En Afek Nature Reserve

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The En Afek Nature Reserve preserves swampland and waterway sources the majority of which have been lost in Israel.  Along the swamp pathway in the Reserve, visitors "float" over a swamp surrounded by rich riverbank vegetation and colorful water birds.

From the top of the ancient flour mill they can see views of the Akko valley, and in the Garden Shelter they can get an impression of rare plants from the coastal plain.

 

Major Centers of Interest

 

  • The Swamp Pathway - a walkway built on a bridge over the swamp
  • The Ancient Flour Mill - an impressive two-storey structure, with foundations that were built in the Roman period, the majority of its remains being from the Crusader period
  • Exhibit and Short Movie - a permanent display of traditional agricultural tools, a short movie on the En Afek Nature Reserve and changing art exhibitions
  • Tel Afek - an archaeological Tel in the southern part of the Nature Reserve, containing remains of settlements from many periods.
  • A Garden Shelter for Endangered Plants - a garden for the cultivation of endangered plants.  The plants were brought to this place from areas about to be developed along Nahal Na'aman, and were planted here in beds simulating natural habitats. 

 

 

Major Centers of Interest:

 

  • The Swamp Pathway - an exciting walkway giving visitors a chance to "walk on the water" and to enjoy the appearance of the swamp from the water birds' point of view
  • The Ancient Flour Mill - flour mills have been in existence along Nahal Na'aman since the early Muslim period (8th century CE).  A large dam, 625 m. long, blocked the stream, creating a lake behind it.  The waters of the lake were directed by a channel to the water wheel that operated the mill stones.

    After the Crusaders conquered Haifa and Akko (1104 CE), the region became a center for the cultivation of cereals and sugar cane.  The Crusaders fortified the structure of the flour mill and built a fort which protected the site.  Parts of the impressive two-storey structure were built in the Roman period, and significant parts, mainly on the ground floor, are from the Crusader period.  The flour mill was built as a fortified structure in the format of flour mills that were common in Europe in the Middle Ages.  The structure is almost square, built of large stones with diagonal chiseling cuts typical of the Crusaders. Some of the stones have chiseler's marks cut into them.
  • The structure was renovated in the Ottoman period (18th century), during the time of Dahar al-Amar and Ahmed al-Jezzar.  The mill also provided flour for Napoleon's army when he besieged Akko in 1799.   At the end of the Ottoman period, the mill and the surrounding areas were the property of the Sursuk family, who were living in Beirut, and the building was rented to people from Shfar'am.  The defense position on the roof is made of concrete and was built in 1936.
  • Exhibit and Short Movie - there is a permanent exhibit of traditional agricultural tools in the flour mill.  Visitors are invited to view the movie, which follows a drop of water on its journey around the Nature Reserve.  From time to time, different art exhibitions are shown in the flour mill.
  • Tel Afek - an archaeological Tel at the southern part of the Nature Reserve.  Archeological digs exposed remains of human settlement from the Canaanite, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
  • A Garden Shelter for Endangered Plants - a garden where endangered plants are cultivated.  The plants were moved here from areas about to be developed along Nahal Na'aman and were planted in beds simulating natural habitats. 

Observations Points

  • Roof of the Flour Mill - a spectacular view of the Akko Valley, the Sulam Range and the Upper Galilee Mountains, Alonim Hills, the Carmel and the Krayot
  • Observation Point above the Northern Pool - a view of the expanse of the Reserve
  • Top of Tel Afek - a view towards the Akko Valley

Identity card

Status: declared a Nature Reserve in 1979

Reasons for declaration:

  • To preserve the springs and wet habitats of the sources of Nahal Na'aman
  • To preserve the rare species of plants and animals typical of wet habitats
  • To protect the archaeological Tel and the flour mill from the Crusader period

 

Location in Israel: The En Afek Nature Reserve is located in the Akko valley, close to Kiryat Biyalik. 

