As Head of the LIFE Nature Unit, Angelo Salsi has spent much of his last year overseeing progress of these two LIFE + Components and preparing the ground for the next period of LIFE Programme funding from 2014-2020.
Mr Salsi notes that, “The present LIFE + regulation still has two calls to be implemented before its application process formally closes at end of 2013. This means that potential applicants and interested parties should continue to look at the present regulation for guidance on Programme priorities”.
Reflecting on the overall state of the Programme in its current form Mr Salsi draws attention to the fact that, “The application rounds continue to become more and more competitive. In 2011 for instance we saw that the numbers of applications peaked and 50% more proposals were submitted than before. We had a 100% increase in the numbers of some types of proposals, especially for the LIFE Information and LIFE Environment Components. Stronger competition was also seen for LIFE Nature and LIFE Biodiversity. The biggest increases we found were in proposals coming from the public sector. This was interesting because countries like Greece and Italy were able to submit a useful collection of proposals.”
“Factors affecting the increase in competitiveness are difficult to definitively assess but we must assume that one of the biggest drivers is the financial crisis. As budget cuts get worse we expect that competition will become even fiercer because there are very few areas in the field of environment where you find cash available from instruments like LIFE to make additional investments.”
Mr Salsi points to the quality of LIFE project proposals becoming a vital success ingredient for applicants. “Quality factors remain relatively constant from one year to another,” he says, and continues, “The ambition of the proposal to achieve added value at an EU level, not just nationally or regional, to address a priority environmental issue is crucial.”
“Ambitious projects can involve a lot of quite complicated inter-related issues and actions which can be a challenge to explain concisely in the application form. The quality of the basic project description is therefore more and more important as a determinant for accessing the LIFE co-finance. This is true for all of the Programme’s Components.”
For LIFE Nature and LIFE biodiversity, Mr Salsi believes that demand will continue to increase as the implementation of the Habitats Directives moves from planning to active management. “Money is needed to manage the land and waters that support species and habitats in our Natura network. LIFE remains the main dedicated source of co-finance for such actions so we suspect that Member States’ interest in LIFE Nature will increase.”
“During the next funding period after 2013, LIFE’s Natura investments will be joined by EU funds from rural development and cohesion policy, but until then LIFE is still the core financial instrument for Natura.”
Referring to LIFE’s Biodiversity Component, the Head of Unit also expects that it will play a bigger role in the future, now that understanding about its role is becoming more widespread. “The context for LIFE + Biodiversity has been better clarified in 2011 following the adoption of the new EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.”
“Certain elements are well established like the strategy’s mandate covering nature conservation and species protection. These are perceived in EU terms as being under the wing of Natura 2000, and so LIFE Nature, as key delivery vehicles. Other important strategy areas like how to deal with alien species are also well known and we have cases where LIFE Biodiversity is working here.”
EU biodiversity policy promotes harmonised approaches to sustainable development which balance socio-economic and environmental objectives. The emphasis on LIFE Nature contributions to this balance is stressed by Mr Salsi as important for the Programme to add value. Talking about moves towards greater consideration of social impacts and ecosystem services, he is pleased to report that, “We are now starting to see a growing number of positive responses to our push for a full spectrum of added value actions in LIFE. Beneficiaries are able to present project proposals which demonstrate clear social dividends from species protection.”
“I am aware that many of the jobs created by LIFE projects in the field of species conservation often have significant knock-on benefits. This is particularly so in rural areas where employment opportunities are commonly limited. We know that LIFE can help provide important jobs in the countryside and also it can show that looking after our natural resources can be a viable career path for young people in rural areas.”
“Furthermore, social dividends from LIFE actions are being achieved as our projects help to change people’s behaviour patterns and convert the perception of species that were formally considered problematic into symbolic icons of regional identity. For instance, species like the Iberian Imperial Eagle had in the past been considered a menace by land owners in Spain but now people are proud to have nesting Eagles on their farms. Similarly, the Brown Bear in Trentino Italy was once ostracised but it is now used as a marketing tool to attract visitors and its paw prints have even been used as the basis for company branding in the region. These types of economic benefits from nature conservation can be measured and we want to see more of these types of social dividends being integrated in LIFE proposals.”
Ecosystem services are another of the added value elements from LIFE that will contribute to the competitiveness of future project proposals. Strategic approaches to the provision and maintenance of ecosystem services at a territorial level are becoming increasingly significant for LIFE and Mr Salsi explains that, “We have welcomed the applications that were submitted in 2011 for methodologies which we have promoted regarding Prioritised Action Frameworks (PAF). These have their legal basis in Article 8 of the Habitats Directive and this year we have for the first time received proposals to use LIFE for helping to develop PAF approaches. This is extremely encouraging and it shows once again how LIFE can be effective for implementing very specific elements of EU Directives.”
