30 October 2013 ‘Better to prevent than restore’ might be the motto of AlterIAS (LIFE08 INF/B/000052), a LIFE Information & Communication project, which held its final conference on 25 September in Gembloux, Belgium.
The event was an opportunity to learn about the significant results achieved by the AlterIAS project in reducing the introduction of invasive alien plant species in Belgium. It attracted around 250 stakeholders, including agronomy students and professionals, horticulture enterprises, managers of urban green areas and researchers.
Around 76% of such invasive plants are introduced voluntarily, usually for aesthetic or even environmental reasons (for example to attract bees), without any awareness of their adverse impact on biodiversity. It was therefore necessary to carry out an extensive awareness-raising and information campaign that targeted schools, gardeners and the entire ornamental horticulture supply chain.
The project used a wide range of media and professional channels to significantly improve knowledge on the problem of invasive species. At the conference, Mathieu Alford, the project manager, emphasised the need to maximise the “communication impact” of the project. “We chose to avoid a problem-based approach, and rather developed solution-oriented messages that encourage people to get involved and act,” he said.
Led by the FUSAGx – Laboratory of Ecology (Faculté Universitaire en Sciences Agronomiques de Gembloux), the project involved all three Belgian regions (Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia). In close collaboration with researchers and professional federations, AlterIAS developed a code of conduct for those plants that are invasive in Belgium. These species are listed in two annexes agreed by the majority of representatives of the horticultural federations and associations.
Annex I lists plants that should not be commercially available (28 species and their derived varieties), whilst Annex II identifies plants that have a limited negative impact or are invasive only under specific conditions and in specific habitats. In order to avoid these plants, the AlterIAS project also developed technical factsheets on the species and proposed alternatives to the use of invasive plant species.
The project was particular successful at reaching its target audience. At the end of the project, a survey showed that 56% of Belgian horticulture technicians, 73% of public managers and 69% of private managers were aware of the lists of invasive plants.
The AlterIAS team is continuing to disseminate the project results and recently took part in an international workshop in Oeiras, Portugal, entitled ‘How to communicate on pests and invasive alien plants?’ The team presented its code of conduct and moderated a workshop on the importance of positive communication on alien species.
Documents and tools produced by the project are available in Dutch, English and French from the project website, www.alterias.be
29 October 2013 The 2013 edition of the annual European Parliament Gypsum Forum, which took place at the European Parliament in Brussels on 16 October, was a great opportunity to present the aims and some of the initial findings of the LIFE Environment project GtoG (LIFE11 ENV/BE/001039), which is being led by Eurogypsum, the European federation of national associations of producers of gypsum products.
The Forum aims to foster dialogue between a wide range of stakeholders in order to promote sustainable construction in Europe. The gypsum industry is responsible for 1% of all construction and demolition waste (CDW), and the GtoG project (“From Production to Recycling, a Circular Economy for the European Gypsum Industry with the Demolition and Recycling Industry”) is aiming to transform the gypsum demolition waste market. The goal is to achieve higher recycling rates of gypsum waste as a significant move towards a resource-efficient economy.
The theme of this year’s Gypsum Forum was ‘Megatrends in Construction: the three R's-Renovation-Resource Efficiency-Recycling’. MEP Jean-Paul Gauzès, the President of the European Parliament Gypsum Forum gave a welcome in which he emphasised the need to strengthen the shift towards sustainable construction.
Though gypsum products are indefinitely and fully recyclable, only a small percentage is recycled in Europe. Buildings are currently demolished and not dismantled, hampering the recovery of gypsum waste. However, the EU has set ambitious target of 70% for the recycling of CDW and green public procurement. Moreover, stricter criteria for the landfilling of gypsum are in place. The LIFE project will demonstrate the economic feasibility of dismantling buildings in a way that boosts the recycling of gypsum waste.
Mr Gauzès’s address was followed by presentations by Carlo Pettinelli, DG Enterprise, Director for Sustainable Growth and EU 2020 on ‘Construction for Growth’; Paul Rübig MEP on ‘Raw Materials in Construction’ and Heide Rühle MEP on ‘Enhancing Green Public Procurement’.
