By Hana Namrouqa

DIBBEEN /AJLOUN – Despite being a sanctuary for globally endangered species and the world’s last remaining southeastern forest community of Aleppo pines, the Dibbeen Forest Reserve is still threatened by the axes of illegal loggers and fires caused by negligent picnickers, conservationists say.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 15 centennial Aleppo pine trees were lost due to illegal logging, while seven fires in the reserve destroyed 30 dunums with different types of trees, according to reserve director Basheer Ayasrah.

Announced as a nature reserve by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in 2004, Dibbeen is situated in the northern Governorate of Ajloun and extends over 8.5 square kilometres of mountainous topography, rich with pine and oak trees.

“Dibbeen is the driest part of the world in which Aleppo pine trees are known to grow naturally,” environment researcher Nashat Hamidan, told reporters during an RSCN-organised media tour to the reserve on Tuesday.

Studies have indicated that Dibbeen is one of the best remaining examples of the region’s original pine-oak forests, according to the RSCN, which noted that the forest is home to at least 17 threatened species and globally significant biodiversity.

“The Dibbeen forest is an important habitat for the Persian squirrel, the stone marten and threatened plants, including orchids. It is the location where the Nazareth Iris was rediscovered,” Hamidan pointed out.

“Losing the forest means losing all of these species,” he warned.

The ecologist listed illegal logging as the number one threat to the Dibbeen forest and its unique biodiversity, adding that fires and random grazing also jeopardise the forest’s sustainability.

According to Ayasrah, littering is another major challenge facing the reserve. He noted that 100,000 picnickers visited the reserve in 2009, with over 45,000 visitors since the beginning of the year, resulting in thousands of tonnes of trash.

During a clean-up campaign last year, 160,000 garbage bags full of trash were collected, Ayasrah pointed out, noting the reserve carries out a “continuous awareness programme to curb littering and preserve the environment and people are starting to respond”.

“Visitors are recognising more and more that Dibbeen is a nature reserve where certain regulations are applied and not just any picnicking site,” he added.

The director underscored that the Dibbeen Forest Reserve is designed to preserve the unique biodiversity in addition to improving the livelihood of local communities in Ajloun.

The nature reserve hosts two socio-economic projects, under which more than 20 local women were trained on pottery making and embroidery featuring the flora and fauna of Dibbeen, according to the RSCN.