Activities of​ the Nature and Parks Authority

 

  • Preservation of the Flour Mill - the Nature and Parks Authority has renforced the structure of the flour mill and has made it suitable for visits by the public.  The central space of the structure has become a meeting hall, and a spectacular view can be obtained from the roof of the mill.
  • Garden Shelter for Endangered Plants - the Nature and Parks Authority has created a special garden in the En Afek Nature Reserve for endangered species of plants growing along Nahal Na'aman.  Plants were brought here from regions that were about to be developed, and were planted in beds simulating natural habitats, among them salt marsh, shoreline sandy depressions, wet habitat and Kurkar.  
  • Rehabilitation of the Population of the Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea caerulea) - En Afek constitutes the worldwide northern distribution boundary of the blue water lily, a water plant of the Nymphaeaceae family, which originated from tropical Africa.  The blue water lily or blue lotus has an upright stem, a root embedded in the soil, broad leaves floating on the water and large light-blue flowers, sometimes reaching 17 cm in diameter.   Due to the disappearance and pollution of the majority of the wet habitats in Israel, the Blue Water Liliy is an endangered plant.  In the past it covered extensive areas on the En Afek swamp, but its population has been so reduced that only three specimens remained in the reserve and they were in poor condition.  Reserve personnel moved roots from the remaining plants to specially-built plant propagation pools.  Seeds were also sprouted from one of the plants.  The many plants that developed were returned to the En Afek Nature Reserve and to botanical gardens around the country, to provide "back-ups" for the plants in the wild.
  • Dealing with Invasive Plants - the proximity of the En Afek Nature Reserve to towns and villages, infrastructure facilities and agricultural fields leads to the penetration of various invasive plants.  If nothing is done about this, these plants could push the wild species out of the Nature Reserve and even lead to the extinction of rare plants.  Among the invasive plants are species such as the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), the chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach), holy bramble (rubus sanctus), Syrian mesquite (Prosopis farcta), the tamarisk tree (tamarix), the common reed (Phragmites australis) and water lettuce (pistia stratiotis).  The Nature Reserve personnel work hard to prevent these species from taking over the Reserve.  This includes, among others, uprooting the invasive plants and soil replacement to prevent their renewal, creating slopes, levels and flow regions which disturb the invasive plants, and planting wild flowers to encourage the rehabilitation of their populations.
  • Bats' Dwelling Boxes - dwelling boxes were hung on a number of trees in the reserve for insectivorous bats, which are also endangered.  These bats usually sleep in the hollows of ancient trees during the day, and the boxes are intended to replace these places of repose.  
  • Barn Owls' Nesting Boxes - the barn owl is a nocturnal raptor common in places of human habitation and agricultural areas.  The bird specializes in preying on small mammals, mainly rodents, thus constituting a "biological rodent eradicator" in cultivated fields.  The location of barn owls in the area reduces the need for chemical pesticides.  Barn owls nest in wells, caves, abandoned structures and eaves of houses.   The lack of nesting places limits the barn-owls' reproduction, and therefore nesting boxes were placed in the En Afek Nature Reserve to serve as substitutes for natural nesting places.
  • Restoring the Yarkon Bream to the Nature Reserve - the Yarkon Bream (Acanthobrama telavivensis) is a fish endemic to the streams of Israel's coastal plain, which became almost extinct in the severe drought of the winter of 1999 that caused Israel's waterways to dry up.   The last population of the fish that remained in the wild was taken from the Yarkon and raised in aquaria at the Tel Aviv University.  As soon as the natural water reservoirs recovered the fish were restored to the Yarkon National Park, the En Afek Nature Reserve and the En Tut Nature Reserve.  In the En Afek Nature Reserve a special breeding pool was prepared for the fish, with egg laying beds enabling the fish to reproduce.  A survey conducted in the summer of 2010 found a stable population of the Yarkon Bream in the En Afek Nature Reserve and in En Nimfit.
  • Ornithology Center - the Center offers a broad range of activities, such as tours of the region, meetings with an ornithology researcher, ringing activities, "biotopes" instruction, bird watching groups, a ringing course, lectures and photography tours in the wild.
  • Education and Explanation Activities - in the En Afek Nature Reserve there is a center for education and explanation that provides instruction services in Hebrew and Arabic for kindergarten children, schoolchildren, students in higher education institutions, teachers, teachers in the informal education system and for organized groups.  The instruction center also engages in "biotopes" instruction (biology research work) for high school students in the region.
  • Activity to Prevent the Nature Reserve from Drying Up - after a few years of drought, which peaked in 1991, the flow in the springs declined and the Nature Reserve almost entirely dried up.  Consequently, the ecosystem in the Reserve was severely damaged.  From that year onwards, the Nature and Parks Authority decided to intervene in the management of water resources in the Reserve and developed means of improving them.  Operations performed in this field were to dam the water in the main channel, to dig wells and allow their waters to flow into the Reserve, to improve the flow system in the Reserve and to deepen springs and pools.  These activities were designed to prevent the water sources from drying up in the future.  Every week the water bodies in the Reserve are monitored, water levels and flow from springs are measured and water quality is checked.
  • Declaring the Reserve a Ramsar Site - the Ramsar International Treaty engages in the conservation of wetlands all over the world.  The State of Israel signed the treaty in 1997, and it is obligated to preserve the wetlands within its boundaries that have been declared Ramsar Sites.   Israel presently has two such sites - the Hula Nature Reserve and the En Afek Nature Reserve.

