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News: August 2013

Neophron project helps protect Egyptian vultures and raise awareness

Photo:LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152

30 August 2013 Following a training workshop held by the LIFE+ project, The Return of the Neophron (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152) in the Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria (July 29-3 August), one of the participants, Ibrahim Hashim, President of the Sudanese Wildlife Society (SWS) has confirmed that the Sudanese government is taking steps to insulate a power line in Port Sudan that is a major cause of vulture mortality. The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) population traditionally migrates along the western shores of the Red Sea and nests in Eastern Europe and Asia. More than 80 Egyptian vultures are reported to have been killed by the Port Sudan power line over a number of years. A joint expedition in 2010 by the LIFE project beneficiary, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) and SWS confirmed that this power line has also led to the deaths of lappet-faced vultures, steppe eagles and a Bonelli's eagle, sadly the first recorded sighting of the species in Sudan. As a result of the expedition, the two conservation organisations produced a risk assessment, which has persuaded the local authorities to begin securing the power line.

The Neophron project has also been raising awareness of Egyptian vulture conservation amongst the wider public - through computer games and graffiti!

Firstly, BSPB has partnered with the company Biogama to produce a computer game called The Life of the Egyptian Vulture. Targeted at young people, the games player takes the part of the Egyptian vulture and must survive difficulties and threats to the vulture's life, learning about the biology, ecology and conservation of the species in the process. The game has four levels, each of which represents a different stage in the life of the vulture. "This is the first ever game produced in Bulgaria that matched the characteristics of a computer game with [an] educational element,” says Ilia Pchelarov from Biogama.

Photo:LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152

Secondly, under the auspices of the Return of the Neophron project, artists from the collective 140 ideas have, in collaboration with children from St. Kliment Ohridski school in Haskovo, produced a mural about the life-cycle of the Egyptian vultures. More information, as well as photographs of the mural can be seen here.

The Return of the Neophron is a five-year LIFE project designed to directly address all confirmed threats facing Egyptian vultures in Bulgaria and Greece that contribute to the long-term decline of this endangered species. These include reducing the risk of mortality from collision or electrocution and networking with stakeholders to improve the extent and effectiveness of experts and partners along the flyway to conserve the Balkan breeding population.

For further information, see the project website: http://www.lifeneophron.eu/

Scotland's Environment Web project rolls out new tools

Photo: LIFE10 ENV/UK/000182

21 August 2013 The LIFE+ project SEWeb (LIFE10 ENV/UK/000182), which brings together information on Scotland's environment, is set to launch an important new resource for teachers for the autumn and winter terms of the upcoming school year. The website is preparing a 'Youth Discussion', which will consist of classroom discussions and debates, a Glow meet (Glow is Education Scotland's online community for Scottish schools), as well as a competition. Suggested areas of study, briefing materials and themes for the competition and Glow meet will be available shortly on Scotland's Environment Web.

The Youth Discussion follows several other recent developments on the website, including new core briefings on Public Engagement, Citizen Science and State of Environment Reporting.

In addition, as part of the project's remit to bring together data and information on Scotland’s environment so that it is easily available and in a useable form, in June, SEWeb launched its first visualisation and analysis application. It is based on a new technology called Spotfire, which can read data from multiple sources at once.

Two Spotfire applications are currently under development: the first application is for water quality and is designed for users of varying levels of knowledge (from the general public to policy-makers). A colour-coded map of all surface waters in Scotland lets users see at a glance which of the country's rivers and lochs are high quality and where there needs to be an improvement. Users can also search the data according to a range of parameters, including by postcode, council area or the name of the water body. The second Spotfire application - on climate change - will use complex data that will be aimed towards industry professionals.

The goal of the SEWeb project, which runs until August 2014, is to develop an advanced environmental information system that will be used to deliver four key objectives:
To expand access to the European Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) to Scottish stakeholders; to improve the effectiveness of policy development and the targeting of environmental measures in order to maximise the delivery of environmental, social and economic benefits; to engage the public in the protection of the environment and thereby improve its understanding of environmental issues at the Scottish and European level; and to develop an extended partnership approach for monitoring, assessing and protecting the environment.

Further information is available via the project website. A feature article about SEWeb was published in Scotland's fortnightly political and current affairs magazine, Holyrood, earlier this year. It can be viewed by clicking on this link

Scientific journal highlights LIFE's role in invertebrate conservation

LIFE LOGO

12 August 2013 An article in the scientific journal Animal conservation [issue 16 (2013)] has highlighted the important role of a LIFE Nature Platform Meeting (thematic seminar) on Terrestrial Invertebrates that took place in Newquay, Cornwall, UK in June 2011.

The article, “Possible directions in the protection of the neglected invertebrate biodiversity”, by Manuela D’Amen et al, points out that whilst site-based conservation is widely recognised as a fundamental step in halting biodiversity loss at a global scale, terrestrial invertebrates have tended to be neglected in the reserve selection process. The authors therefore consider the 2011 LIFE Nature Terrestrial Invertebrates Platform Meeting as “a very important step… This conference introduced for the first time in the Nature 2000 framework a real opportunity for innovative projecting among beneficiaries and experts in terrestrial invertebrate conservation.”

