The future of LIFE’s Nature and Biodiversity components has been high on the agenda for Angelo Salsi during 2010. As Head of Unit for these two LIFE components Mr Salsi is in a good position to reflect on how the experiences gained so far from LIFE Nature and LIFE Biodiversity could be used to help inform the vision for a successor programme.
When asked about his overall thoughts on the LIFE Nature and Biodiversity components, Mr Salsi takes a strategic perspective. He notes how “LIFE is becoming much more of an instrument geared towards policy support, and LIFE is now being used as an effective tool for implementation of the EU environmental acquis. Our challenge in this area is to step up LIFE so that it can use its already proven potential for delivering on a different scale.” As an example Mr Salsi explains, “Natura 2000 sites will by the end of this year become Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). This means that we are now moving away from previous work involved in identifying sites, carrying out inventories and gaining knowledge, to an ongoing period of doing actual species conservation”.
2011 therefore looks set to be a year that sees some shifts in the emphasis of LIFE’s support and preparations have been underway to help facilitate such transitions. Consultations with LIFE Nature and Biodiversity stakeholders carried out over the summer of 2010 kick-started these processes with an aim to explore how LIFE could be improved to help reinforce locally-led nature conservation actions at Member State level.
Feedback on this matter was received from LIFE’s customer base via lively debates at several events and an external wiki website blog. Mr Salsi is pleased with the level of interest created by the summer stakeholder sessions and he believes that “It is important that LIFE operates in a bottom-up fashion and is able to react to its clients. We have been running a genuine exercise in stakeholder consultation which is being used to help shape LIFE’s future both in the long-term and short-term. We have taken note of all the points that were raised during the summer discussion period and we have already been able to act on some of the suggestions. This shows that LIFE does not always need to wait for major milestones in the programme’s lifecycle before it makes changes and we can react quite quickly in some cases.”
To underline his statement he goes on to say “We have listened to and agreed with the voices that called for LIFE to be able to support activities outside the EU borders. We know that this can have positive knock-on effects on SACs and so we have expanded the scope of LIFE Nature in the coming call to allow beneficiaries to spend money outside the EU borders. From next year it will be possible for beneficiaries from within the EU to support activities outside the EU, provided that the project can show that there is a need for activity outside the borders of the EU to reach the objectives of the environmental policies within the borders of the EU.”
Such new found flexibility in LIFE’s funding toolkit demonstrates how the programme is evolving to meet its latest needs, and other new developments are also predicted by Mr Salsi for the next round of applications. “People in feedback meetings asked for LIFE to help support research type activity and we think that this complements the needs of the programme so a new eligibility clause has been drafted to make this happen. We realise that outputs from applied research that are published in journals can be just as valuable as results released in a Layman report. Hence LIFE in the future will be able to better talk the language of researchers to researchers.”
As with his Head of Unit counterpart from the LIFE Environment component, Mr Salsi referred to the word ‘integration’ on many occasions during his interview. He drew particular attention to the importance of this principle for the future of LIFE, saying “Our consultation process picked up on the benefits that could be gained for nature conservation if LIFE projects were able to operate closer with other sources of EU support. We have always been working towards this goal and new progress has been made recently through meetings at EU level between different Institutional partners.”
“We have met with our European Commission colleagues who have responsibility for agriculture, rural development and fisheries. These meetings are paving the way to encourage more coordinated action at regional levels in the future. Our thinking is based around the promotion of more integrated projects that are able to link up support from different EU sources. We are aware that these other sources have larger budgets than LIFE and we also know that LIFE has an excellent track-record of carrying out preparatory actions that later go on to be funded by these bigger budgets. By working together at a Brussels level, we want to encourage a shift in attitude at local or regional level which moves away from negative complementarity (e.g. you finance what I can’t and I’ll finance what you can’t) and instead promotes more positive complementarity (e.g. lets finance together an ambitious programme)”.
“LIFE’s smaller budget is likely to catalyse these larger integrated projects and in the future we plan that authorities in Member States will be better prepared to work together in this coordinated way. Such methods are already possible and do happen in some situations but, because it is not an obligation, it leaves this type of approach to the goodwill of local individuals to act together. If we want more integrated use of resources for the various territorial components of our environmental policy then we have to make sure it happens physically.”
Building on this subject, Mr Salsi describes how greater integration of LIFE work with territorial partners will support another evolving priority for LIFE, now that the SAC network is in place. ”An important obligation in Article 8 of the Habitats Directive requires Member States to adopt programming style approaches to the conservation of priority species and habitats. This means that countries will need to calculate how much work is involved in properly managing their SACs and how much this will cost. We are introducing a new eligibility clause next year so LIFE funds can be used for that purpose.” Mr Salsi refers to this new LIFE feature as co-finance “for developing Natura 2000 programmes”.
Natura 2000 programmes will thus be promoted as a core objective of future LIFE Nature actions, “In the same way that management plans for Natura sites were promoted during the establishment of the SAC network” says Mr Salsi. “Natura 2000 programmes can be thought of like a macro SAC management plan for a given region or territory. We will provide funds to produce these plans under LIFE and beneficiaries will be able to spend 100% of the project funding package on purely developing the programme’s plan. No other outputs will be required from this new LIFE feature except the programme document, although other outputs will also be possible if beneficiaries wish to include them in their proposals”.
