Strengthening the ecological and socio-economic resilience of West Bekaa and Mount Lebanon Landscape

West Bekaa spans 470 square kilometers, stretching from the highlands of the Shouf Mountain in the west down to the Bekaa plain, and then up again to the Anti-Lebanon mountain range.

The himas of West Bekaa, namely Kherbet Kanafar, Ain Zebdeh and Aitanit, are located on the eastern slopes of the Shouf Mountain, overlooking the valley. They are situated under the main migration flyway for soaring and water birds, a bottleneck in the middle of the Shouf Biosphere Cedar Reserve, Ammiq wetlands and Qaraoun Lake at the narrowest Lebanese territory between Mount Hermon and Mount Lebanon. This area is a resting and breeding site for a large number of threatened and endangered birds (including the Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Syrian Woodpecker), mammals (such as wolves, hyenas, porcupines, squirrels, badgers, lynxes and wild cats) and flora (mainly oak and pine , and medicinal and edible endemic plants), and is identified as a top priority site for conservation.

Photo: Harrier on the Hunt over Mountains by Mohamed Haimour

Strengthening the ecological and socio-economic resilience of West Bekaa and Mount Lebanon Landscape

West Bekaa spans 470 square kilometers, stretching from the highlands of the Shouf Mountain in the west down to the Bekaa plain, and then up again to the Anti-Lebanon mountain range.

The himas of West Bekaa, namely Kherbet Kanafar, Ain Zebdeh and Aitanit, are located on the eastern slopes of the Shouf Mountain, overlooking the valley. They are situated under the main migration flyway for soaring and water birds, a bottleneck in the middle of the Shouf Biosphere Cedar Reserve, Ammiq wetlands and Qaraoun Lake at the narrowest Lebanese territory between Mount Hermon and Mount Lebanon. This area is a resting and breeding site for a large number of threatened and endangered birds (including the Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Syrian Woodpecker), mammals (such as wolves, hyenas, porcupines, squirrels, badgers, lynxes and wild cats) and flora (mainly oak and pine , and medicinal and edible endemic plants), and is identified as a top priority site for conservation.

Photo: Harrier on the Hunt by Mohamed Haimour

Map of Lebanon with Hima & IBA Sites Location | West Bekaa & Mount Lebanon Cultural Landscapes

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Building on earlier work with the himas of West Bekaa, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) is now expanding its work to four hima sites in Mount Lebanon – Kayfoun, Kfarmatta, Hammana and Ras El Matn – as part of the project that focuses on sustainable management of cultural practices to ensure direct benefits to significant species and associated habitats, and help maintain healthy and biologically-diverse agro-silvo-pastoral systems. 

Hammana and Ras El Matn are situated in the upper reaches of Beirut River Valley, which was designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in 2009 by BirdLife International. Carved by the Beirut river, this deep river valley extends 20km eastwards from the outskirts of Beirut on the western slopes of the Mount Lebanon range. It consists of valleys and large watersheds with many habitat types, such as lower, middle, and montane forests of evergreen oak, mixed pine-oak, and conifers, seasonal streams and perennial rivers, riparian galleries, stony cliffs, and small caves. This Important Plant Area (IPA) supports a huge diversity of plants, particularly woodland species, and includes around 550 wild plant species, including nearly 100 endemic species to the region (mainly Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine). Six of these are endemic to Lebanon, including the Malodorous Alkanet (Alkanna maleolens), Sofar Iris (Iris sofarana) as well as the Ehrenberg’s Marjoram (Oregano ehrenbergi).

At the upper boundary of the Beirut River Valley is the Higher Metn region. Stretching across several municipalities, this region is the most important bottleneck for migratory soaring birds during the autumn migration season in Lebanon. However, to date, there is no fully-covered formal protection for this region.

Rorestation activities in Hima Hammana | West Bekaa & Mount Lebanon Cultural Landscapes

Reforestation activities in Hima Hammana

All photos by SPNL

This project aims to

generate knowledge to understand the link between cultural practices, biodiversity and human/socioeconomic well being through developing an ecosystem services assessment and economic valuation of the identified ecosystem services in pilot sites, where all provisioning, supporting, regulatory and cultural services will be assessed.

support economic diversification and livelihoods of the local communities by promoting alternative job opportunities, addressing capacities, and promoting high-quality traditional products associated with the different cultural practices, with focus on branding and marketing under Souk Al Hima programme. 

Participatory governance icon | Sustaining Mediterranean cultural practices

focus on the Hima communal governance system for the management of land and natural resources and adapting the traditional concept of Hima to the actual context in pilot areas of the Western Bekaa and Mount Lebanon, addressing gaps and capacities.

address the capacities and knowledge needed to optimise practical conditions to manage and restore the landscape and its associated cultural practices, including sustainable management practices, mountain pastures restoration, dry-stone wall agricultural terraces restoration in pilot areas, and sustainable harvesting of wild plants.

expand and scale up the application of sustainable cultural and management practices in the wider landscape and in new Hima sites in Mount Lebanon along with the dissemination of knowledge, awareness, capacity building, and education for the wider Lebanese community.

Insects Monitoring Training © SPNL | West Bekaa & Mount Lebanon Cultural Landscapes

Insects monitoring training

Landscape Character Assessment Training at the Hima Center- Kayfoun | West Bekaa & Mount Lebanon Cultural Landscapes

Landscape Character Assessment Training at the Hima Center, Kayfoun

Discussion with farmers in Hima Ain Zebdeh, West Bekaa | West Bekaa & Mount Lebanon Cultural Landscapes

Discussion with farmers in Hima Ain Zebdeh, West Bekaa

Adopting the Hima Revival Approach

Hima is a traditional communal governance system used to sustainably manage natural resources in a way that realises common benefits for people and nature. The word hima is an Arabic word meaning “a protected area”. It was established over 1,500 years ago within the Arabian Peninsula and later evolved by integrating new social norms and values, mainly or especially those of the Islamic culture.

In 2004, SPNL adopted the Hima Revival approach to promote the conservation of Important Bird Areas, through the sustainable use of natural resources, while empowering local communities and indigenous knowledge, culture and heritage. A total of 25 Himas, representing 6% of the Lebanese territory, have been established in collaboration with local authorities. SPNL has been promoting the approach across the region and beyond, receiving national and global recognition.

Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon | Alliance for Mediterranean Nature & Culture (AMNC)
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