The meeting identified the need to fill in knowledge gaps on invertebrates and highlighted the benefits of citizen science. One of the LIFE projects presented – ‘Bosco Fontana’ (LIFE99 NAT/IT/006245) – was highlighted as representing ” a successful example of this synergism between professionals and volunteers”, enabling more than 2 500 species of invertebrates to be recorded in a 233 ha area of floodplain forest.

The authors conclude that “as an immediate consequence of the Terrestrial
Inverterbrates Platform Meeting, in 2011 six LIFE Nature projects focusing on invertebrate conservation were co-financed by the European Commission.” This is the same number of projects as had received funding over the previous decade, they state.

For more information about the Terrestrial Invertebrates Platform Meeting and LIFE’s important role in invertebrate conservation, please see the LIFE Focus publication, LIFE and Invertebrate Conservation, which is free to download here.

IES project carries out first tests on irrigation simulation tool

IES LOGO

07 August 2013 The LIFE project ‘IES – Irrigation Expert Simulator’ (LIFE11 ENV/E/000621), which is developing a web platform for training and supporting farmers in the development of their own irrigation schedules, has carried out its first irrigation validation field assessments.

The project installed flow meters at the beginning of the irrigation season, and technicians from the Watering Office of DAAM recently collected data from the 14 commercial plots that are collaborating with the project. These plots are located in seven irrigation communities with different crops and irrigation systems. Data will be analysed in order to validate IES, the watering simulation tool.

The work is being carried out jointly by the beneficiary, Fundació Privada Barcelona DigitalCentre Tecnològic, a technology centre specialising in research, and its partners, IRTA and DAAM. It is promoting best practices in watering by using a simulator that will establish irrigation programmes and strategies ‘virtually’ and also observe both the response of crop production and total consumption of irrigation water.

Data collection will continue throughout the year and in 2014, and it will be used to validate the potential water savings that the use of the simulator can offer in real situations. It will then be made available on the RuralCat website (www.ruralcat.net) as a support for an existing irrigation guidance tool.
The IES simulator is also being tested at the experimental farm of IRTA in Mollerussa, where the effect of various irrigation strategies on soil and on fruit diameter is being assessed using moisture sensors.
The IES is expected to be ready at the beginning of 2014, when the first training sessions on the new tool will take place.

Meanwhile, the beneficiary gave a presentation at the EFITA 2013 Conference, ‘Sustainable agriculture through ICT innovation’, which was organised by the European Federation of Information Technologies in Agriculture, the WCCA and the CIGR, and was held in Turin, Italy (www.efita2013.org). The four-day conference brought together more than 200 scientific experts in sustainable agriculture through ICT in the food industry.

Rare UK bird goes shopping

(Photo: Steve Round)

06 August 2013 Shoppers in Wiltshire, England unexpectedly came face to face – or nose to beak – with a protected species targeted by a local LIFE project. A disorientated young stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds and the target of an ongoing LIFE project, ‘Securing the stone-curlew’ (LIFE11 INF/UK/000418), recently was found wandering outside a supermarket in Devizes.

This shy bird is rarely spotted even in its normal downland habitat. Its camouflaged plumage and nocturnal habits make sightings very rare. The stray bird found in Devizes was taken to a veterinary clinic by a member of the public, who thought it was a young bird of prey. It was then passed to Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital at Newton Toney who cared for the bird.

Marilyn Korkis, who runs Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital, said: “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It is such an unusual bird and a privilege to see it close up.”

It was then passed on to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) for relocating in its natural habitat. The RSPB has been carrying out conservation activities in the area aimed at this fragile species for more than 30 years. The NGO is currently coordinating the ‘Securing the stone-curlew’ project, which aims to deliver a comprehensive, integrated suite of communications actions, aimed primarily at farmers and other land managers, to encourage the adoption of management practices beneficial to the species.

The bird nests on open disturbed ground and now breeds only in Breckland and on the Salisbury Plain. The decline in rabbit foraging and burrowing since the 1950s has adversely affected the habitat of the curlew and its numbers have fallen sharply. The current LIFE project is the third to address the species’ decline. It follows on from the ‘Salisbury Plain’ project (LIFE00 NAT/UK/007071), which improved conditions on Northern Europe’s largest remaining chalk grassland (some 14 000 ha), home to one-third of the UK’s stone-curlew population.

Partnerships with landowners have helped maintain and create stone-curlew habitat on Salibury Plain since the LIFE project ended. Nick Tomalin, the local RSPB stone curlew officer, said: “Stone-curlews are highly vulnerable to disturbance, and are usually found in areas well away from roads and footpaths.

“This bird [the one found outside the supermarket] would have been just learning to fly, so it was essential that it was returned to a suitable location as soon as possible, to be with other stone-curlews. Some birds are now gathering together in roosts before their migration to Southern Spain or North Africa in autumn.”

Since it was returned to its habitat, the young bird has been spotted by RSPB staff feeding in the area with other stone-curlews.

The actions of an earlier LIFE project, (LIFE92 NAT/UK/013200) were targeted at the other main site for this species in Breckland. The overall objective of the current project, however, is to secure the future of the species in the UK by making it much less dependent on conservation work and much more self-sustaining. For more information visit the project web site: http://www.rspb.org.uk/securingthestonecurlew

 

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