24 February 2014 Years of work by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) the Sudanese Wildlife Society (SWS), as well as joint efforts of the LIFE project "Return of the Neophron” (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152) and the BirdLife UNDP/GEF project Migratory Soaring Birds (MSB) have paid off. The Sudanese Government and the Sudanese Electricity company have agreed to switch off and replace a dangerous power line in the area of Port Sudan that has killed hundreds or even thousands of Egyptian Vultures and other birds over the years.
The Port Sudan area used to be the most important resting and feeding ground in Sudan for the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) during its exhausting autumn migration. The construction of the power line in the 1950s had a negative consequence for the species: large numbers of birds have been electrocuted when coming into contact with it. In 2010, BSPB and SWS began a series of actions to try and solve the problem, one of which is The Return of the Neophron. The LIFE project aims to improve the conservation status of the Egyptian vulture in Greece and Bulgaria by securing the protection of all the remaining pairs found in 15 Natura 2000 network sites in Greece and in 12 sites in Bulgaria. This includes through the publication of a ‘flyway species action plan’, reinforced by an active expert conservation network, that will be an important catalyst for future conservation action outside the EU that will directly benefit the Bulgarian and Greek breeding population.
MSB Regional Project coordinator, Osama Alnouri, described the replacement of the power line as a ‘great achievement” and “the cumulative result of the work of the BSPB in investigating and quantifying the threat to the Egyptian Vulture and other soaring birds; the MSB project; and the Sudanese Wildlife Society. It is also thanks to the commitment of the Directors of Sudan’s Electricity Distribution and Transmission companies in trying to solve this long-standing problem.”
Further information is available from the project website: http://lifeneophron.eu/en/news-view/220.html
21 February 2014 The Spanish LIFE Nature project, PROYECTO ESTANY (LIFE08 NAT/E/000078), has successfully reintroduced hundreds of freshwater mussels to Banyoles Lake in Girona, Catalonia. This success was built on the project’s efforts in developing the most successful captive breeding programme for freshwater mussels of the Unio genus in Europe.
The project recreated the delicate natural breeding cycle of the mussels in a laboratory near Banyoles Lake. They used water and sediment from the lake as well as 900 fish, on which the mussels depend during their parasitic larval stage. In multiple breeding cycles since 2011, the team have produced 130 000 young mussels - 80% U. mancus and 20% U. ravoisieri.
The team nurtured the mussels in the laboratory, thus avoiding the extremely dangerous early days of a mussel’s life in its natural environment. At two-and-a-half years old, they selected healthy mussels of around 3 cm in length for repopulation of the lake. A first batch of 278 individuals of U. mancus and 224 of U. ravoisieri have been fully released, with another 300 held in acclimatisation pens.
These releases represent a 40% increase in the population of U. mancus and a 200% increase in numbers of U. ravoisieri. In 2012, the project also successfully released into the lake some 3 500 autochthonous fish species carrying mussel larvae. Young mussels have already been found to have survived in the lake from these releases.
For more information on this project, which aims to stabilise endangered species and habitats of Community Interest in the Natura 2000 site Estany de Banyoles, please visit the project website.
20 February 2014 A UK-led LIFE project, RESTORE (LIFE09 INF/UK/000032), has published a new report highlighting the importance of river restoration in Europe. Available in five languages (English, French, Dutch, Italian and Finnish), this timely publication emphasises the value of river restoration in terms of increased ecological quality, flood risk reduction and social and economic benefits.
Between 2010 and 2013 the project developed tools - including a website and RiverWiki - to help practitioners across Europe increase their knowledge, skills and opportunities to create networks in the field of river restoration.
The report River Restoration in Europe: The art of the possible brings together knowledge from the LIFE project and the recent European River Restoration Conference to provide policy-makers and river basin managers with a useful document for addressing the key policy and technical challenges ahead.
The new report is designed to raise awareness of the ability of river restoration to mitigate against the effects of climate change on river habitats. One of its key findings is that artificial structures such as flood walls and dams cannot protect homes, industry and agriculture from flooding. Indeed, such structures may serve to destroy the river habitats, wetlands and floodplains that can provide natural flood protection. The report is thus an important reminder of the ability of river restoration and the naturalisation of floodplains to work with nature to help control floods.
