibes at the 2nd Participatory Workshop, (22 July 2015) Cyprus' RECARE case-study site! We had 25 stakeholders (excluding ourselves) with local and external experts for each of our SLM option. Overall, a successful event; we've reached a consensus on what and how we are implementing next, after voting and scoring our criteria and SLM options!” https://www.facebook.com/groups/RECARE/
This web page is authored by:
Adriana Bruggeman, Corrado Camera, Hakan Djuma, Marinos Eliades, Elias Giannakis and Christos Zoumides from Energy, Environment and Water Research Center, The Cyprus Institute, Nicosia, Cyprus
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