PAF methods are based on the concept of a territorial plan that combines, integrates and coordinates sets of actions and measures which address nature conservation needs from a holistic and ecosystem service approach.
“We are still reviewing the proposals that have been submitted and we know now that beneficiaries are able to organise themselves to prepare such territorial approaches” says Mr Salsi who goes on to describe how, “Territorial planning will help overcome difficulties and inefficiencies in managing Natura sites using piece-meal techniques. LIFE co-finance can be used to set up a territorial plan for nature conservation in the same way that territorial plans exist for waste management, river basins, air quality or climate action. LIFE can help with the work involved to prepare a plan, which is an exception in itself because with other types of LIFE support most of the money needs to target more tangible types of habitat or species work.”
“Our promotion of PAF planning corresponds with our intention to focus a growing proportion of the future LIFE funds into integrated projects, which catalyse and mobilise large scale resources geared towards nature conservation outcomes. We want to see more of both of these types of proposals in the last two rounds of LIFE+. By providing funding in the final stages of LIFE+ for this type of preparatory actions, we are aiming to help pave the way for Member States to be ready, from 2014 onwards, for using LIFE more strategically in managing Natura 2000 as a coherent network.”
“Co-finance could be approved in 2012 for successful front runners in this priority area for LIFE. Beneficiaries might take up to 24 months to prepare their plans and so successful applicants should therefore be in a good position to start implementing PAF type approaches with the funds from the new LIFE regulation when it comes on stream in 2014.”
“We are currently reviewing 10 different territorial applications from seven Member States covering north, south, east, west and central Europe. In 2012 it would be good if this number of applications could double. Expectations and demands are rising and we are very glad that there are authorities out there with the political courage to make the commitment to strategic management of nature resources. The New LIFE regulation will be pushing in this direction and this will complement other efforts for more coordinated territorial developments like those through the Common Strategic Framework guiding the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy.”
“There is no doubt that, while retaining a capacity to accommodate traditional LIFE Nature projects, the future of the Programme post 2014 will increasingly focus more of its funding on integrated approaches. We will start slowly but as we move closer to 2020 the relative share of co-finance provided by ‘LIFE Biodiversity’, as it will be called in the next period, for integrated projects will grow. This is why we have been encouraging regions and countries to make use of the opportunities we have under LIFE+ in the final two calls to get ready to manage their Natura sites on territorial basis after 2013.”
Such future priorities for LIFE will be advocated widely throughout the coming months, including during events celebrating LIFE’s 20 years of support for Europe’s environment. Mr Salsi is keen to underline that, “We are celebrating the existence of LIFE as an essential instrument for implementing the Habitats and Birds Directives. There was a very clear reason why these Directives and LIFE were introduced together 20 years ago.”
“LIFE was established as a source of assistance to facilitate the Directives’ legal requirements. The Programme has of course broadened its mandate during the last two decades and for me it is important that we acknowledge, through our celebrations, that LIFE has provided a stable reference over 20 years for implementing EU Directives. Such stability has ensured a reliable backbone for EU nature conservation as well as other environmental sectors.”
Additional reasons to celebrate LIFE’s birthday are covered by Mr Salsi who comments, “It is interesting that the 20 years milestone comes in a year when Natura is shifting into management phases. All the biogeographical regions will be covered by Sites of Community Importance and Special Protection Areas for which management actions are in place. The network is moving into an era where implementation becomes an obligation so this progress provides an equally valid reason to celebrate LIFE’s 20th birthday in 2012.”
Referring to LIFE’s 20 Years celebrations, the Head of Unit highlights how, “We have the special LIFE 20 Years website and we are looking forward to the entries in the photo and writing competitions. These are an interesting way of promoting LIFE and we want to encourage as many people as possible to participate.”
“We also want people to get involved with the events that will be held during May 2012 to celebrate LIFE’s birthday. We will have our own events organised by the LIFE Unit around the Member States, including a big political gathering taking place as part of the Danish EU Presidency. But we are also actively encouraging everyone else who has ever been involved with LIFE to hold their own LIFE events in the Member States during May.”
“Our unit here in Brussels can provide support for these events in terms of promotional materials and we can also help arrange media coverage of the events. So we would like to hear about the types of events that are being planned. Interested parties can register their proposals for LIFE birthday events on the LIFE 20 Years website.”
“This is important not only for the celebrations but of course the timing is very convenient as the high-level codecision makers will be working during May to agree the final details about the LIFE budget for the 2014-2020 period.”
“If we can give LIFE a good amount of visibility at EU and Member State levels during May 2012 this can help raise awareness among the decision-makers about the LIFE Programme’s benefits, its popularity and its track record in make a big strategic difference with a relatively small budget. There is a chance that we might even get an early decision in 2012 on the next LIFE Regulation, and I am sure that the LIFEnews readers would join me in agreeing that this would indeed be a well appreciated birthday present for the Programme.