27 January 2014 In 2013, LIFEnews, the monthly LIFE newsletter, once again covered a wide range of key themes relating to the LIFE programme and EU environmental and nature conservation policy and practice. Here we count down the five most read articles of the year.
In fifth place is an article from March 2013 previewing the Climate Action sub-programme that has been introduced by the new LIFE Regulation for the period 2014-2020. Mette Quinn and Dominik Mayer from the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA), spoke about the objectives for the sub-programme and the timeline for its implementation. Preparing for LIFE's new Climate Action sub-programme
The fourth most-read article appeared in the May 2013 edition of the newsletter and focused on the important issue of how best to combine the demands of farming with the needs of nature conservation. It focused in particular on the experiences shared by projects participating in a LIFE Platform Meeting on the theme of nature conservation and agriculture held in Angers, France. The two-day gathering highlighted how LIFE projects have worked closely with farmers to protect valuable bird species and restore important habitats, including grasslands and wetlands. Farming for LIFE: Combining nature conservation and farming
Growing interest in an important new type of communication is reflected in our third most viewed LIFEnews article of 2013, An introduction to LIFE and social media. Appearing in September's issue, the feature provides a selection of useful lessons and good practices from LIFE projects across the EU that have communicated with stakeholders and the wider public using contemporary tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
The New Biogeographical Process attracted even more reader attention, with an overview article, published in the summer edition of LIFEnews (July-August 2013), ranking second for the year just gone. François Kremer, Natura 2000 Policy Coordinator at the European Commission’s Nature Unit, outlined the aims of the process, which focuses on the management of Natura 2000 network sites within Europe's biogeographical regions. An overview of the New Biogeographical Process
Which brings us to the most read article in LIFEnews last year, focusing on the hot topic of sustainable hunting. The feature, published in the April 2013 issue of the newsletter, rounded up the contributions to sustainable hunting practices made by a range of LIFE projects. These examples, from a number of EU Member States, illustrate LIFE's capacity to raise awareness and facilitate working partnerships between nature and hunting interests. LIFE helps lead the way towards sustainable hunting practices
24 January 2014 The results of the first trials of a hydromethane-fuelled bus for urban public transport were presented at the final conference of the LIFE+ Environment project MHyBus (LIFE07 ENV/IT/000434) in Bologna, Italy on 19 December, 2013. The project, which was led by the Region of Emilia-Romagna, carried out tests to optimize the engine for hydromethane, prepared a prototype vehicle, designed and built a dedicated fuelling station and then carried out road tests.
The prototype vehicle travelled more than 45 000 km on public roads around Ravenna without technical problems. The project found that the optimal fuel blend was a mix of 85% methane and 15% hydrogen by volume.
In the opening speech of the conference, Alfredo Peri, the Regional Councillor for Transport in Emilia-Romagna, stressed the importance of initiatives such as MhyBus in taking concrete steps towards a more sustainable mobility and the creation of a regional value chain.
The event included presentations from technology companies and research institutes explaining the potential benefits and market-readiness (or otherwise) of different means of producing the hydrogen part of hydromethane (i.e. steam reforming, carbon saver, hydrobiomethane).
It also included a roundtable in which supply and demand issues around hydromethane were discussed. This included representatives of the regional public transport companies (START Romagna, TPER, SASA Bozen) who expressed great interest, even in the current conditions of limited funds for new investments, in a fuel that provides significant environmental benefits.
One of the key outcomes of the project highlighted in Bologna is a manual about the MHyBus technology, which includes information about the economic advantages of conversion to hydromethane vehicles and is available from: http://www.mhybus.eu/page/documenti
The manual consists of a road map of possible strategies to reduce the environmental impact of public transport based on the experience and the results of the MHyBus project and technical guidelines for local public transport companies, experts and technicians, showing technical and administrative steps and the costs involved in converting urban transport vehicles from methane to hydromethane.
The test vehicle showed a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions and a 13% saving in fuel consumption in comparison with buses currently in use according to data from ENEA, Italy's national agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development.
