The country’s first-of-its-kind project was launched on Sunday to connect plots of farmland and other unused land into a corridor through which insects, small animals and plants can move from one natural area to another in the Western Galilee in northern Israel.
The goal is to provide a continuous route between the Keziv and Gaaton streams to facilitate the passage of mammals and reptiles such as badgers, hedgehogs, mongoose, turtles, and insects including butterflies, bumblebees, and mantis.
To connect the plots, the project uses field margins, which run around the edges of fields – in this case avocado orchards – and as uncultivated patches, they serve no real agricultural purpose.
A local fruit packaging and marketing company is centrally involved to ensure that avocado growers meet evolving European environmental and biodiversity standards and protect insects that pollinate plants and eat pests.
The area to be returned to nature, or reconstructed, will bring together 40 field margin patches – covering a total of 8.5 hectares (21 acres) – near two treated sewage tanks and across farms in five kibbutzim – Kapri, Yahya, Kfar Masarik, Gesher Haziv and walked. It will also extend across 1,600 hectares (nearly 4,000 acres) of the Corinne Valley between the two rivers.
In European countries, such as the UK, farmers are encouraged to Replanting shrubs and improving their management To serve as highways for wildlife and homes.
Hedgerows define the boundaries of fields and control the movement of livestock, but they do not exist in Israel, which is why field margins are allocated.
The first phase of work will involve removing invasive (non-native) plants and planting 10,000 plants — trees, shrubs and bulbs — from 83 native species, according to project leader and ecologist Avisar, who heads the center’s research and policy unit. Open Landscape Institute (known in Hebrew as Deshe Institute) at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University.
Gaps will be opened in the fences.
In about a year, when the habitat has stabilized, plants that are in danger of extinction will be added.
The farmers involved have pledged to maintain the margins of the rehabilitated fields.
Avissar explained that while maps of ecological corridors – which connect wildlife to protected natural areas – often include farmland as open space, the reality is that farmland is usually unwelcome.
Hazards range from tilling the soil and using chemicals to being run over by tractors, crushed by other heavy equipment, or not being able to find the right food.
“The butterfly advances in line with its food. If there is no proper food in the field, it will not go there,” she said. “Some parasitic wasps (important for consuming aphids and other agricultural pests) enter the orchards” (a state of dormancy, It’s like hibernation.) “During this period, they need a quiet place to go.”
Many little creatures are progressing slowly, Avisar said. They may need a few days to get past a field, with breaks in between. For other creatures, such as lizards, rodents, and some arthropods, an ecological corridor has been crossed over many generations.
Predatory insects that eat pests on agricultural produce or help with pollination also need to be able to move around safely and find food along the way, Avisar added.
The Institute has cooperated with many partners – The Millwberry The Fruit Packing and Marketing Cooperative, the Western Galilee Drainage Authority, and the Western Galilee Environment Society, representing 17 local authorities.
The project is funded by a 300,000 shekel ($87,000) grant from the Open Space Protection Fund, which was established in 2009 by the Israel Land Authority.
The Israel Lands Administration allocates 1% of its proceeds to the fund, which has been allocated 300 million shekels ($87 million) this year.
But as Avissar said at a conference on Wednesday organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature, with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the fund does not support research.
It is essential to be able to assess the impact of the corridor over time on nature and agricultural productivity, she said. She is currently trying to find research funds elsewhere.
“We will want to encourage more farmers to do this in the future, but what should we show them?” She said.
Sagit Haim, Milopri’s director of quality assurance, said the company has been working with Avisar for several years on environmental projects. This included the creation of a seasonal winter pond on Kibbutz Shomrat, as well as protected “refuge gardens” for endangered plants that had disappeared from the vicinity due to intensive cultivation.
Mellobury, which packs and markets the produce on behalf of 25 kibbutzim, three cooperative villages and 37 private farmers, exports three-quarters of its avocados, mainly to Europe.
There, environmental and social welfare standards for farmers were constantly evolving.
She said Millwberry has worked with farmers for years on practices such as proper waste disposal, efficient use of water, most treated wastewater, and the safe and minimal use of chemical pesticides and herbicides.
“In addition to meeting standards, we want to encourage biodiversity that ensures the insects needed to pollinate avocados,” she added.