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Environmental management: LIFEnews features 2010

Mountain LIFE: nature conservation in upland Europe

(photo: TCY TN/000051)
(Photo:LIFE03 NAT/IT/000139)

LIFE support for nature conservation and environmental management in Europe’s mountain regions continues to rise and results from this work are helping to demonstrate how sustainable development and biodiversity benefits can be achieved in practice on the ground in upland areas.

European celebrations for the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity for 2010 include a series of ecosystem papers titled the ‘10 messages’ which have been published by the European Environmental Agency (EEA). These EEA ‘10 messages for 2010’ highlight one theme per month until the tenth meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in October.

A recent released ‘message’ during the summer shone a spotlight on biodiversity issues associated with mountain ecosystems and noted that:

European mountain regions provide essential ecosystem services for lowlands and host a great diversity of habitats and species, many adapted to specific extreme climatic conditions. Mountain ecosystems are fragile and vulnerable, and face severe threats from land abandonment, intensifying agriculture, impacts of infrastructure development, unsustainable exploitation and climate change.

The EEA’s assessment highlights the fact that mountains cover 29% of the EU territory and underlines that sustainable management of this significant natural resource base relies heavily on effective policies and actions at regional and local levels.

LIFE in Europe’s mountains

(photo: TCY TN/000051)
(Photo: LIFE03 NAT/RO/000027)

Member States’ mountain regions have benefited from a rich mix of different local project-level LIFE activities, particularly throughout upland Natura sites. Outcomes from the Programme’s interventions have helped restore important habitats, protect endangered species, support regional economies and contribute to high level strategic objectives such as sustainable development and climate action.

A review of these mountain LIFE achievements was presented during September at the European Mountain convention, arranged by the multi-sector Euromontana organisation. Projects profiled at the meeting of mountain experts and upland stakeholders included a variety of different mountain LIFE schemes tackling various nature and environmental issues, such as those addressed by:

  • LIFE03 NAT/IT/000139: RETICNET project, targeting five Natura 2000 sites and covering more than 12 000 ha of Rhetian Alps in northern Lombardy. LIFE co-finance here was used to improve forest and grassland habitats as well as help open up a 75 km ‘LIFE path of the Retiche Alps’ for encouraging eco-tourists to the area.
  • LIFE00 NAT/A/007053: Wild river landscape of the Tyrolean Lech project, which restored some of the last remaining riparian habitats maintained by free-flowing water in the northern Alps. Works here tackled erosion impacts and created a mosaic of ecologically important sites for species such as endangered dragon flies.
  • LIFE00 ENV/A/000249: Integrated Environmental Management for Sustainable Development in the alpine region Grosses Walsertal project. This transferable initiative addressed environmental problems linked with rural depopulation in Austria’s first Biosphere Reserve by using EMAS models to help strengthen sustainable socio-economic opportunities. The project was one of LIFE Environment’s ‘Best’ award winners for 2005-2006.
  • LIFE02 ENV/IT/000092: EMAS II Certification of the Comunita' Montana. Also an EMAS-related project from the Alps, this LIFE work encompassed seven municipalities and improved the environmental performance of influential sectors like agriculture, tourism and food production.
  • LIFE02 ENV/IT/000034: Warmwood project that demonstrated the technical and economic feasibility of using Apennine woodlands as a viable and sustainable biofuel source to generate heat and power within a 4 MW plant that was capable of serving an isolated mountain community.

For a fully comprehensive assessment of LIFE project actions in Europe’s mountain areas select ‘mountainous areas’ in the LIFE website’s revamped keyword search facility.

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