26 June 2013The LIFE Biodiversity project SOIL-Montana (LIFE10 NAT/ES/000579) aims to improve soil conditions and the biodiversity of mountain and valley grazing areas through, among other actions, the drawing up of a new assessment tool: the Agro-ecosystem Health Card. This card helps diagnose the health of the grazing ecosystems by providing for the first time reference values in terms of soil diversity.
The Agro-ecosystem Health Card, available for download from the project website, includes basic information about the importance of maintaining the health of ecosystems in grazing areas as well as indicators of their conservation status and instructions for measuring it.
The Health Card is being widely welcomed, and the project managers would like to expand this methodology to agricultural areas. They are considering applying for another LIFE project. Researchers, farmers and other stakeholders, who are interested in participating in this new initiative, are kindly asked to contact the project managers of SOIL-Montana.
24 June 2013The LIFE+ project LANDLIFE (LIFE10 INF/ES/000540) has successfully held workshops in three EU countries on the value of land stewardship as an effective and successful tool for nature conservation and biodiversity. The workshops specifically helped experts in policy and practice to share information and build practical know-how to apply land stewardship agreements and improve their management. The titles, locations and dates of the workshops were as follows:
The workshops brought together more than 180 stakeholders including site managers, technicians, landowners, agronomists, biologists, environmental associations, local and national authorities, biodiversity conservation experts, land stewardship organisations, volunteers and students. They sought to stimulate the engagement of these groups in the co-creation of land stewardship action plans.
17 June 2013The LIFE+ Information and Communication project RESTORE (LIFE09 INF/UK/000032) has published a new guide to river restoration called Rivers by Design. The guide is aimed at planners, developers, architects and landscape architects and seeks to show them how to maximise the benefits of river restoration in development projects.
The guide explains the context and need for river restoration, illustrating how well-planned river restoration can increase ecological quality, reduce flood risk and create social and economic benefits. It explains to the target audience the crucial role they can play in delivering such projects to meet the needs of people and the environment.
The new publication provides guidance and step-by-step practical advice on planning river restoration projects to make sure sustainable development is achieved, maximising ecological, social and economic benefits. A large section of the guide presents examples of successful river restoration projects from Munich to Milton Keynes to inspire practitioners in their own planning.
RESTORE is a networking project to support river restoration practices across Europe. For more information please visit the project website or read the project summary. You can download the brochure here.
14 June 2013The latest LIFE Focus publication highlights the relevance of LIFE Environment project actions in helping to create durable jobs and develop green skills across the EU. As its title suggests, LIFE creating green jobs and skills provides a host of practical examples of project actions that provide a blueprint for the transition to a low carbon, resource efficient economy, as well as illustrating the added social and economic value of the LIFE programme, the EU's financial instrument for the environment.
The publication highlights the policy agenda and challenges involved in greening the EU job market, and analyses the lessons that can be learned from more than 20 years of LIFE. The focus is on the main projects that have had an impact on durable job creation and green skills development, with 23 case studies from 11 Member States, divided into six thematic areas: waste; capacity building; business and industry; packaging; energy production and agriculture.
LIFE creating green jobs and skills is an important and timely reminder of the LIFE programme's ability to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Download: LIFE creating green jobs and skills (5 MB)
13 June 2013The introduction of anti-poisoning dog units on the Italian territory by the LIFE Nature project ANTIDOTO (LIFE07 NAT/IT/000436) is giving excellent results.
The project, coordinated by the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, is centred on an innovative methodology for preventing poisoning incidents: the use of small dog units able to detect poisoned food. Three anti-poisoning dog units, two in Italy and one in Aragona (Spain), were set-up with the help of the project partner from Andalusia, which had established similar units in 2004 and has good experience in this field.
The new dog units are regularly performing field inspections, as well as inspections upon request. Results are already evident: a few days ago, during an inspection in the Italian National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, a considerable amount of poison threats were successfully identified and removed. The threats included 29 poisoned baits and the carcasses of several poisoned animals including three foxes and two beech martens. The poisons were found by five trained dogs - three Belgian shepherds; a labrador; and a border collie – working in rough terrain with their handlers - one employee from Gran Sasso - Laga Park and one from the Italian Forest Service.
The National Park targeted is one of the most important in Italy and home to some of Europe’s endangered large carnivores. Wolves are found in the Park as well as the last remaining individuals – estimated to fewer than 50 – of the Apennine brown bear sub-population (referred to by some authors as the Marsican brown bear sub-species), which is endemic to the area. The poison could potentially have been enough to wipe out this population entirely if left in the park and had already caused the deaths of two wolves.
