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News: May 2012

Happy 20th Birthday LIFE!


03 May 2012LIFE celebrates its 20th anniversary on 21 May 2012: The LIFE Regulation passed into law on 21 May 1992 – paving the way for the launch of the LIFE programme, the EU’s financial instrument for the environment. To mark this auspicious occasion, more than 300 ‘LIFE 20th anniversary’ events are taking place throughout the month of May – organised by LIFE projects present or past. The dissemination (innovative and fun) events range from a LIFE Easter Camp for kids (Spain), a regional Flower Fair (Greece), to a moonlit Frog Concert (Germany)

In addition, a special one-day nature event, held in Jutland (Denmark) on 21 May, will mark both LIFE’s 20th birthday and celebrate the EU Habitats Directive and Natura 2000 network. For details of this event – attended by Environment Commissioner, Janez Potočnik, and Denmark’s Environment Minister, Ida Auken – as well as information on all the 300-plus LIFE events, see the LIFE 20th anniversary calendar.

Also in celebration of LIFE’s 20th anniversary, a LIFE at 20 Toolkit is available to assist all those concerned with LIFE projects – national, regional and local authorities, ongoing and new project teams and beneficiaries etc – with the task of promoting their individual projects and the current LIFE+ programme (which runs from 2007-2013).

The toolkit features PowerPoint presentations of the LIFE Environment and LIFE Nature components of the LIFE programme; logos for dissemination and videos depicting LIFE Nature and LIFE Environment highlights. The toolkit also includes links to Recommended Reading, including the LIFE 20 Years Special Edition.

Last, but not least, LIFE projects have taken part in not just one, but two special competitions to find the 3 ‘best of the best’ project photographs; and the 3 ‘best of the best’ short project texts. To view the winning entries for LIFE projects present or past, see the LIFE at 20 winners.

Study highlights risk posed by PVC blood bags

Photo: LIFE10 ENV/SE/000037

16 May 2012A new report , which was carried out as part of a LIFE+ project, shows that blood bags made of DEHP-plasticised PVC pose a significant risk to human health. The report – a life-cycle assessment, LCA – was commissioned by the Swedish project ‘PVCfreeBloodBag’ (LIFE10 ENV/SE/000037), which is aiming to phase out the current blood bags in Europe and replace them with PVC-free alternatives.

The study compared the impact of a blood bag made of PVC (polyvinylchloride) and DEHP (di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) with that of a hypothetical blood bag made of HDPE (high density polyethylene). The LCA shows that today’s PVC bag has a significantly higher potential for harming human health than a polyethylene bag, with regards to both DEHP and PVC.

The report’s author, Raul Carlson of eco2win AB, said:  “Another interesting result is that the controlled combustion of PVC/DEHP, actually cleaning the smoke, increases both the use of resources and the contribution to climate change in comparison to a polyethylene bag.”

At present there are no PVC-free blood bags for red blood cells on the market. One aim of the project is to demonstrate that it is possible to produce a PVC-free bag that fulfils requirements specification, including CE labelling. Four European companies – Melitek A/S, Wipak Oy, Totax Plastics A/S and Haemotronic SpA (project beneficiaries) – will work together produce a PVC-free blood bag, while the Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden is responsible for evaluating the bag.

To make PVC, soft plasticisers of up to 50% are used. The plasticiser, phthalate DEHP used in blood bags, is classified as a reproductive disruptor and is forbidden in toys. The substance has been systematically phased out of healthcare and healthcare products, including medical devices, though blood bags are one product that is still made from PVC and DEHP.

1st griffon vulture nest for 50 years in Balkan Mountains

Photo: LIFE08 NAT/BG/000278

22 May 2012The first griffon vulture nest for 50 years has been discovered in the Balkan Mountains – thanks to the reintroduction efforts of the 'Vultures Return in Bulgaria' (LIFE08 NAT/BG/000278) project. This announcement made during LIFE's 20th anniversary celebrations – feted in EU countries throughout the month of May – provides yet more evidence of the positive impact of the LIFE programme.