The LIFE project has demonstrated that hydromethane-powered vehicles are a mature technology for public transport uses. Clear interest from businesses and local and regional authorities will lead to further testing of a fleet of vehicles in Ravenna.
For further information about the project visit: http://www.mhybus.eu/
21 January 2014 With issues such as erosion, soil sealing, carbon capture and contaminated land of growing public concern and policy focus, this brand-new LIFE Focus publication takes a timely look at LIFE and Soil protection.
The 68 page brochure includes an overview of EU soil policy, analysis of LIFE's contribution to its implementation and interviews that link soil science to policy-making to practical action. It also addresses in detail the impact of LIFE actions relating to all the key issues around soil sustainability, including: land take and soil sealing; soil biodiversity; carbon capture; soil monitoring; soil and water protection; sustainable agriculture; and land contamination.
The publication thus provides an opportunity to highlight and assess the LIFE programme's contribution to soil protection to date, including proposals for ways in which project outcomes may be better channelled and have an even greater impact in future.
Download LIFE and Soil protection (10 MB).
20 January 2014 Three scientists from the NGO Förderverein Waldrappteam, beneficiary of a new LIFE Biodiversity project that aims to reintroduce the critically-endangered northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) into Europe, are among the authors of a new scientific paper published by the journal Nature that reveals the secrets of why flocks of migratory birds fly in a V-formation.
The nine scientists – led by Steven Portugal - who co-authored the paper, 'Upwash exploitation and downwash avoidance by flap phasing in ibis formation flight', have seen their fascinating conclusions picked up by major media outlets around the world, including The New York Times, National Geographic, BBC and Spiegel, among many others.
The paper outlines the results of a data collection study, during which a group of 14 northern bald ibises underwent a human-led migration from Salzburg in Austria to southern Tuscany, Italy. Using new technology the team monitored the ibises as they flew in a V-formation, recording their position, speed, heading and every single wing flap over a 43-minute period. The results show that individuals position themselves in aerodynamically optimum positions, in accordance with theoretical aerodynamic predictions. Furthermore, those birds flying behind and to the side of the bird in front flapped their wings in phase, enabling the trailing bird to gain extra lift from the bird ahead. Birds often changed their position and altered the timing of their wing beats to give them the best aerodynamic advantage possible.
The study was the first in which the carefully-orchestrated patterns had been directly observed in migrating birds, confirming previously unconfirmed theoretical models. The study’s findings indicate intricate sensory mechanisms to either sense or predict the patterns of air turbulence caused by nearby flock-mates. The results also indicate that the birds are capable of complex locomotory fine-tuning to maintain an optimal position and to cope with the dynamic wakes produced by flapping wings.
This important scientific first will feed into the work of Förderverein Waldrappteam on the new LIFE Northern Bald Ibis project (LIFE12 BIO/AT/000143), which runs from 2014-2019. The main objective of this LIFE Biodiversity project is the reintroduction of the critically endangered northern bald ibis into Europe and the establishment of a pattern of migration that will ensure the survival of the species. As of 2013, the northern bald ibis is virtually extinct as a wild migrating species, with its worldwide migratory population consisting of a single individual in the Middle East.
The new LIFE project is based on a 10-year feasibility study carried out by Förderverein Waldrappteam that led to the creation of a first small migratory breeding group and included the human-led migration flights in which the data collection on V-formation flights was carried out. To achieve the overall goals of the LIFE Northern Bald Ibis project, nine partners in three countries will establish migratory breeding colonies in Germany and Austria, with a common wintering area in Tuscany. The majority of birds will be electronically monitored, whilst genetic screening will optimise the genetic variability. Juvenile birds will be provided by sedentary free-flight and zoo colonies.
Read more information about the new LIFE project here.
To download the original abstract of the scientific paper published in Nature, click here.
