The latest editions of the European Red List of endangered species show that 9% of butterflies, 14% of dragonflies and 11% of beetles that depend on decaying wood are now threatened with extinction in Europe. LIFE projects have been contributing to improve the habitats and conservation status of several of these species.
The European Red list sets out all the species threatened with extinction within Europe along with their threats, ecological requirements and possible conservation actions. It is compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - a collection of governmental, non-governmental and individual experts - with funding from the European Commission.
The latest findings show that nearly a third of Europe’s 435 butterfly species have declining populations and that 18 dragonfly species are at risk. The list has looked for the first time at saproxylic beetles, which depend on decaying wood and play an essential role in recycling nutrients. It found a third of the 431 species to be unique to Europe and 46 species to be at risk of extinction in the region. Key threats to all these species are habitat loss and climate change.
As part of the European Commission’s efforts to combat biodiversity loss, the LIFE programme has funded projects targeting some of these key species. Numerous LIFE projects have also indirectly benefitted these species through more general habitat restoration. It is hoped that future LIFE projects will target additional species identified on the red lists that have not yet been targeted, such as the false ringlet (Coenonympha oedippus) or the beetle Limoniscus violaceus.
Since 2000, LIFE projects have directly or indirectly targeted ten endangered species of butterfly, with the most commonly targeted being the marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia). Butterflies tend to be linked to open grassy areas and the most significant measures to enhance their conservation status have been habitat restoration and management.
Some LIFE projects have targeted particular habitats for particular species of butterfly. These include: LIFE00 NAT/UK/007071 - targeting chalk grassland for the marsh fritillary; LIFE06 NAT/PL/000100 - restoring an estuary for many species, including eight different butterfly species; and LIFE02 NAT/IT/008574 - targeting pastureland and meadows for species including Raetzer's ringlet (Erebia christi).
Other LIFE projects have worked specifically to reconnect areas of suitable habitat, in particular breeding grounds, for target butterfly species. These include: LIFE07 NAT/B/000039 - targeting the marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia), violet copper (Lycaena helle) and large copper (Lycaena dispar); LIFE03 NAT/UK/000042 - targeting the marsh fritillary; and LIFE06 NAT/A/000124 targeting the scarce fritillary (Euphydrias maturna)
For further details on LIFE projects focused on improving the conservation status of butterflies species see pgs 29-30 of the LIFE Focus brochure LIFE improving the conservation status of species and habitats.
One German project was specifically dedicated to a protection programme for the endangered dragonflies Southern damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) and a species of whiteface dragonfly (Leucorrhinia pectoralis) LIFE96 NAT/D/003036. Other LIFE projects have targeted dragonfly species through more general work on river corridor and/or wetland restoration. These have included a project on the Slovenian Mura river LIFE06 NAT/SI/000066 and a project to manage wetlands along the Gulf of Finland LIFE03 NAT/FIN/000039.
Several German projects have improved waterways for species including dragonflies: LIFE08 NAT/D/000002 is optimising watercourses for the green club-tailed dragonfly (Ophiogomphus cecilia); LIFE07 NAT/D/000214, is rehabilitating streams for the golden-ringed dragonflies (Cordulegaster boltonii and Cordulegaster bidentata); and LIFE08 NAT/D/000001 is restoring the Upper Main Valley to the benefit of dragonfly species such as the green gomphid (Ophiogomphus cecilia).
Some projects have worked to conserve and improve habitats for a range of species including dragonflies within designated Parks or protected areas. These have included LIFE06 NAT/IT/000053 and LIFE97 NAT/UK/00424, both helping the southern damselfly, and the Slovenian project LIFE02 NAT/SLO/008587, which has improved the availability of suitable ponds within broader habitat restoration efforts.
LIFE projects looking to improve the conservation status of saproxylic beetles have tended to focus on the priority species hermit beetle (Osmoderma eremita) whose larvae develop in hollow trees, particularly oaks. A Spanish Basque Country project - LIFE08 NAT/E/000075 - is working specifically to improve knowledge and techniques for managing habitats for dead-wood beetles, particularly the hermit and Rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina) beetles. It aims to create a European network of appropriate forestry habitats.
Further projects have aimed to improve habitats for the hermit beetle by: clearing bushes and other vegetation from around large broad-leaved deciduous trees LIFE02 NAT/S/008484; planting new oak saplings to provide habitats in the long-term LIFE07 NAT/S/000902; and pollarding deciduous trees and planting new oaks LIFE05 NAT/S/000108.
For additional LIFE projects covering invertebrates, including dragonflies, beetles and butterflies - and also mussels - please see the LIFE thematic list on invertebrates