Biodiversity is a fundamental resource and work co-financed through the LIFE Nature component has demonstrated effective measures for preserving an important biodiversity habitat in Spain. The knowledge and experience that this pond habitat project acquired has become a great reference source for similar conservation actions.
The EU’s new Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe includes a section devoted to biodiversity. Here the Roadmap reinforces biodiversity’s role in underpinning many of our ecosystems and notes that biodiversity remains vital to sustaining the resilience of these ecosystems.
Included in the Roadmap is a commitment that Member States, with the Commission, will work towards the objectives of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy by integrating the value of ecosystem services into policymaking.
LIFE has been one of the most active sources of EU support for biodiversity conservation measures, particularly those that link with policies implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives. LIFE continues to provide this support and an interesting example can be seen on the Spanish island of Minorca where LIFE Nature co-finance has helped to maintain the conservation status of niche wetland habitats.
Temporary Mediterranean ponds are home to a wide range of flora and fauna. These fresh-water ponds are generally small and are formed in cavities or shallow depressions in the land. Species that rely on these ponds have adapted to the extreme conditions of droughts and flooding periods, and many are thus exclusive to temporary ponds.
On Minorca, temporary ponds support several species endemic to the Balearic Islands, such as Romulea assumptionis, from the iris family, and Polygonum romanum subsp. balearicum, from the knotweed family. They are also vital to the island’s rich biodiversity, and a very successful LIFE project was carried out by the local authority to protect this important habitat type.
The presence of too much shrub vegetation around a temporary pond can create excessive shade, while an excessive input of organic material can lead to eutrophication of the water. The presence of cattle around these habitats helps to regulate the vegetation around them in a natural way. However, the abandonment of livestock farming activities favours excessive growth of shrubs.
As a result, the LIFE BASSES project (LIFE05 NAT/E/000058) was set up in September 2005 with a four year EU budget of €608 129 to help restore these micro habitats. LIFE provided funding for actions to clear shrubs and reintroduce livestock grazing as part of a long-term conservation programme for the priority habitat. LIFE BASSES achieved this task by designing an integrated management model for the most important temporary ponds on the island. The EU funds were also used to improve knowledge about the dynamics of the temporary ponds habitat, restore degraded temporary ponds, and raise public awareness about the importance of conserving this habitat.
The project team took the decision not to reintroduce endemic species. Pere Fraga i Arguimbau of the local government says that they wanted to encourage a “natural colonisation” of the habitats. The project is continuing to monitor the areas and is discovering new species on a regular basis, including aquatic birds and some rare species of crustaceans. One such species, a shrimp, Branchinecta ferox, was found at the Torrellafuda site for the first time in the 1970s.
One of the key outcomes of the project was the development of a management plan for Minorca's temporary ponds. This sets out several regulations and an action plan to ensure the good conservation status of the ponds, as required by the Habitats Directive, and to prevent further deterioration of their ecological status, following the Water Framework Directive's guidelines for aquatic ecosystems. Furthermore, the project can be considered as a reference for management of Mediterranean temporary ponds.
Useful outcomes from the work that could be of interest to other initiatives involved in freshwater habitat management are included in the project Layman’s report. Furthermore, all other documentation from the project can be found on its website, and there is also a project video online.