The evidence of the return to nest of this endangered bird of prey (to an area where they haven't been seen for 50 years) also highlights the (early) positive results of the griffon conservation measures being carried out in Bulgaria by the project beneficiary, Green Balkans, with its partner the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna.

Says project manager, Elena Kmetova: "I'm very happy and proud that we have discovered the very first griffon vulture nest in the Balkan Mountains for the past 50 years …This has been the main goal of the project [which runs until 2014] and it has already been reached at the third year! Considering the fact that there are more than 60 vultures already released and many more still to be released, we are looking forward to more success stories to come."

For more information on the project, which is also targeting the conservation of two other endangered large vulture species in Bulgaria, visit the project website


LIFE at 20: Danish presidency marks special day

Photo: EC Audiovisual Service

24 May 2012As part of the year-long celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the LIFE programme, a special event was organised under the Danish presidency of the EU in Jutland on 21 May – 20 years to the day since the passing of the LIFE Regulation and the EU Habitats Directive into law.
The visitor centre of Lille Vildmose, a Natura 2000 site that is home of one of the last remaining areas of active raised bog in Denmark, welcomed a delegation of representatives from national nature associations, NGOs, the European Committee of the Danish Parliament and the European Commission, as well as Janez Potočnik, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ida Auken, the Danish environment minister, and Henning Jensen, the mayor of Aalborg.

The Lille Vildmose, the largest remaining raised bog in lowland northwest Europe and the focus of the project (LIFE10 NAT/DK/000102), is at the “heart of nature conservation” in Denmark, said Ms Auken in an address to the delegation.

She added that she that was pleased that the new LIFE Regulation was achieved under the Danish presidency, and that the Danish government was currently drawing up a national plan for conservation for which the LIFE instrument will be “crucial”.

In his address, Commissioner Potočnik emphasised the progress that has been made in the area of conservation over the past two decades. In 1992, biodiversity across Europe was declining, but today that trend has changed, he said. “Increased co-operation has created a solid foundation for the protection of habitats.”

According to the Commissioner, LIFE has played a role in increasing knowledge and capacity for action, but “we need to do more”. Only 17% of the habitats listed in the directive have a favourable status, and for this reason the EU’s biodiversity strategy needs to be integrated into all aspects of EU funding, including the European Fisheries Fund and the Cohesion Funds.

The extension of the LIFE programme to focus on climate change is a significant step. “The nature story and the story of climate are interrelated,” he said in an interview later. Restoring the Vildmose active raised bog will not only protect a rare habitat, thus having a positive impact on native bird populations, but it will also create a valuable sink for CO2, a greenhouse gas associated with climate change, the Commissioner affirmed.

Following the speeches and a lunch consisting of local speciality dishes, the Commissioner along with the Danish environment minister carried out the first ‘ceremonial’ action of the project, the filling of a man-made dyke to raise the water level inside the project site. The Commissioner, the son of a farmer, had already driven a tractor and seemed to take delight in operating a truck to push earth into the drainage ditch, though he joked that it was his first time in such a vehicle.

Later the delegation met a team of volunteers removing shrubs from the bog to facilitate the re-growth of sphagnum moss. Project leader, Søren Kjær said that the Danish Nature Agency, the project beneficiary, had plans to restore the area but lacked the financing. “The LIFE project, however, has made the all the difference and we can now put all these plans into action.

Another benefit of the project he said was to focus efforts on “core actions”.

Ms Auken, who also helped with the shrub removal on one of the warmest days of the year so far, enthused about the great number of “good projects” in Denmark – the country boasts 246 Natura 2000 sites. “Now we can do integrated projects with climate change and adaptation, it will be even more valuable what we can get out of the funding,” she concluded.


20 years of LIFE celebrated at awards ceremony during Green Week

Photo: EU

25 May 2012A special celebration was held during Green Week in Brussels to mark the 20th anniversary of the LIFE programme, the Habitats Directive and Natura 2000. Bruno Julien, a former head of LIFE and Nature Units, DG ENV, said that LIFE projects had convinced people in his native France and in many countries of the worth of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites.