For more information, visit the RESTORE project website.
RESTORE is the third UK-based LIFE project to demonstrate the practical benefits of river restoration. The first such was Wise use of floodplains (LIFE99 ENV/UK/000203), which ran between 1999 and 2002. This project was designed to aid in implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive by demonstrating how floodplains and their associated wetlands can contribute to sustainable management of water resources within river basins.
The project beneficiary worked closely with local citizens to compare the social, economic and environmental costs of different floodplain management schemes and then tested these measures within five areas of the UK. The results of this first phase enabled the creation of useful tools for floodplain management which were subsequently disseminated widely.
A second project known as Smurf (Sustainable Management of Urban Rivers and Floodplains - LIFE02 ENV/UK/000144) aimed to reduce pollution and flooding on the River Tame in England’s West Midlands region. This LIFE Best Environment Project 2006-2007 again involved the local community, setting up focus groups to define the targets for renovation of a stretch of the River Tame at Perry Hall playing fields. Following this stakeholder input, measures were taken to make the river more accessible, as well as allowing it to pursue a more natural course through the fields. The project’s user-friendly innovations were also recognised by the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
17 February 2014 The UK LIFE+ project IPENS (LIFE11 NAT/UK/000384) has published a report identifying 11 priorities for action to improve the condition of Natura 2000 sites in England. These priorities are part of a scoping exercise which will now be used to develop a strategic programme for management of the Natura 2000 network in England.
The project team conducted extensive analysis of available data sources and discussions with key stakeholders to identify the 11 priority threats and pressures facing Natura 2000 sites in England. These include habitat fragmentation, aerial nitrogen deposition, diffuse water pollution and coastal squeeze. The project will now develop ‘theme plans’, clarifying the nature of each issue and identifying (new) solutions across Natura 2000 sites.
The project will use the identified priorities to inform delivery of a programme of projects that will address the 11 priority issues and in particular those issues affecting multiple sites and those which require a strategic approach and even national action. It will thus implement the Priority Action Framework for achieving target conservation of the Natura 2000 network in England.
This project marks the first time that such a strategic programme for the management of Natura 2000 sites has been attempted in the UK. It hopes to use this to harness new and amended mechanisms and funding options to achieve conservation goals.
For more information on this project, please visit the project website.
12 February 2014 A new report by the European Environment Agency reveals that bat numbers in selected European countries increased by more than 40% between 1993 and 2011, an important correction to significant historic declines. According to EEA Executive Director, Hans Bruyninckx, the findings of the technical report on bats suggest "that targeted conservation policies over the last years have been successful. But many bat species are still endangered, so preserving their habitats is still an important priority."
The LIFE programme has been one key source of targeted spending in support of EU bat conservation objectives. Since 1992, there have been a total of 55 such projects, utilising some €54.8 million of EU funding, and mobilising almost €114 million in total, a significant part of which has been used to help the recovery of endangered bat species.
As Figure 1 shows, a total of 27 protected bat species listed in the Annexes of the EU Habitats Directive have been targeted by LIFE projects. The whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus), a species currently being targeted by one LIFE project (LIFE10 NAT/DE/000005) showed a strong increase in its population according to the EEA bat report; a further eight species posted a moderate improvement in numbers, seven of which have been targeted by LIFE: The lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposiderus - 27 projects), greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis - 27 projects), greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum - 25 projects), Geoffroy's bat (Myotis emarginatus - 20 projects), barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus - 19 projects), Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentonii - three projects) and Natterer's bat (Myotis nattereri - three projects). The one species to show a moderate population increase without any support from LIFE was the northern bat (Eptesicus nilssonii).
Some of the most successful of the 55 bat projects have taken place in France, including Life plateau de Montselgues (LIFE05 NAT/F/000135), which targeted the barbastelle and lesser horseshoe bat, as well as two other bat species and was recognised as a Best LIFE Nature Project 2010. The CHIROFRSUD project (LIFE04 NAT/FR/000080) aimed to conserve three species: the Mediterranean horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale), the long-fingered bat (Myotis capaccinii) and Schreiber’s bat (Miniopterus schreibersii). The project introduced technological measures and management and partnership agreements that in total enabled the protection of 19 roosts, with a positive impact on populations. For instance, a record 2 238 Mediterranean horseshoe bats were seen in hibernation in 2005 at one site in Aquitaine, whilst 650 Schreiber’s bats were observed in 2007 at a new roost created by the project in an abandoned mine.