At the Forum, Jean-Yves Burgy, managing director, Recovering SARL, a partner in the LIFE project, told delegates that a market survey on deconstruction practices and on gypsum recycling status covering eight EU countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Poland, Spain, The Netherlands and the UK) has already been carried out by the GtoG team. The results show that across Europe recycling is more favourable than landfill.
In his presentation he said that “dismantling practices exist but are not widespread in Europe, and that EU regulations are not implemented in a harmonised manner that takes into account local specificities and interests”. “We are far from the 70% recovery target of the Waste Framework for gypsum-based waste,” he added. Nevertheless, recycling remains the best way to reach this objective.
Speakers on renovation and resource efficiency included Prof Gerd Simsch, Managing Director Bauperformance GmbH. Prof Karsten Tichelmann, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Fachbereich Architektur, and Thierry Roche, an architect with Cité de l’environnement.José Blanco, Secretary General of the European Demolition Association, spoke about recycling, while William Neale, Member of Cabinet, Commissioner Potočnik, Commissioner for the Environment, gave a presentation on sustainable buildings.
Gypsum is widely used in construction in the EU. More than 1 600 million m2/yr of European interior surfaces are covered with plasterboard; more than 5 million tonnes/y of plaster are used in Europe for interior lining; and more than 20 million m2/yr of European interior walls are separated using plaster blocks. Some 100 000 people in the EU are (directly or indirectly) dependent for employment on the gypsum and anhydrite industry.
The presentations and more information on the results of the event are available online at: http://www.europeanparliamentgypsumforum.eu/forum2013/
For further information about LIFE GtoG, visit the project website: http://gypsumtogypsum.org/
28 October 2013 The skies over the Bulgarian coastline near the Shabla Lighthouse recently teemed with colourful kites of all descriptions in an effort to raise awareness of the need to protect the red- breasted goose in its wintering grounds in the country.
The kites – the handiwork of flying aces from Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria – took the shape of a range of fantastic creatures, from flying fish, octopus, dragons and giant silk teddy bears to, naturally, the red-breasted geese itself.
The event was the third Shabla Kite Festival to be organised annually as part of the LIFE project Safe Ground Redbreasts (LIFE09 NAT/BG/000230).
The red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis) is a rare and endangered bird that spends the winter in coastal Dobrudzha, north-east Bulgaria. One of the goals of this LIFE project is to promote the region’s natural beauty and biodiversity and establish the red-breasted goose as a flagship species. Its conservation is a positive sign of the region’s move towards sustainable development, as well as being a boost to Bulgaria’s image as a country that protects its nature and wildlife.
The festival, which was held 21-22 September, was organised by the project beneficiary, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, in cooperation with the municipality of Shabla and several partners, including local NGOs, clubs and businesses. It attracted over 2 000 visitors, who were entertained by the kite-flying demonstrations, stage performances and a cookery demonstration. Younger guests could take part in decoration and kite-making workshops.
Visitors also had the opportunity to go on a guided bird-watching trip to Shabla Tuzla. Some 100 people took part in a total of four trips over the weekend.
As part of the event several huge oil tanks were also turned into unique coloured ‘canvasses’ highlighting the significance of the red-breasted goose. Such activities attracted a great deal of media interest, and the festival was covered in more than 70 publications and broadcasts on TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internet.
A selection of the 20 best photos taken at the festival will form a travelling exhibition similar to previous years. To watch a video of this year’s event, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Uqx-0nY07E
24 October 2013 A LIFE+ Nature Platform meeting for Swedish, Danish and Finnish Nature projects was recently held in Östersund, Sweden. The meeting, which attracted 71 participants from 29 open LIFE projects, was a great opportunity to exchange experiences and knowledge among the projects.
The three-day meeting (24-26 September) was organised by two ongoing Swedish LIFE Nature projects in collaboration with the Astrale LIFE monitoring team. It featured presentations from the projects, the National Contact Points and the Astrale Monitoring Team.
The meeting was also attended by two European Commission representatives: Maja Mikosinska, LIFE Technical Desk Officer and Tommy Sejersen, LIFE Financial Desk Officer. They gave presentations on the new LIFE Regulation and on recent changes in the financial aspect of project management.