Mr Julien was honoured to present the awards to the best LIFE Nature projects of 2011 at the event. Four projects were singled out for special praise as ‘Best of the Best’ projects 2011, while a further nine were named ‘best’ projects (watch a gallery of the event here). Selections were made by Member States working in co-operation with the European Commission to produce a shortlist of projects. (For more information about the selection process, see a previous year’s news item)

The evening, which featured poetry and music, was an occasion to recognise the long-term achievements of the past two decades. The winners of the LIFE 20th anniversary photo and text competitions, which have succinctly in words and images captured something of the essence of the LIFE programme, were also presented with their awards. Alain Seatter, Deputy Director Gerneral of DG Environment, commended the winning entrants on “bringing a little bit of heart to the centre of Green Week”.

The ‘best of the best’ LIFE Nature projects:

  • ‘Bombina in the Baltic Region’ (LIFE04 NAT/DE/000028). This transnational project increased the population of the fire-bellied toad in a region where it had been extremely threatened. The beneficiary, the Stiftung Naturschutz Schleswig-Holstein, along with the project partners, created new habitats for the target species and carried out intensive genetic analysis to preserve its gene pool. An online audio streaming ‘Bombina Song Contest’ attracted widespread media attention.
  • Regain – Regional Actions to Improve Nature in River Odense and Odense Fjord’ (LIFE04 NAT/DK/000022). Project beneficiary, the Danish Nature Agency, District Fyn, restored 350 ha of wetlands along the River Odense and carried out various river management activities among other conservation measures. Long-term monitoring and agreements with landowners will ensure the continuation of the project results.
  • Salzstellen Brandenburg – Conservation and development of the inland salt marshes of Brandenburg’ (LIFE05 NAT/D/000111). This German project improved the conservation status of inland salt marshes in Brandenburg, extending this rare habitat type, stabilising the water regime and establishing appropriate management procedures. Activities highlighted that the restoration of inland salt marshes is only meaningful if long-term management can be ensured in co-operation with concerned land users
  • LIFE-Projekt Maifisch – The re-introduction of allis shad (Alosa alosa) in the Rhine System’ (LIFE06 NAT/D/000005) Landesanstalt für Natur, Umwelt und Verbraucherschutz NRW (LANUV), Fachbereich 26 Fischereiökologie]. The reintroduction of allis shad in the Rhine basin was the successful outcome of this project carried out by the German regional authority of North Rhine Westphalia with the financial and practical support of three Rhine bordering countries (France, Germany and the Netherlands,). The project drew on the experience of previous reintroduction initiatives.

For more information on the selected projects, visit the best projects section. A new brochure, Best LIFE Nature Projects 2011 will be published later this year.

Co-ordinated action points the way ahead for LIFE

Photo: EU

29 May 2012In an address at Green Week in Brussels on 24 May, Karl Falkenberg, Director General of DG Environment, said that integrated projects which co-ordinate actions with other funding streams represent the way forward for the LIFE programme.

Speaking at the session, ’20 years of LIFE – the past, present and future of water policy funding’, Mr Falkenberg said that the limited LIFE budget means that projects will have to use “multiplier effects” to achieve an impact that is not merely local but one that spreads across Member States, he said. The EU will favour cross-border initiatives, while partnerships for research will give access to additional finances, he added.

Mr Falkenberg praised those who set up the LIFE programme 20 years ago, saying that they had a “good understanding of the demonstration potential” of the instrument.

Speaking ahead of the Director General, Dr Lynne Barratt, ASTRALE (external monitoring team for the LIFE programme) gave an overview of the strengths and opportunities of the programme. “LIFE projects excel in policy implementation but not in all areas of the policy lifecycle,” she said.

Dr Barratt emphasised that the programme could play a greater role than it has done in influencing policymaking. Mr Falkenberg concluded his address by reaffirming this point. We need to work towards making LIFE a source of knowledge that can help revise policy, he said.

Mr Falkenberg concluded the session by presenting the two winners of the ‘Best of the Best’ and three winners of the  ‘Best’ LIFE Environment projects with their plaques.

‘Best of the Best’:


For more information on the selected projects, visit the LIFE website. A new brochure, Best LIFE Environment Projects 2011 will be published soon. View pictures of the awards here (pages 13-17)


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