The hugely successful anti-poison dog units operate as part of a proposed new integrated strategy for preserving the target carnivore and raptor species in areas of Italy and Spain. For more information, please visit the project website www.lifeantidoto.it or read the project summary.
12 June 2013The best LIFE Environment and Nature projects of 2012 were honoured at an award ceremony during Green Week in Brussels last week. The future of LIFE was also addressed by Jutta Haug, MEP, who is leading the negotiations for the next LIFE programme period of 2014-2020.
An award ceremony on 5 June celebrated some of the best LIFE Environment and Nature projects of 2012. The awards, taking place for the ninth year, were presented by Jutta Haug, MEP and rapporteur for the new LIFE Regulation, and Hemmo Muntingh, retired MEP, who was described as the father of LIFE, having initiated the programme back in 1992.
Mr Muntingh regaled the audience with how the LIFE programme came into being and his role in the process, whilst Ms Haug focused on its future, saying she was glad to see in the award ceremony such “excellent and encouraging examples of an exceptionally successful EU programme”.
Ms Haug highlighted the challenges being faced in the negotiations for the new LIFE programme for 2014-2020. “Firstly, we want to get the right balance between quality and solidarity. [...] We want LIFE funds to be distributed fairly. We want them to add value, from a European perspective, where this is most needed. We want them to boost new technologies where these can really make a difference and where it can then be replicated in other countries and regions. We want them to help protect precious, unique and endangered habitats and species where local funds alone would have difficulties affording it.” However, she added, “We do not agree for now on the best way to achieve these objectives.”
Another challenge is “to leverage spending for the environment and climate in times of crisis without creating too much frustration.” With tight budgets of Member States and regions, and their difficulties in raising matching funds, there are arguments for increasing the co-financing rate for projects, the MEP noted. But she explained, “A higher co-financing rate means the overall pot of money flowing into Nature, Environment and Climate decreases. Currently, one project out of five or six can be selected for funding. With a higher co-financing rate fewer projects would be selected. [...] We have to be extremely careful to strike the right balance.” Ms Haug warned that Member States should not hide behind such funding from the European Union (EU): “We must not allow them to elude their responsibility to invest in their own environment.”
Lastly, she noted that the amount of funding proposed for the new LIFE programme – €3.2 billion over seven years – corresponds to just 0.3% of the entire EU budget, which is “obviously far from being appropriate against the challenges and opportunities we face in the transition towards a more sustainable, resource-efficient economy.” However, Member States are pushing for reductions in the overall budget compared to the current seven-year period, and the outcome remains to be seen for the budget as a whole and for LIFE. Still, Ms Haug said she would “try to find compromises that allow for a smooth continuation of the LIFE programme from 2014 onwards, adding, “In any case, I don’t have any doubt that LIFE will continue to rank as one of the best examples of European spending policy in the future.”
To read the full text of Jutta Haug’s speech, click here. The text of Hemmo Muntingh’s speech is available to download here. For a full list of the winners of the LIFE Best Awards 2012, see our report from April. Photos from the awards ceremony can be viewed on the LIFE Flickr stream. A full-length report on LIFE at Green Week will be featured in the June issue of LIFEnews. Look out also for a video report from the event made by the LIFE Communications Team and available shortly.
10 June 2013A LIFE project in Poland has found an unusual way of highlighting its nature conservation work: a CD of soundscapes recorded in Natura 2000 sites. Entitled Grassland Recordings, the disc has been compiled by Klub Przyrodników (“The Naturalists’ Club), the coordinating beneficiary of the XericGrasslandsPL project (LIFE08 NAT/PL/000513) and is available for free from the NGO’s head office in Świebodzin.
The CD contains a selection of sounds typical of Polish xerothermic grasslands, from grazing sheep to crickets to birdsongs, and is designed to appeal to everyone from grassland lovers to people who just want to relax on a winter’s evening. Listen to a short extract here (2,3 MB).
The XericGrasslandsPL project began in 2010 and runs until the end of this year. Its aim is to improve the habitat conditions and restrict the succession of undesirable species in the most ecologically valuable semi-natural dry grasslands areas in Poland (eight Natura 2000 sites in Lublin and Lower Odra and Warta). Amongst a range of active conservation measures, the project is preserving and encouraging local pasturing traditions and will spread awareness locally of the need to conserve these important grasslands.