To see a Nature video about the V-formation study, click below or visit: http://youtu.be/fKkzqk3RMLc
17 January 2014 The latest LIFE Focus publication takes stock of the achievements to date of the LIFE Nature strand of the LIFE programme. Titled Long-term impact and sustainability of LIFE Nature, the 60-page brochure provides a user-friendly snapshot of the detailed assessments contained in the ex-post (after project's end) evaluations of LIFE projects.
This evaluation process involves visits by experts from the LIFE Monitoring Team to a random sampling of completed LIFE Nature projects a number of years after they have finished. Some 9% of all LIFE Nature projects have been evaluated thus far. As well as outlining the history and methodology of the ex-post evaluation process, this new publication draws on the results of that qualitative research, backed up by new interviews with key stakeholders across several EU Member States, to highlight the lessons that can be learned in terms of LIFE Nature's long-term impact and sustainability at both project and programme level.
These lessons include the impact of LIFE on species and habitats, the effect of large-scale investments, LIFE's role in capacity-building (with a particular focus on newer Member States) and long-term success factors for projects, such as good project design and engagement with stakeholders.
Download the brochure in the publication section: Long-term impact and sustainability of LIFE Nature
14 January 2014 In 2008, LIFE-Projekt Maifisch (LIFE06 NAT/D/000005) first released allis shad (Alosa alosa) larvae into the Rhine system as part of an effort to bring this once abundant fish species back from extinction in this river system. Now, monitoring confirms that the allis shad has successfully spawned in the Rhine for the first time in more than half a century.
Three juvenile allis shad were detected in a cooling water outtake of a nuclear power plant on the upper Rhine late September 2013. Since the nearest location in which the species was reintroduced was some 100 km downstream, experts believe it is very unlikely that the specimens directly come from fish stocking measures undertaken by LIFE-Projekt Maifisch or the subsequent LIFE+ Nature project, Alosa alosa (LIFE09 NAT/DE/000008).
In mid-November 2013, a professional fisherman caught an adult allis shad near Wörth on the Upper Rhine. Biologists of the Universities of Koblenz-Landau and Düsseldorf confirm that this was a fully-spawned female, providing a further indication that the species has spawned successfully in the Rhine.
Adult allis shad have also been observed in the lower Moselle and the Rhine delta area, highlighting the success of the measures introduced by the two LIFE projects. According to the stocking program and the lifecycle characteristics of the allis shad, increasing numbers of returnees were expected from 2013 onwards.
The LIFE-Project Maifisch reintroduced some 4.8 million allis shad larvae to the Rhine and its tributaries between 2008 and 2010, with the aim of achieving a self-sustaining population that would return to the same river to breed in the future without the need for ongoing restocking activities. The ongoing (2011-2015) Alosa alosa project is combining the conservation of the largest remaining Allis shad population in Europe in the Gironde watershed in France with the reintroduction of Allis shad to the Rhine watershed in Germany. It will transfer allis shad aquaculture techniques from France to Germany and development of techniques for an ex-situ breeding facility close to the Rhine, to be operational from 2015. Further information is available from the project website: http://www.alosa-alosa.eu
13 January 2014 The LIFE Nature project WOLFNET (LIFE08 NAT/IT/000325) successfully staged an International Wolf Congress from 6-8 November in Caramanico Terme, in Italy’s Majella National Park. The congress was organised as the final event of the LIFE project by the coordinating beneficiary, the Majella National Park, together with project partners Pollino National Park, Foreste Casentinesi National Park, the Zooprophylactic Institute of the Regions of Lazio and Tuscany, the Province of l’Aquila and the Italian environmental NGO, Legambiente.
More than 250 participants from 13 countries attended the high-level congress, which included 35 presentations on wolf conservation, including one by Simona Bacchereti from the LIFE Communications Team based around the lessons of the recent LIFE Focus publication, LIFE and human coexistence with large carnivores during the session on 'New perspectives in wolf management'. Attendees of the congress included academics, biologists, naturalists, veterinarians, conservation practitioners, NGOs, LIFE project beneficiaries and representatives of public institutions at local and national level, as well as experts from the US and Canada.