A follow-up project which finishes next month has built on the achievements of LIFE CHIROFRSUD. Life Chiro Med (LIFE08 NAT/F/000473) has taken steps to give physical and/or regulatory protection to populations of greater horseshoe and Geoffroy’s bats in the Camargue region of France. Measures taken have included providing new roosts in 15 unoccupied buildings, extending foraging areas by creating more than 20 km of wooded corridors between roosts and hunting areas and increasing food availability by promoting and evaluating bat-friendly pastoral practices for cattle owners and stock breeders. The project has also used telemetry to identify further foraging sites of the target species, implemented a predictive data processing tool to support enhanced management and trialled a new, ultrasound-based system for reducing road mortality at high-risk points near nursery colonies and other key sites – when a vehicle passes, the asphalt emits a sound of a particular frequency that acts as a warning to the greater horseshoe bat. These innovative approaches provide a number of valuable lessons for others engaged in bat conservation.
Another notable project is Quirópteros Extremadura (LIFE04 NAT/ES/000043), which took significant steps to protect bat-roosting sites in the Spanish region of Extremadura, including within abandoned mines. It also relocated a colony of greater horseshoe bats from a heritage site - a monastery that was a former residence of Emperor Charles V. Other important outcomes of the project were to help the regional authority of Extremadura, the coordinating beneficiary, to improve its bat-monitoring capacity, as well as to produce good practice conservation guidelines that have helped stakeholders become more aware of bat management considerations and incorporate them into their activities.
Further good examples of LIFE's role in bat conservation can be seen in the publication LIFE and European Mammals, available here.
Summaries of all the LIFE projects targeting bat species can be found through the LIFE project database.
The EEA report on bats can be downloaded here.
07 February 2014 An extensive report on the LIFE+ Environment Platform Meeting on Alternative Future Urban Mobility, which took place in Berlin in November 2013, is now available to download. The report was written by Thomas Mayer from the LIFE+ External Monitoring Team (Astrale), which was responsible for organising the Platform Meeting in collaboration with host LIFE project, Clean Air (LIFE11 ENV/DE/000495). The aim of this multi-faceted project is to build a network of local and regional authorities and NGOs to support the monitoring and implementation of the Air Quality Directive, including sharing best practice and improving citizen awareness. For further information, visit: http://www.cleanair-europe.org
To facilitate understanding of the issues, the host project beneficiary, VCD (The German Association for Transport and Environment), also arranged an urban mobility tour of Berlin for participants, encompassing such topics as urban motorways, the city's low emission zone, bus and bike lanes, car sharing, bike sharing and e-bikes.
The aim of the Platform Meeting, a kind of thematic seminar, was to bring together practitioners from across Europe to share experience on alternative future urban mobility. This would include sharing and benefitting from the experiences of completed and ongoing LIFE projects, discussing key issues, and providing recommendations on how the LIFE programme and the European Commission in general could support key goals with regards to sustainable urban mobility, such as encouraging greater use of less polluting modes of transport.
Wilhelmus de Wilt from the Air & Industrial Emissions Unit within the European Commission's DG Environment set the scene in his presentation of the latest EU policy developments in this area. This was followed by a detailed presentation by the Clean Air project, as well as shorter presentations from other participating LIFE projects.
Representatives from a total of 14 LIFE Environment or LIFE Information & Communication projects were amongst the 33 participants at the meeting, which was designed for a small, focused audience in order to facilitate participation in work groups designed to address some of the key challenges around future urban mobility.
There were six work groups in total (four per day, with two particularly important topics addressed by separate work groups on each day of the meeting). The work groups covered the following topics:
Results of the workgroups can be found in the full report on the Platform Meeting. Further documents from the event are available to download below. A summary of the findings and an analysis of their importance for policy and its implementation will be available in the February issue of LIFEnews, which focuses on air quality.