Fauna

Water Fauna:

The springs, swamp and pools in the Reserve sustain a rich world of fauna.  Many species of insects and arthropods, among them aquatic beetles and bugs, live out their entire life-cycle in the water.  Alongside them there are insects which require the water only at the larval stage, among them dragonflies, damselflies and various mosquitoes.

There are also many species of molluscs, among them Melanopsis praemorsa - (a black aquatic snail).  Its black shell, attached to stones, rocks and water plants, is easily identifiable.  This snail, like other snails, feeds on parts of plants which it scratches off with the help of a special organ in its mouth.

In the waters of the Reserve live a number of species of arthropods, among them the kfitzon, the turbot (Psetta maxima) and the freshwater crab (Potamon potamios).  This 7.5 cm. long crab has thick pincers, and it even dares to climb out of the water on to land.  It preys on small creatures as well as on dead animals.

In the pools there are fish, such as the Yarkon Bream, whose population was restored to the Reserve, Tilapia zillii, a type of cichlid, the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), the western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) and the catfish (Clarias gariepinus). The catfish is a large fish, sometimes attaining 1.5 meters in length and weighing 30 kgs.  It is known for its eight "whiskers" growing at the sides of its mouth, used for sensing through touch. The catfish is especially robust.  Its respiratory system enables it to absorb free oxygen, and therefore it can live in turbid, oxygen-poor water, and even to survive quite long periods in a muddy environment.

The fish in the Reserve share their watery habitat with reptiles - the Caspian turtle (Mauremys caspica), the Nile softshell turtle (Trionyx triunguis), both excellent swimmers.  On sunny days, the 25-cm long Caspian turtle likes to warm itself on the banks of the pools and on stones, quickly slipping into the water at the slightest rustle.  The Nile softshell turtle is a large animal, with a body-length of up to 120 cm, and weight 50 kgs.

Many species of birds can be seen in the pools of the Reserve and on their banks, mainly in winter, among them glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus), pygmy cormorants (Microcarbo pygmeus), white storks (Ciconia ciconia), various species of ducks, spur-winged lapwing (Vanellus spinosus) and little egrets (Egretta garzetta).   Hovering in the sky above the Reserve are black kites (Milvus migrans) and greater spotted eagles (Clanga clanga).  In the thickets on the banks of the waterways there are many songbirds, such as black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), graceful Prinias (Prinia gracilis), common bulbuls (Pycnonotus barbatus) and Palestine sunbirds (Cinnyris osea).

Mammals sharing the water are river rats (Myocastor coypus).

Land Fauna:

During the day, the common mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) is active in the Reserve, and the swamp lynx (Felis chaus) and jackals go hunting at sundown.  Other animals active here are wild boar and porcupines, who dig in the soil searching for bulbs and roots to eat.

The buffalo (Arabic: Jamuss), a member of the bovine family, in the past served the inhabitants of the region as a beast of burden, and was also the source of milk and meat.  The buffalo must keep its body cool so it loves to wallow in mud and water.  The buffalo were brought to the En Afek Reserve from the Hula Reserve, because they feed on large quantities of vegetation and help to create low meadow land. 

