March saw the release of new studies by the European Commission on the important topic of Green Infrastructure. This new material adds to the growing knowledge-base about Green Infrastructure and provides useful contributions for the preparations underway towards a Commission Green Paper on Green Infrastructure, proposed for later this year.
LIFE is acknowledged in the European Commission’s new Green Infrastructure studies which include reference to how LIFE has, “already made a significant contribution to protecting Europe’s biodiversity thought investments in Green Infrastructure, mainly on a local or regional level”; and that, “Further work is now needed to assess the substantial knowledge acquired through LIFE-funded projects.”
These comments were made in connection with the experiences of LIFE projects supporting the multifunctional potential of Green Infrastructure. A range of inter-related benefits are attributed to LIFE in this realm such as: protecting ecosystem functionality; conserving biodiversity; maintaining ecosystem services; promoting societal well-being and health; as well as supporting the growth of green economies and sustainable management of land and water resources.
Ecosystem elements such as habitat ‘corridors’ or ‘stepping stones’ facilitate wildlife mobility and allowing feeding, breeding and rearing of offspring. Breakdowns in the functionality of such ecosystem features can lead to a vicious circle of environmental decline with catastrophic consequences for the species that rely on an ecosystem for their survival. LIFE’s Nature and Biodiversity components have been at the forefront of European efforts to ensure that essential ecosystem features remain capable of functioning properly. Many cases of LIFE support have helped create improvements in these types of Green Infrastructure features.
Spain’s LIFE98NAT/E/005358 and LIFE95NAT/E/00856 are two such examples which show what can be achieved by investing resources into re-connecting fragmented plant populations through networks of small botanical reserves. Other projects like Portugal’s LIFE06 NAT/P/000191 (improving the connectivity of habitat features for Iberian Lynx) highlight the positive effects on species recovery programmes from funding work to strengthen ecosystem functionality. LIFE’s Information component is also involved in this process through projects such as LIFE08 INF/D/000032 which is promoting a forest corridor network across Germany using wild cats as a ‘flagship species’.
Looking after our wildlife makes sense for many different reasons and Green Infrastructure approaches to environmental management prioritise the conservation of EU species. LIFE’s portfolio of associated support actions in this domain is impressive and EU co-finance for Member States’ LIFE projects has been, and continues to be, used for a wide variety of different biodiversity conservation actions with relevance to Green Infrastructure stakeholders.
Greece’s LIFE09 NAT/GR/000323 for instance holds interesting demonstration value for its ongoing work in implementing a Biodiversity Action Planning methodology within a confined island territory on Skyros in the Aegean Sea. Slovakia’s LIFE07 NAT/SK/000707 is also making important EU Green Infrastructure investments, through its habitat support for endangered bird species along the River Danube’s Inland Delta. Similarly focused on rare birds, LIFE05 NAT/PL/000101 provides a useful model for Polish, German and other wildlife conservation bodies involved in helping Green Infrastructure to play biodiversity protection roles.
Strong Green Infrastructures possess vital capacities for providing us with crucial ecosystem services, like carbon sequestration to mitigate adverse climate change effects, or healthy soils to supply us with safe, good quality food. LIFE has shown what can be achieved in practice in this field when people from around the EU concentrate their attention on actions to strengthen Green Infrastructure in support of ecosystem services.
Boosting the potential of bog habitats to fix carbon and tackle global warming threats is one of the areas where LIFE has developed a considerable amount of know-how. Projects such as Belgium’s LIFE05 NAT/B/000087 established an effective integrated approach to improving bog-based Green Infrastructure in Wallonia whilst Ireland’s LIFE09 NAT/IE/000222 is currently developing best practice techniques for restoring the multiple ecosystem services that are possible from raised bog habitats.
Agriculture remains a key player in both of these projects, as it is likewise in many other Green Infrastructure initiatives that can be found in the LIFE project database linked to farming ecosystems. Sweden’s LIFE00NAT/S/007117 is characteristic of such projects. It typifies the progress that LIFE has taken forward in showing how farmers can reinforce their position as the guardians of much of our Green Infrastructure. Particularly interesting aspects of this project relate to its application of systems for improving ‘landscape permeability’ in farmland on Öland.
Healthy Green Infrastructures equate with healthy environments which in turn have positive impacts on our quality of life. LIFE activities promoting these sorts of socio-economic benefits from Green Infrastructure support are often channelled through LIFE’s Environment component. Evidence of the outcomes possible from programme interventions here can be seen in various projects, including the UK’s LIFE 99 ENV/UK/000177.
Land use planning methods were developed by this innovative project in order to help society gain from Green Infrastructure opportunities offered through ‘green generators’ like quarries, derelict land or landfill sites. Spain’s LIFE02 ENV/E/000415 is another example of how LIFE co-finance can be used to test and establish new territorial planning techniques that underscore the multifunctional potential of healthy Green Infrastructures.
Business benefits also correlate strongly with the state of our Green Infrastructure and the Commission’s forthcoming Green Paper on Green Infrastructure is expected to emphasise the importance of Green Infrastructure to the EU’s high level Europe 2020 strategy for growth.
A great many LIFE projects involve goals associated with demonstrating sustainable uses of Green Infrastructure for economic purposes. These can be designed to help better harmonise economic uses of Green Infrastructure, as occurred in France’s LIFE03 ENV/F/000260 which won a Best of LIFE Environment award for its successful eco-tourism work. A significant number of LIFE projects have also had considerable successes in showing the economic benefits that can be achieved from managing Green Infrastructure land for conservation purposes in the Natura 2000 network. Estonia’s LIFE02 NAT/EE/008559 is a case in point and its results helped to raise awareness among land managers about green income sources from agri-environment scheme payments. Sustainable management of land and water resources also sits at the heart of many other LIFE projects involved with supporting Member States’ Green Infrastructure.
Water will be the theme for this year’s Green Week and the multipurpose roles played by Green Infrastructure in protecting both quality and quantity of EU water resources will no doubt be noted by the Green Week participants. Numerous LIFE projects have had Green Infrastructure outcomes in the water field and these include the ground-breaking ‘blue infrastructure’ support work that was pioneered by LIFE02 NAT/E/008610 in the Mediterranean.
For a more detailed review of LIFE contributions to EU Green Infrastructure policy developments, see the LIFE Focus brochure covering this topic.