The three-day event embraced all the key areas of relevance to wolf conservation, including wolf monitoring methods and systems, health surveillance and veterinary issues, forensics, damage prevention, coexistence with humans, and management experiences and perspectives. Each day's presentations were followed by roundtable discussions to facilitate dialogue and trigger exchange and collaborations.
The main aim of the WOLFNET project was to develop and apply a coordinated programme of sustainable conservation measures for the protection and management of wolves in Italy's Apennines mountain range. As well as preventive measures and educational activities, the project has made substantial efforts to create an inter-institutional network that promotes coordinated activities between various public authorities that are involved in managing wolf-related matters.
Another important achievement has been continuous contact and collaboration with all key stakeholders so as to diminish coexistence conflicts, a prerequisite for the long-term conservation of large carnivores.
The project has also improved an existing compensation scheme for farmers whose livestock have been attacked by wolves: speeding-up procedures for compensation, developing new methodologies to help clarify the characteristics of typical wolf attacks on livestock (and instigating a training course for other vets to use these diagnostic techniques), and allowing farmers to receive new, high-quality animals as compensation, in place of money.
For further information, visit the project website: http://www.lifewolf.net/
10 January 2014 A Portuguese LIFE Nature project targeting the recovery of habitats threatened by invasive plant species has received the 2013 António Mota Award (http://premiomam.mota-engil.pt/) in recognition of its commitment to social inclusion.
The BRIGHT project (LIFE10 NAT/PT/000075) has involved a team of seven convicts from Coimbra Regional Prison, who work alongside the beneficiary's staff on control and conservation tasks. Demonstrating the value of this collaboration, the first of the prisoners to complete his jail sentence has since become a full-time member of the project team.
The aim of the BRIGHT project, which commenced in September 2010, is to conserve the adrenal, a relict habitat only known to exist in a 15 ha area of the Bussaco National Forest in central Portugal and which is dominated by the evergreen shrub, Phillyrea latifolia. The adrenal habitat is under threat from several invasive plant species, including Tradescantia fluminensis, Acacia sp. and Pittosporum sp. Project actions are thus focusing on the control and eradication of these species, including through the involvement of the local community and institutions such as the regional prison. The involvement of volunteers in the project actions is novel in the Portuguese socio-economic context and has enabled the first set of habitat interventions to be completed on schedule.
A key element of the remainder of the project will be the involvement of owners of marginal land in the control and eradication actions, in order to preserve the unique target habitat.
For further information about the project, visit: www.fmb.pt/bright
09 January 2014The new LIFE Regulation has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union, the official record of EU legislation. The Regulation - which was published on 20 December 2013 - establishes the Environment and Climate Action sub-programmes of the LIFE Programme for the next funding period, 2014–2020. The budget for the period is set at €3.4 billion in current prices.
The LIFE programme will contribute to sustainable development and to the achievement of the objectives and targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the 7th Union Environmental Action Programme and other relevant EU environment and climate strategies and plans.
The ‘Environment’ strand of the new programme covers three priority areas: environment and resource efficiency; nature and biodiversity; and environmental governance and information. The ‘Climate Action’ strand covers climate change mitigation; climate change adaptation; and climate governance and information.
The programme also consists of a new category of projects, jointly funded integrated projects, which will operate on a large territorial scale. These projects will aim to implement environmental and climate policy and to better integrate such policy aims into other policy areas.
The new regulation also establishes eligibility and the criteria for awards as well as a basis for selecting projects. The programme is open to the participation of third countries and provides for activities outside the EU. It also provides a framework for cooperation with international organisations.
In June 2017, the European Commission will carry out an external and independent mid-term evaluation report and by December 2023 it will complete an ex-post evaluation report covering the implementation and results of the LIFE Programme.
To read in full the ‘Regulation (EU) No 1293/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the establishment of a Programme for the Environment and Climate Action (LIFE) and repealing Regulation (EC) No 614/2007’, go to: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/JOHtml.do?uri=OJ:L:2013:347:SOM:EN:HTML (page 185. It is possible to change the language in the upper right corner).