 

Flora


Water is not a uniform habitat. The composition of the vegetation in it depends on many factors, such as salinity, clarity, quantity of oxygen in the water, force of the current, composition of minerals and other factors.  In addition, the further away one gets from the source of the water the composition of the vegetation changes, until he water's sphere of influence is left behind.

In the pools and channels of the En Afek Nature Reserve there are plants whose entire body is immersed in water, such as the longleaf pondweed (Potamogetom nodosus) and the blue water lily (Nymphaea caerulea).  The, southern cattail (Typha domingensis) with its long-leaved stems grows in the flooded areas.  Fools' watercress (Apium nodiflorum) and watercress (Nasturtium officinale) grow mainly in shallow water.  The leaves of these plants have a typical aroma.  On the banks of the pools grows the scaly-leaved Nile tamarisk (Tamarix nilotica).  These trees are resistant to the salinity in the soil.  Also widespread are common reeds (Phragmites australis) and thorny hurdles of the "holy bramble" (rubus sanctus) Akkompanied by the great willow-herb (Epilobium hirsutum), the purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and the stranglevine (Cynanchum acutum), a climbing plant whose stems produce a milky secretion when cut or broken.

On the swampy areas the sharp rush (juncus acutus), a perennial bush with cylindrical leaves and stems with pointed nail-like ends, is very widespread.  The stems of the sharp rush are used to weave mats and baskets.

History and Archaeology



Tel Afek:

The area of the Tel is about 70 dunams and it lies at the top of a low hill, at the bottom of which passes the international high-road that connected the ports along the coastal plain.  The ancient inhabitants of Tel Afek benefited from an abundance of water and fertile soil.

Studies conducted on the Tel discovered evidence of a settlement that existed there already in the early Canaanite period (about 5,000 years ago).  A row of unhewn stones uncovered here are apparently the remains of the ancient wall of the town from that period.   One of the sources of livelihood of the ancient inhabitants was making purple dye from marine snails.  Another industry was glass made from sea sand.

A rescue excavation conducted on the eastern side of the Tel uncovered graves containing tools from the middle Canaanite period (16th-19th centuries BC).  The remains of a paved road from the Hellenistic and Roman periods (4th century BC to 4th century CE), leading from Akko to Tel Geva (near Kibbutz Sha'ar Ha'Amakim) and to Megiddo, were also found there, as well as a temple and a governor's house from the time of the Egyptian rule in the region. 

The name "Afek" existed already in the Canaanite periods, and it appears to have been connected with the term "Afik" (channel or river-bed in Hebrew).  This is a true description of the town's proximity to Nahal Na'aman.  The name appears for the first time in Egyptian documents of the 18th-19th centuries BC.  The town of Afek is also mentioned in the description of a military campaign led by Pharaoh Thutmose III in the 18th-19th centuries BC, which gives the names of the 132 Canaanite towns he conquered.

In the Bible, the town of Afek is a Canaanite town belonging to the tribe of Asher which was not conquered (Joshua 19:30, Judges 1:31).  In the time of the Kings, the region was included in the "Land of Cabul" - an area given by King Solomon to Hiram King of Tyre in exchange for the cedars he received to build the Temple (Kings I, 10:19).

In the 2nd-3rd centuries CE the town was also called Beit Paga (Paga in Greek = springs).  The Crusaders called the place "Curdana" or "Racurdani", which is the source of the town's name in Arabic - Kurdani.

 

The Crusaders Period

In the period of the Crusades (12th-13th centuries CE) Akko was the most important port city of the Galilee Principality.

The importance of Akko increased further at the end of the period when the Crusader Kingdom was reduced to the coastal plain, with Akko as its capital.

The waters of the springs and the agricultural areas around Akko were an incessant source of disputes between the Order of Hospitallers, centered in Akko, and the Knights Templar, who were headquartered in the Montfort castle.

Both orders had flour mills on Nahal Na'aman.   The Templar mill was in the large structure still standing in the Nature Reserve (Da'uch Mill) and the Hospitaller mill (Racurdana) stood about 370 meters up stream.  Between the two mills lay a pool created by the dam built by the Templars.