For more information, visit the project website: http://www.murawy-life.kp.org.pl
07 June 2013The Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (“Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests” ICNF), Portuguese partner in the Spanish-led LIFE+ ‘Iberlince’ project (LIFE10 NAT/ES/000570) has confirmed in a press release (Portuguese only) ) the sighting of an Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Vila Nova de Milfontes, in western Portugal. It is the first confirmed Iberian lynx sighting in Portugal for three years and is a hugely positive sign in the attempts to restore population numbers of the species, which is the most endangered feline in the world.
A movement-activated camera placed by the local hunting association to carry out wild boar surveying in the area of Milfontes first took a photo of a lynx in early May; however, it was not possible to identify the animal. Subsequently, a team from the ICNF increased surveillance of the area with support from the LIFE+ project partners in Andalusia. The lynx was photographed again in broad daylight on 26th May, allowing his identification as Hongo, a male born in Aznalcázar, Spain in 2011. He had last been seen in October 2012 more than 300 km away in Doñana National Park, Andalusia.
“We will never know how he came to Milfontes,” explains Lurdes Carvalho, national coordinator of the Portuguese Action Plan for Iberian Lynx Conservation. “We have already been lucky to get a photograph of him in the day.” Most importantly, the sighting of Hongo is an extremely positive sign because “it means the landscape remains appropriate for the species and that they are able to find food.”
The team is hopeful that he will survive in the area as it is considered a suitable habitat for the lynx with a strong rabbit population. Indeed, the photograph suggests that Hongo is in good physical condition, which is particularly exciting news because, only last August, he became trapped in an irrigation basin and lost a lot of weight. He had to be taken to the captive breeding centre at El Acebuche to be restored to health before re-release.
For more information on this project which aims to restore the historical distribution of the Iberian lynx across Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Portugal, visit the project website: www.lifelince.org.
05 June 2013The CREAMAgua project (LIFE09 ENV/ES/000431) held a celebratory event on April 26 to mark the end of its interventions to create and restore wetlands and riparian habitats of the Flumen river in Los Monegros, Spain. Its successful activities covered 509 ha of public land, which included the creation or restoration of 16 wetland areas and 70 ha of riparian habitat.
The President of the project beneficiary - the local authority of Los Monegros - Ildefonso Salillas was proud that the project “had turned Los Monegros into an international reference for the conservation of wetland zones.” This had been achieved through “the triple objective of improving the water quality in the Flumen river, increasing biodiversity and demonstrating how local authorities can develop strategies to protect their local environment.”
The project’s efforts have increased the time that water is retained in the wetlands, enabling natural biological activity of plants, algae, micro-organisms and macro-invertebrates. This restoration of more natural processes in the water reduces suspended matter, decreases the concentrations of nutrients – notably nitrogen and phosphorous – and even allows for the extraction of heavy metals by plants. The clearing of shrubs and planting of over 4 000 trees in riverside areas should enable natural riparian biodiversity to return to these areas.
Francisco Comín, a researcher from the Pyrinean Institute of Ecology (IPE) confirmed that, “There are already species of birds nesting [in the riparian habitat], the vegetative cover is quite well established and we are already starting to observe a decrease in nitrates in the wetlands that were restored first.” Meanwhile, Pablo Munilla, Secretary General of the Farmers Unions UAGA- COAG, praised “the fact that authorities at state and local level, farmers’ organisations and public and private companies worked together towards a common goal.”
The CREAMAgua project will continue to monitor the quality of water and biodiversity in the area of intervention until it officially ends in December 2014. For more information, read the project summary, visit www.creamagua.com or connect via www.facebook.com/creamagua
03 June 2013 A session at this year's Green Week in Brussels will be dedicated to highlighting “The contribution of the LIFE programme to air quality in the EU: past, present and future”. Taking place at The Egg conference centre (Rue Bara) from 14:30 to 16:00 on Wednesday 5 June, the session will be moderated by Alexis Tsalas of the LIFE – Environment & Eco-innovation Unit, with presentations by Dr Georgia Valaoras, Regional Coordinator for South-East Europe, Astrale GEIE and Stijn Janssen, Environmental Modelling, VITO NV.
The session will present the findings and highlights of a 2012 study commissioned by the European Commission, "The contribution of LIFE projects to the implementation and development of EU air quality policy and legislation". The actions and outcomes of a LIFE air quality project will be highlighted by the second presentation. The final presentation - "The future of LIFE and air quality: the new LIFE Regulation 2014-2020" – will give a brief outline of the future LIFE programme, with emphasis on integrated projects and how these will bring about a multiplier effect to enable local and regional problems to be addressed in a more comprehensive and effective way.
To download Dr Valaoras's Powerpoint presentation, click here.