A total of five workshops were also organised in order to facilitate in-depth discussion on the following subjects:
The meeting also included a field trip to the sites of the two host projects: ‘Foder och Fägring’ (LIFE08 NAT/S/000262) and ‘Life to ad(d)mire’ (LIFE08 NAT/S/000268). The project ‘Foder och Fägring’ is aiming to restore the meadows, pastures and wetland meadows in 62 Natura 2000 sites in Jämtland, Gävleborg, Värmland and Dalarna County in central Sweden, while the ‘LIFE to ad(d)mire’ project is aiming to halt the decrease of targeted habitats and species at 35 Natura 2000 sites through hydrological restoration and vegetation measures.
For more information on the meeting and to download the presentations and the catalogue of LIFE Projects, visit www.lansstyrelsen.se//jamtland/Sv/djur-och-natur/skyddad-natur/foder-och-fagring/Pages/anmalan.aspx
21 October 2013 An updated checklist for the soldier flies (Stratiomyidae) insect family in Italy has recently been published thanks in part to new data collected in the framework of the ongoing Italian LIFE+ project, 'ManFor C.BD' (LIFE09 ENV/IT/000078).
The ‘Updated Italian checklist of Soldier Flies’ by Franco Mason, combines previous knowledge and information about this Diptera family with new data gathered by sampling with Malaise traps (tent-like structures used by researchers to collect flying insects) in some of the project test areas. Among the findings aretwo species new to the Italian fauna: Neopachygaster meromelas (Dufour, 1841) commonly known as silver-strips black; and Zabrachia minutissima (Zetterstedt, 1838). In Italy, 91 known Stratiomyidae species have already been recorded – making, it is claimed, the Italian fauna of Stratiomyidae the richest in Europe.
A comprehensive key to the European species of Chorisops Rondani, 1856 is also provided with the checklist.
Read the full scientific article
18 October 2013 The LIFE+ project MoorLIFE (LIFE08 NAT/UK/000202) is sending in tractors to cut back heather and create a more desirable moorland patchwork in the Peak District National Park. The intervention will re-establish a mosaic of new growth and more established plants to favour local biodiversity.
For ground-nesting birds such as grouse, a moorland patchwork provides both shelter from predators as well as more open areas for feeding. The cut patches have the added benefit of acting as a natural fire break. Traditionally, mosaics have been created by managed burning; however, cutting will allow the trimmings to be swept up and transported for use on eroded bare peat areas: the cut heather, known as ‘brash’, forms a protective layer over the peat, helping to avoid further erosion. It also provides a source of seeds, which will germinate and help rebuild the original heather cover on these eroded areas.
The tractors will move into an area near to the popular moorland spot of Stanage Edge. Matt Buckler, conservation works manager, said: “Our contractors will be out in good weather so walkers, climbers and mountain bikers may well come across them. This vital work will ensure [some areas of the moors] keep their conservation status as well as helping repair damaged peat on other areas.”
For more information on the MoorLIFE project - which aims to restore 2 000 acres of Peak District and South Pennine moorland by 2015, protecting active blanket bog and conserving bare and eroding peat - please visit the project website.
16 October 2013 The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, officially launched the LIFE+ project for the defragmentation of the Sonian Forest in Belgium (LIFE OZON - LIFE12 NAT/BE/000166) at a special event in the town of Hoeilaart on Friday 11 October 2013. Mr Van Rompuy said he was very pleased to launch the project, not only in his official capacity, but also as a resident of Sint-Genesius Rode (Rhode-Saint-Genèse), a town located within the forest. He pointed out that the Sonian Forest, known locally as the Forêt des Soignes or Zoniënwoud, had inspired writers and poets for centuries, from the medieval mystic Jan van Ruusbroec, to Herman Teirlinck and Jacques Brel more recently. Mr Van Rompuy was moved to compose a haiku in honour of the location of this LIFE Nature project: "Een plek van stilte over groene grensen heen: het woud van Ruusbroec" (which roughly translates as "A place of silence that crosses green borders: the forest of Ruusbroec).
Noting that the aim of the project is to reconnect fragmented patches of flora and fauna through green infrastructure such as eco-tunnels and eco-ducts, Mr Van Rompuy highlighted the fact that LIFE OZON is above all about connecting things, "And connection is the key word for the European Union. Connection between people, between cultures, between languages. that is what this project will do with forests."
