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The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

Hayriye Esbah, Edward

Hayriye Esbah, Edward Allen Cook, Serif Hepcan, Baris Kara, Bulent Deniz ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS: POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL LANDSCAPES Figure 4: Infrastructure corridors, an irrigation canal (left); a drainage canal (center) and a road corridor (right) Analysis done in the GIS and remote sensing environment showed that all together natural, semi natural and infrastructure corridors constitute approximately 30 percent of the Soke Plain. This percentage is higher than most of agricultural cases in Turkey and Europe, and is really promising for establishing ecological networks, if ecological integrity of these corridors are improved. 2.3 Land use change and major disturbances A major study on detecting landscape change in the study area between 1993 and 2005 showed fragmentation and its consequences in the study area [3]. Major drivers of the landscape change was urbanization, agriculture, grazing, fire, and clearing of original vegetation for heating and timber. The legally protected areas (core areas) were less affected by these impacts due to their protection status. Nevertheless, there are many issues threatening the ecological integrity in the core habitats of the study area. For instance, Dilek Peninsula National Park faces significant challenges such as fire, water pollution, over grazing and hunting, exceeding visitor capacity during summer months. Big Meander River and its delta are suffering mainly from pollution, resource overuse for irrigation, hunting, and agricultural intensification. The dynamics of the aquatic systems of Bafa Lake has been altered significantly by the construction of a levee, canal and regulators since 1985. Pollution in the lake has been caused by the unregulated disposal of both domestic and industrial waste [4]. Moreover, residuals from agricultural fertilizers and pesticides upstream in the Soke Plain are threatening the fish and bird populations [5]. Significant amount of the Soke Plain which is also a flood plain is at the delta level. In the soils of the delta, salt moves towards the surface and eventually accumulates on the top layer due to evapostanspiration and cappilarite during hot summer months. Therefore, soil salinity and the agricultural practices to cope with it play a major role in ecosystem integrity. In order to wash off the salt from soil, farmers flood their fields before cotton cultivation. Even though flooded fields attract a variety of birds and reptiles, water drains into the drainage canals with all the salt and chemicals accumulated in the soil. Subsequently, the number and amount of species utilizing drainage canals are less than that of irrigation canals. In addition to contamination of soil and water by pesticides and fertilizers, the area suffers from waste dump into water corridors and canals. Clearance of vegetation along road corridors and other infrastructure corridors also affect ecological quality. 84

Hayriye Esbah, Edward Allen Cook, Serif Hepcan, Baris Kara, Bulent Deniz ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS: POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL LANDSCAPES 3 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS Sustainable agriculture, as defined by FAO, means agriculture that conserves land, water, and plant and animal genetic resources, does not degrade the environment, and is economically viable and socially acceptable [6]. Among the most serious constraints in achieving sustainable agriculture are: shortages of arable land, degradation of land resources, water shortages and pollution, disappearing genetic diversity, climatic change, and loss of agricultural land due to urbanization [7]. However, the sustainable agriculture efforts remained limited only to reforestation, planting hedgerows of native species, reducing the application of chemicals, and restoring riparian corridors at the scale of the individual farm. Hilty et al. (2005) emphasized the need for enhancing large scale agricultural landscapes for biodiversity conservation. The importance of mitigating fragmentation at larger scale agricultural landscapes has been recognized in Europe at the end of 1990’s. Thus, European environmental and agricultural policies now address connectivity through ecological networks, and green infrastructure [8]. In the ecological networks sense, corridors are important tools for enhancing connectivity, and hence maintaining viable populations of biota in fragmented landscapes. What surrounds a potential corridor is as important as the properties of the corridor itself [9]. In agricultural landscapes many opportunities exist as corridors. For example, fencerows, unmanaged ditches, creeks, and shelterbelts can serve as de facto corridors. Many studies suggested that many vegetation structures in agricultural landscapes can act as movement corridors and even provide habitat for some generalist species [10], [11] . On the other hand, these linear elements can be problematic by inhibiting movement of some species and boosting exotic species and predators. Similarly, roadside corridors can have both positive and negative effects on connectivity for native species [12]. Even though all of these de facto corridors most probably facilitate generalist species and result in loss of some species and mortality, still the enhancement of these corridors may propose important opportunities for some species in heavily impacted landscapes where setting aside or restoring larger corridors is not feasible. One of the most important landscape elements for biodiversity is the riparian corridor. Conserving these areas can provide multiple benefits such as protecting in stream biota by controlling erosion regulating stream temperature. Riparian corridors can also serve for the terrestrial species. Buffer zones around these corridors shelter many amphibians and reptiles [13]. Therefore, maintaining vibrant riparian corridors is a good conservation approach along with creating viable landscape context. Turkish agricultural areas are generally ecologically unfriendly because of intensive farming. As in the case of other countries, the advancements in technology have led to intensive agricultural production which aims to increase crop yield through the use of improved crop varieties, fertilizers and, irrigation, and mechanization. Intensive agriculture was triggered even further by subsidies and other governmental support measures. As a result, the structure of agricultural landscapes was simplified due to mono type crop production and the removal of native vegetation in and around the farm to increase cultivation area. Agricultural policies should promote more environmentally friendly practices and maintain balance between economic and environmental gains especially in areas with high ecological value such as Big Meander basin. Agricultural landscapes are discreet mosaic of different types of patches and corridors, therefore to achieve and maintain connectivity it is necessary to evaluate the composition and configuration of these elements. Legal framework pertaining to protection and conservation 85

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