By Dr Andreas Ch. Hadjichambis, Scientific Director of Cyprus Centre for Environmental Research and Education – CYCERE
Despotiki Lake, an important wetland of International Importance, is located on the Akrotiri Peninsula (Cyprus) and specifically on the Agios Nikolaos Farm, which belongs to the Holy Bishopric of Limassol. It lies about 100 meters from the Cyprus Centre for Environmental and Research and Education (CYCERE). It is an artificial ecosystem, created in 1960 for the purpose of irrigating the crops of the surrounding area.
Despotiki Lake has an area of one hectare and a depth of about 10m. It is enriched with fresh water from the dam of the river Kouri. Today, it is still used for irrigation purposes but is now considered a very important ecosystem, which contributes to the enrichment of the underground aquifer in the region of Akrotiri. Despite being an artificial lake, the vegetation around it has gradually transformed into natural wetland vegetation. It is a biotope of high importance and ecological value, which attracts many species of migratory and predatory birds. In particular, it serves the needs of thousands of migratory birds that arrive on the island every year. This is due to the fact that it is the southernmost freshwater catchment in Cyprus, i.e. the last stop of migratory birds migrating from Europe to Africa and the first stop they encounter on their return. Cyprus is a very important place for birds nationally, in Europe and globally. More than 200 species pass through Cyprus during their migration. Due to the rich bird fauna observed, Despotiki Lake is an important station for bird watchers, both from Cyprus and abroad. Specifically, more than 50 species of birds have been recorded to date, one of which is endemic: the Cyprus Scops Owl or Thupi (Otus cyprius), 6 of which nest in Despotiki Lake Nerovouttis – Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), Black Francolin or Fragolina (Francolinus francolinus), the Little Owl or Koukkoufkiaos (Athene noctua), Trivitoura – Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (Hippolais pallida elaeica), Common Wood Pigeon or Fassa (Columba palumbus), Barn Swallow or Stavlohelidono (Hirundo rustica) and the remaining 43 are migratory. Several of them, such as the Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), the Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and the Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) reproduced in Despotiki Lake. Of this total, 10 are protected and are presented in an annex to European Directive 79/409 on the protection of birds. In addition, 156 species of birds have been recorded in the wider area of Despotiki lake, of which 3 are endemic, 17 are nesting permanently and 139 are migratory, of which 32 are protected under the aforementioned European Directive. This rich attraction and conservation of the bird fauna is due to the rich aquatic microfauna of the Despotiki lake, which offers abundant food to the birds.