Within three years, 107 square kilometers of open land were taken over by construction or agriculture, dealing a harsh blow to plant and animal life
Zafrir Rinat | Dec. 30, 2019

The pace at which undeveloped land has been diminishing in Israel accelerated in the years 2014 to 2017 to its highest in 20 years, a report on the county’s natural resources says.

According to the report, published by HaMaarag program that monitors natural life in Israel, the country lost 107 square kilometers of undeveloped land in those years.

Its findings were presented Monday at a joint conference held by HaMaarag and Haaretz at Tel Aviv University.

This latest report and its predecessor show systematic erosion of open space in Israel due to construction and farming. The consequences of the disappearance of undeveloped land are not only seen in its absolute extent, but also in the widening gaps created between natural habitats, which severely impairs the ability of plants and lives to exist.

The worst problem is north of the southern city of Be’er Sheva, where undeveloped land is disappearing four times faster than south of there.

Species able to adjust to food sources created by people have been managing better and are pushing out other species. Monitoring wild animals shows a spread of species that typically accompany human habitation such as jackals, wild boars and foxes, including in desert areas. On the other hand, species unable to coexist with people such as deer are only observed at a distance from settlements.

The problem of invasive species is also getting worse. From 2010 to 2018 at least nine invasive plant species arrived. One, the river tamarind, made the global list of the 100 invasive species most likely to affect local nature.

One of the natural habitats most affected by construction is the coastal dunes, which hosts a high concentration of endemic species unique to Israel. About half that area has already been built up and the remaining dunes have been stabilized, halting the normal movement of sand, which makes it harder for some of these unique species to survive.

Military firing zones are another problem: they can cause wildfires. Most of the damage this causes is in the Golan Heights, area of Mount Gilboa and the Judean foothills. Over the last 20 years repetitive wildfires have affected 2,400 square kilometers – a tenth of Israel’s land.

Nevertheless, while undeveloped land is diminishing, the remaining open land is better protected. In 2016 and 2017 the area designated as nature reserves increased by 6%.

The report doesn’t include 2019, but the Nature and Parks Authority called it the best in 50 years from the perspective of declaring new nature reserves – totaling 241 dunams. Hundreds of species were declared protected under law, and the state of the corals in Eilat improved.

HaMaarag operates under the wing of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv and consolidates a number of organizations, including the Environmental Affairs Ministry, the Nature and Parks Authority, and the Jewish National Fund. Its purpose is to assess the “state of the nature” in Israel, based on analysis of field data and monitoring, using surveillance devices and cameras equipped with motion sensors that capture animal movement.

In addition, surface change monitoring was conducted using remote sensors and data collection from geographical information systems that collect different entities. The latest report was written by Michal Sorek and Idan Shapira.

“The program demonstrates how collection of ecological data over time, systematically and uniformly, is an essential tool for establishing knowledge and improving the management of and interface with ecological system in Israel,” stated Ittai Renan, manager of the Maarag program.