“Natura 2000 programmes will provide Member States with a tool for compliance with Article 8 of the Habitats Directive. The programmes will assess the conservation needs for all SACs in a defined territory to ensure that each site is adequately resourced and can function properly as a nature resource. Furthermore, the Natura 2000 programmes will assess what needs to be done, by who, and when so that the SACs can also function as an integral territorial network. In such cases, research may need to be carried out to determine how best to achieve the right type of connectivity and what resources will be involved with both the introduction and management of habitat stepping stones, wildlife corridors and other ecosystem services. All of this information will be included in a Natura 2000 programme and can be eligible for future LIFE funding.”
In line with the methods used to introduce management planning at individual Natura sites, the LIFE Unit do not intend imposing standardised systems for the structure of Natura 2000 programmes. ”Providing beneficiaries with freedom to design site management plans that meet their own needs has shown that many different approaches are possible and many different methods are effective. This has also led to a lot of useful peer learning and we would expect similar results with the programming of territorial support for Natura networks. The fact that beneficiaries can spend 100% of their time on this activity is another incentive that we hope will help convince regions and countries to buy in.”
These new LIFE Nature developments will no doubt dovetail with next year’s review of Natura 2000 financing and Member State commitments remain essential. However, Mr Salsi is acutely aware that the current state of public finances creates major challenges for funding nature conservation and biodiversity activity. “We know very well that the situation is difficult for people to find co-finance. Our advice is that people should aim to coordinate their efforts creatively to pool their resources”.
He foresees problems in countries that continue to adopt project level approaches to finding matching funds and points to the Polish approach as a model of good practice. “The Polish government has created a national fund that guarantees match funding to anyone that is awarded LIFE project money. This gets rid of match funding problems and has increased the number of successful proposals. It also has the potential to help roll-out more integrated approaches and Natura 2000 programmes.”
A vital part of future Natura 2000 programming processes will involve identifying the resources and financing for their joined-up conservation work. Here is where Mr Salsi sees that integrated LIFE projects will become more relevant because the costs of running a territorial programme will require inputs from different support sources. Significant sums of EU and national co-finance are available for socio-economic development projects and many of these can feed into nature conservation actions if appropriate justifications can be found.
LIFE’s future role as a catalyst of integrated projects is expected to extend more and more away from a purely environmental focus and, over the coming years, Mr Salsi feels that LIFE should be branching out to make its mark on the other pillars of sustainable development. ”We are looking at LIFE with new eyes and we think we need to improve our ability to show how LIFE’s nature conservation and biodiversity work can create socio-economic benefits. If we do this well we can start attracting more support for environmental projects from socio-economic sources.”
“For example, if we can show that habitat work in a forest has improved the quality of ground water we can associate this with savings in water purification costs. Highlighting these types of ecosystem services provided by LIFE will become more important in the future, and so we have introduced a new section in the application form for LIFE that asks beneficiaries to describe socio-economic benefits from their nature and biodiversity proposals”.
“We know that capacity in socio-economic techniques is not always inherent in LIFE project teams but, because of its growing importance as a tool for catalysing integrated programming, we see that LIFE has a role here for training nature managers in these new skills.” Thus, from next year LIFE projects will be able to include costs associated with monitoring and measuring their socio-economic outputs. Obligations regarding specific socio-economic sections in project Layman reports may also follow. These will help equip the new look LIFE programme to respond to another issue raised by participants at the 2010 LIFE Conference; that being an ability for LIFE to be “more positive in selling nature conservation to people who don’t want to listen to nature conservation”.
In summing up his outlook for the future of LIFE, Mr Salsi reiterates that the main challenges for LIFE Nature are those linked with actually implementing the Directives now that the preparatory work has been completed. Integrated and programmed approaches are considered as cost effective mechanisms for this work. Socio-economic contributions will also become more relevant for all LIFE projects in the Nature, Biodiversity plus Information and Communication components.
The latter two components continue to find their feet and have matured further over the last 12 months. No longer seen as embryonic, but still considered to be in their development stages, Mr Salsi’s opinion is that, “These relatively new LIFE components are on the right track and we need to invest more in demonstrating their potential. During 2010 we published a clearer programme of our school for Biodiversity and Information and Communication components, now we have to get to all the potential students involved.”
Bringing more people into the LIFE programme will broaden its benefits and help underpin its position in the future as a popular and productive tool for implementing EU environmental policy. This point is stressed by Mr Salsi in his concluding remarks. “Next year will be a test bed for us as we work with our partners to prepare the proposal for a successor to LIFE +. We want to ensure that the programme’s future direction continues to be driven by bottom-up ideas and so I would encourage everyone with an interest to participate in the LIFE consultation and provide us with your views about our common future.”
Find out more on the Information sessions for potential applicants organised by the Commission in each Member State