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An Israeli New Year
by Trudie Lazarus

This year was for me tu b'shvat (Hebrew Calendar New Year forTrees) with a difference. We planted trees at the Bird Sanctuary in Eilat. This town is at the southern end of the Syrio-African rift valley and it is through this that millions of birds migrate from Europe and Asia to Attica, and where they stop to fuel up for their ongoing journeys. The natural feeding and resting habitat for these migrants has for millions of years been the Eilat soft marsh. Unfortunately, the rate of human development in this area is destroying their sanctuary The marsh used to be quite extensive and in 1955 was approximately 5km x 4km. Owing to development and exploitation for human purposes (agriculture, salt industry, tourist recreations), by 1986 it had shrunk to about 1.5km x 100m. All that remains today is a small patch of 800m x 50m.

Even this patch is being fought over. The hotel industry wants to build on it; the recreation firms want to convert it into an ATV / motorcycle racetrack; the neighbouring kibbutz wants to plant more date palms; the fishers want to build fishponds; and the Israel Birdwatching Centre of Eilat (TBCE) want to declare it a National Heritage site.

BCE was initiated by a young and energetic biology lecturer, Dr Reuven Yoset, who approached the local council about the matter, He was granted a tract of land which nobody wanted - the local rubbish dump (indeed, one finds interesting old objects there). BCE initiated the recycling of the rubbish pile (60 hectares in area) to fly to compensate the birds as much as possible in lieu of the areas lost to human development.

With the aid of volunteers, Dr Reuven cleared the area and persuaded the builders to dump their unwanted topsoil there instead of miles to the north. He then collected seeds from the indigenous plants and raised bird-friendly flora. The area has a lake and is beginning to look quite green. Birds are counted and ringing is carried out - one English volunteer picked up a bird which he had ringed himself in Kent! Research takes place; mutilated birds from Chernobyl have been seen. The tree-planting ceremony in tu b'shvat formed part of this excellent project.

Dr Reuven also does occasional jeep safaris into the Negev, covering all aspects of the area. These are unforgettable and over and above his regular work - I wonder if his family ever see him!

For further information, write to BCE at P0 Box 774, Eilat 88106, ISRAEL (Tel 9721 374276, Fax 972 7 367002).

First published in VISA issue 18 (autumn 1995)