He explained that the project will involve the three regional partners who look after the different parts of the 4 421 ha Sonian Forest - Flanders (56% of the territory), Brussels-Capital (38%) and Wallonia (6%): "This collaboration between the regional authorities, the local authorities and the European institutions is an example in some ways for Europe, but especially for Belgium: Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia cooperating is quite unusual, especially in the periphery of Brussels, but it is important - it shows that the federal system can work," said Mr Van Rompuy.
Illustrating the importance of the project to regional and local administrations within Belgium, was the fact that the launch event also included speeches by high-level representatives of the three regional governments, as well as the municipalities of Hoeilaart and Overijse, and the coordinating beneficiary, the Agency of Nature and Forests of the Flemish Ministry of Environment, Nature and Energy ("Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos").
The forest "is the only geographical space that cuts across the three regions," explained Evelyne Huytebroeck, Environment Minister for Brussels-Capital Region. She believed that it was necessary for Brussels to participate in the project because "fragmentation of our natural spaces is a threat to biodiversity."
"OZON is a particularly ambitious project; to realise the ambition you need partners," added the Flemish Minister for Environment, Nature and Culture, Joke Schauvliege, whose speech was presented by Deputy Head of Cabinet, Hugo Geerts.
"We are working together to do our utmost for the forest," noted Jean-Francois Plumier from the Department of Nature and Forests of the Public Service of Wallonia. "Collaboration is very important: it makes the project stronger," affirmed Tom Roelants, Adminstrator-General of the Flemish Roads and Transport Agency.
Also attending the launch was Angelo Salsi, Head of the European Commission's LIFE Nature Unit, who spoke about the importance of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas and their role in building a common natural heritage for Europe. Mr Salsi gave an insight into the "fierce discussion" that takes place during the project selection panel meetings and the reasons why LIFE OZON was approved for 50% co-funding from the European Commission: "The ambition of what you want to reconnect, the visibility in terms of what you are doing, because you are in the capital of Europe, it was amazing. We had no problem whatsoever to pass [the project], and we passed it with great expectation."
The LIFE+ OZON project will tackle the fragmentation of the Sonian Forest over the next four years through a range of measures, including the construction of 10 wildlife crossings above, below and along the ring road around Brussels and the E411 highway. These will reconnect various ecological hotspots which are now cut off from each other by these busy traffic arteries, as well as helping to reduce the incidence of roadkill of animals such as the roe deer and red fox (a 90% reduction is the target). Protected species that will benefit from the project will include, amongst others, the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans), stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) and Geoffroey's bat (Myotis emarginatus), as well as 11 protected habitat types.
Watch a picture gallery of the event here.
Download a transcript of Angelo Salsi's speech here
14 October 2013 An online Natura 2000 Platform has been launched to allow the sharing of information, knowledge and experiences on the different habitat types.
This is a key feature of the New Biogeographical Process, launched by the 2011 by the European Commission in order to ensure the continuous and effective management of the Natura 2000 network.
LIFE projects have developed a wealth of information, experience and know-how about the protection of species and the management of different habitat types. As a result, both current and former LIFE project beneficiaries and partners can make a significant contribution to the New Biogeographical Process and are strongly encouraged to become members of this online community.
You can find more information about the New Biogeographical Process here.
For further information about the Communication Platform visit: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/platform/index_en.htm
An in-depth feature on the New Biogeographical Process and LIFE’s contribution to it is the subject of the July-August edition of LIFEnews, which can be downloaded here.
11 October 2013 Covering 40% of the European Union territory, forests are a key resource for improving quality of life and creating jobs, in particular in rural areas, while also protecting ecosystems and providing ecological benefits. Protecting this resource is at the heart of the EU’s new forest strategy, unveiled by the European Commission on 20 September 2013.
EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, said: "Forests are key ecosystems, as well as a source of wealth and jobs in rural areas, if they are managed in a proper way. Sustainable forest management, ensuring the protection of forests, is a key pillar of rural development and it is one of the principles of the new Forest Strategy".
The new approach highlights that forests are not only important for rural development, but also for the environment and biodiversity, for forest-based industries, bioenergy, and in the fight against climate change.
The new EU Forest Strategy was developed by the Commission in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders over the past two years. It brings together aspects of several complementary policy areas including rural development, enterprise, environment, bioenergy, climate change and research and development. For more information, see the Commission press release.