The knights of both orders did their best to annoy each other.  When the water in the pool rose above a certain level, the Hospitaller mill was flooded.  In response, the Hospitallers released the water from their dam and flooded the Templar facility.  The echoes of the dispute even reached the Pope in Rome, and eventually an agreement was signed that brought peace between them.

The Hospitaller mill and the fortress they built at the top of Tel Afek in order to protect it fell into decay, and the existence of the flour mill was lost for many years.   Only in 1999 were the ruins of the mill discovered in the swamps in the area of the spring.   It is interesting that it is this mill that left its mark in the Arab name of the place - Kurdani - which is preserved to this day.

 

Branko Zitzer, Fish Pond Pioneer:

There is so much water in the Afek springs that they became the basis for pioneering experiments in fish agriculture in Israel.  The very first to be active in this sphere was Branko Zitzer.  He immigrated to Palestine from Hungary at the end of the 1920s, and in 1930 he leased with a friend an area of 90 dunams at the edge of the Kurdani swamps and dug ponds there to raise fish.  This bold attempt failed.  The carp which Zitzer brought in from Yugoslavia were swept into the swamp and were devoured by eels living in the waters of the swamp.  Despite the setbacks, the adventurous Zitzer continued to engage in commercial breeding of table fish up to his death in 1945.

Zitzer had a reputation as an adventurer in no small measure due to his open sports car, which he drove around at the dizzying speed of 30 kph.   One of the pools in the Afek Nature Reserve is named after him. 

Hydrology


The source of the water in the Nature Reserve is the Afek springs that are fed by the Na'aman aquifer.  The drainage basin of the stream is spread over 317 sq.kms, and on its way to the Mediterranean Sea it flows along 9 kms.   The waters of the springs drain into Nahal Na'aman through a network of channels - all that remains of the Mandate swamp draining operation.  In the past there were dozens of springs in the area of the Reserve, their total annual capacity being about 50 million cu.m. of water.  Since 1960 the waters of the Na'aman aquifer have been pumped out for domestic and agricultural consumption.  Sometimes the extraction is greater than the aquifer's capability of replenishing itself from rainwater, which consequently reduces the underground water level, and it even dries up completely in extreme cases.

When the Reserve dries out the plants and animals whose existence depends on water are brought to the brink of extinction.  In order to prevent this, the Parks and Nature Authority has deepened the pools and other water bodies down to the underground water level. In the event of extreme dryness, water is allowed to flow in from a well dug nearby, which substitutes for the water from the springs.

How to get there:

Turn right at En Afek (Kurdani) Junction on Road 4 to the Tel road (Road 7911 in Kiryat Biyalik).  After about 1.5 kms you will reach the gate of the Nature Reserve.

Length of walk: One-two hours.

 

Recommended season: All year round.

 

Insist on: Observing the view from the top of the flour mill.

Audio-visual display

 

What else is there? Cafeteria, display, guide center, picnic tables, partial accessibility for wheelchairs, agricultural tools exhibit, and occasional art exhibits.

Opening Hours

Entrance into the Reserve is closed one hour before the times given below:

Summer Time:

Sundays thru Thursdays and Shabbat:           8:00 - 17:00

Fridays and eves of religious festivals:           8:00 - 16:00

 

Standard Time (Winter):

Sundays thru Thursdays and Shabbat:           8:00 - 16:00

Fridays and eves of religious festivals:           8:00 - 15:00

 

On the eves of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pesach:  8:00 - 13:00

Communication

 Telephone: 04-8778226

Fax: 04-8774052

Entrance Fees

Single: Adult:  NIS 22;  Child:  NIS 9

Group (over 30 persons): Adult: NIS 19;  Child:  NIS 8

Prohibitions:

Dogs are not allowed in the Reserve

Barbeques may not be used in the Reserve

Further information

Click here for site pamphlet


    Content under construction, the information apears soon.

     In the En Afek Nature Reserve adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include:​

    • Trails
    • observation points
    • restroom
    • classroom and assistance for children with disabilities including computers for the visually impaired.

    32.847355,35.112112