An elongate, narrow depression, about 50 km long, with an average width of 8 km, oriented from south-east to north-west and situated west of the Nile delta, c.90 km south of the Mediterranean. It contains a series of nine small lakes (total area over 200 km²), scattered along its general axis. The water in the lakes originates from two main sources: from seepage and from springs in the bottoms of some lakes. As the depression is hydrostatically linked with the delta, lateral seepage is generally from the north-east, resulting in the creation of wet saltmarshes on the north-eastern shores of the lakes while, in contrast, the southern and western shores are distinctly barren. Water in the lakes is hyper-saline, fluctuating seasonally according to the depth of the water-table. Typha swamps occur at localities along the shores of the lakes where there is a plentiful freshwater supply. Juncus and Cyperus dominate the wet saltmarshes on the waterlogged eastern shores. The latter species carpets most of the marsh areas in a dense cover that does not exceed a few centimetres height because of severe grazing pressure. This, however, creates one of the most characteristic and attractive habitats for waterbirds in Wadi El Natrun. Mudflats and salt-encrusted sabkhas fringe parts of the lake’s shores.
See Box for key species. Wadi El Natrun is of modest importance for waterbirds. In winter 1989/90 a total of c.7,700 waterbirds was counted. Wadi El Natrun is known to hold some of the largest winter concentrations in Egypt of Tadorna tadorna, Gallinago gallinago, Numenius arquata, Calidris minuta and Charadrius alexandrinus. However, with the exception of the latter, none are known to occur in internationally significant numbers. The area is also of moderate importance for migrant waterbirds; in spring 1990 a total of c.7,800 waders was counted (including some resident species). The area might be more important for staging migrants during autumn. Grus grus is known to pass through and rest in significant numbers during spring and autumn. Some 12 species of waterbirds are known or expected to breed in Wadi El Natrun, including the largest breeding population of Charadrius pecuarius known in Egypt. Marmaronetta angustirostris previously bred in Wadi El Natrun, at least until 1912. There is no recent indication of breeding. The last observation of the species in Wadi El Natrun was in 1986 and it is unlikely that it will breed again unless disturbance and hunting pressure are curbed.
Non-bird biodiversity: Flora: Typha elephantina, one of the prominent components of marsh flora in Wadi Natrun, is known nowhere else in Egypt. After being considered extinct in Egypt, Papyrus Cyperus papyrus was rediscovered in Wadi El Natrun at Lake Um Risha in 1971, where the only remaining wild stand in the country is reported. Reptiles: this is the only known locality where the rare Philochortus zolli is found in Egypt. Mammals: Gazella leptoceros (EN) has occurred in the desert habitats of Wadi El Natrun, but has become extirpated from the region during the past three decades. The apparently rare endemic shrew, Crocidura floweri (EN), was last recorded from Wadi El Natrun.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Land-claim and fish-farming are taking place in and around the lakes, transforming the wetlands. Rapidly expanding, groundwater-dependent agricultural projects, in and around Wadi El Natrun, are threatening to lower the water-table significantly. These will (if uncontrolled) eventually dry up the lakes of Wadi El Natrun. Increased grazing pressure and reed-cutting (for various domestic uses) are threatening the remaining reed-swamps with extermination. The growing population, along with an increase in tourism and industrial development, is leading to greater urbanization, pollution, disturbance and hunting pressure.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Wadi El Natrun. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 09/02/2023.