The LIFE programme has played an important role in supporting projects for the sustainable management of EU forests: Since 1992, 246 projects have targeted forest issues, covering issues such as climate change, biodiversity, forest fires and the protective functions of forests (water, weather, soil and infrastructure).
The LIFE+ Environment Policy & Governance strand specifically encourages projects contributing to the monitoring of the environmental status of forests within EU territory; LIFE+ Information & Communication supports awareness-raising campaigns for the prevention of forest fires and the training of forest fire agents; and LIFE+ Nature & Biodiversity co-funds projects targeting forest habitats included in Annex I of the Habitats Directive.
The new Forest Strategy highlights the valuable role of LIFE, in particular it suggests that LIFE and other EU programmes could help to assess the state of forest ecosystems and their services and that the new LIFE sub-programme for Climate action funding can promote and support new or existing forest management practices that limit emissions or increase net biological productivity (i.e. CO2 removal).
For more information on LIFE projects past and present that are helping to shape a workable and effective strategy for forests, see the special forest issue (February 2011) of the newsletter, LIFEnews.
10 October 2013 The Greek LIFE Environment project SOL-BRINE (LIFE09 ENV/GR/000299) has successfully staged an international conference to share experiences and best practices in water management, with particular reference to islands. The 'Water Is Necessary for Life – WIN4Life' conference attracted more than 150 delegates from Europe, the Middle East and Africa to the Cultural Foundation of Tinos on the Greek island of Tinos from 19-21 September, 2013.
The assembled representatives of academic institutions, public and private sector water management bodies and local authorities saw more than 70 presentations that highlighted the importance of water as a natural resource. In line with the United Nations' declaration of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, the LIFE project's closing conference provided a platform for exchanging recent ideas regarding water management, innovative wastewater techniques, treatment processes for brine and energy autonomous systems in order to address water scarcity with respect to public health and the environment.
The aim of the LIFE SOL-BRINE project was to develop an innovative and energy autonomous system for the treatment and total elimination ('zero liquid discharge') of brine generated by desalination plants, using solar energy. The WIN4LIFE conference included a guided visit to the pilot plant of the brine reclamation system, which has been installed by one of the project partners, the Unit of Environmental Science and Technology of the National Technical University of Athens, at a site in Agios Fokas, Tinos. The SOL-BRINE pilot consists of an evaporator, a crystalliser and a dryer. The solar-powered system is based on evacuated tube collectors and photovoltaics and the outcome is high water recovery (exceeding 90%) and the production of dry salt with market opportunities.
Further information about the SOL-BRINE technology is available from the project website.
01 October 2013 The final conference of the RESTORE project (LIFE09 INF/UK/000032), which was held in Vienna, 11-13 September, and organised in collaboration with the European Centre for River Restoration, resulted in a big success. The event attracted more than 300 delegates from 35 nations across Europe and farther afield. The programme of the conference included more than 100 presentations, three excursions and a number of workshops.
The event showcased examples of successful river restoration and inspired participants’ discussions on future challenges and opportunities for river restoration. Experiences were shared, best practices promoted and stronger networks built for future collaboration.
The significant contribution of the LIFE Programme to river restoration achievements in the EU was underlined by a number of speakers, and various LIFE projects were present during the event.
The conference also featured the first European River Prize, which was awarded to the Rhine. The award ceremony took place during a gala dinner held on 12 September in the presence of Janez Potočnik, the European Commissioner for the environment. The Rhine River received the award for “remarkable achievements in integrated river basin management following a 50-year legacy of river degradation and a devastating chemical accident in 1986”.
The Rhine now automatically qualifies as a finalist for the Thiess International River Prize in 2014. The other three finalists are the Órbigo River, the Mura-Drava-Danube and the Drau River, which was the focus of the LIFE Obere Drau IIproject (LIFE06 NAT/A/000127).
The conference closed on 13 September with an interview with Peter Gammeltoft, Head of Water Unit, DG Environment and a keynote plenary statement from Commissioner Potočnik - A commitment to Rivers. The Commissioner acknowledged the contribution of the RESTORE project (and of the LIFE Programme) to the development of the EU strategy for the protection of Europe's water resources, the Water Blueprint.
The aim of the RESTORE project, which was coordinated by the UK’s Environment agency, was to create a network of policymakers, river basin planners, practitioners and experts across Europe to facilitate the sharing of information and good practice on river restoration activities.