27 November 2014The long conservation history of the Apennine chamois – a chamois subspecies (Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata) - received a welcome boost with the birth in May 2014 of five kids in the Sirente Velino Natural Park (PRSV) in Italy, a site from which the species had disappeared in the recent past. That the new arrivals appeared in the first birthing season following animal release is a good omen for the long-term conservation of the subspecies.
The newborns mark a successful conclusion to the LIFE COORNATA project (LIFE09 NAT/IT/000183). The initiative builds on two previous LIFE Nature projects that also build on a long-standing conservation tradition. In fact the species recovery efforts can be traced all the way back to 1918.
At the end of the First World War, only 30 individuals of the Apennine chamois survived in a restricted area of the central Apennines. Today more than 2000 individuals live in 5 populations in the main parks of the central Apennines: Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise National Park (PNALM), Majella National Park (PNM), Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park (PNGSL), Monti Sibillini National Park (PNMS) and Sirente Velino Natural Park (PRSV).
The history of Apennine chamois conservation began with the institution of the Abruzzo National Park (now become PNALM) with the specific aim to protect the last nucleus of Apennine chamois. After the Second World War, this nucleus started to increase until becoming a source population by the beginning of the 1990s.
A key phase of chamois conservation could then commence, accompanied step-by-step by the LIFE programme. In 1991 the PNALM, with the cooperation of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), started Operazione Camoscio, an initiative that together with the development of two LIFE projects (LIFE97 NAT/IT/004143 Rupicapra I and LIFE02 NAT/IT/008538 Rupicapra II), permitted the constitution and consolidation of the PNGSL and PNM populations and the development of the preparatory activities to carry out the reintroductions in the PNMS. A final phase of chamois conservation started with the constitution of a fourth population in the PNMS (as from 2008) and the development of the LIFE COORNATA project, thanks to which the PNMS population has been consolidated, a new fifth population constituted in the PRSV and a special plan for the conservation of the historic population in the PNALM has been implemented.
LIFE COORNATA, which started in September 2010 and ended in September 2014, is the feather in the cap of the tenacious conservation effort. Its value is not limited to the population increases achieved. It has also managed to effect a coordinated approach to chamois conservation, which is fundamental to improve its conservation status.
Find out more about the Apennine chamois on the LIFE COORNATA website.
25 November 2014The latest LIFE Nature Focus publication takes a timely look at one of the greatest threats to Europe's biodiversity, ecosystem services, human health and economic activities. The 76-page LIFE and invasive alien species brochure links the work of LIFE projects with the aims of the new EU Invasive Alien Species (IAS) Regulation.
There are an estimated 1200-1800 IAS in Europe and the impact of such species is of growing concern. The LIFE programme has been addressing the problems posed by invasive alien species for more than two decades. Indeed, in that time some 265 LIFE projects have included measures to deal with IAS, ranging from steps to prevent their spread to control and eradication actions in places where invasive alien species are already present and having a negative impact on native species and habitats. LIFE also provides a deep well of learning on trans-border cooperation, dissemination and awareness-raising efforts with regards to IAS.
This new brochure examines the lessons learned from the LIFE programme's extensive experience of dealing with the impacts of IAS. As such it is essential reading for policymakers and practitioners in this field.
Download LIFE and Invasive Alien Species
24 November 2014 The LIFE project VULTURES' RETURN (LIFE08 NAT/BG/000278) has discovered that a young vulture released in Bulgaria has managed to travel as far as Jordan. It is the first time that a released vulture has been tracked at such a distance. The story came to light when a Bedouin man, who had trapped the live bird close to the village of Jafir, called the Bulgarian phone number written on the bird's wing tag to ask for a reward.
After the initial contact had been cut short due to communication difficulties, the project partners mobilised colleagues from Jordan, Israel, and Germany. They found out that the man had caught a young male specimen which had originally been ringed, tagged, and released in Bulgaria in September 2014. However, when the local Jordanian police located the trapper, he claimed that he had re-released the bird.
Three large vulture species are endemic to Europe: the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), the black vulture (Aegypius monachus), and the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). Of these three, only the griffon vulture has a small, but viable population now living in Bulgaria. The black vulture no longer breeds in Bulgaria, although it does regularly visit feeding sites in the country. The bearded vulture is no longer found in Bulgaria at all.
The five-year VULTURES' RETURN project aims to restore the populations of the three species in Bulgaria, and thus contribute to the recovery of the highly threatened vulture populations in the wider Balkan region.
The vulture caught in Jordan is one of roughly 150-to-200 griffon vultures the project partners are planning to import from Spain, as part of a variety of conservation and restoration measures.
For more information, please visit the project website.
20 November 2014The project LIFE Chiro Med (LIFE08 NAT/F/000473) recently won first prize at the international ornithological film festival, held in France, for their documentary film entitled, The Life of the Greater Horseshoe Bat. The film, directed by Tanguy Stoecklé and produced by the Groupe Chiroptères de Provence, is about a colony of the rare greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) that live in the Camargue Natural Regional Park, France.
The greater horseshoe bat is one of the most amazing and mysterious bats in Europe. The film gives an insight into the life a young female bat and its mother and takes viewers on a thrilling but challenging journey.
Bats are highly threatened in Europe and the greater horseshoe bat and Geoffroy’s bat (Myotis emarginatus) species are particularly affected. Both are listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. The colony of horseshoe bats in the Camargue is crucial to the maintenance of the species in the south of France and is very closely linked to colonies of Geoffroy’s bat, which often share roosting and hunting areas. The Chiro Med project carried out measures to strengthen, improve and monitor the conservation status of at least eight nursery colonies and hibernation roosts of both the greater horseshoe and Geoffroy’s bat populations.
More information about the project is available on the Chiro Med website.
12 November 2014Researchers from the AMIBIO project (LIFE08 NAT/GR/000539) have established a song library for orthopteran insects that facilitates automated species recognition in the Mediterranean. Their work has now been published in the Journal of Insect Conservation (October 2014, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 909-925).
Orthoptera is an order of insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, and other species, many of whom produce sound (known as stridulation). The AMBIO project identified 20 different species on Hymettus Mountain in Athens. Hymettus Mountain is a Natura 2000 network site where AMBIO installed an innovative acoustic biodiversity monitoring system to collect sounds produced by the local insects, birds, mammals, and amphibians.
For a reliable reading of singing orthoptera, the microphone sensor network has to be ten times denser than that used for monitoring birds, as the vegetation dampens and absorbs the insects' song. In addition, the sound emissions are characterised by high frequencies. Therefore, the recording units also need to capture ultrasound, which is outside the range of human hearing.
However, the analysis is more straightforward for insects. “While birds have an ample and often highly variable song repertoire, many insects have species-specific calling songs, which mostly serve to attract a female,” explains Dr Klaus Riede, one of the study's authors, from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Germany. The repertoire of insects is more limited, making it easier to recognise patterns, much like fingerprinting.
Researchers can now use the collection of sound patterns, compiled by Dr Riede and his colleagues, as a reference library for orthopteran sound emissions. “It is a prerequisite for automated acoustic biodiversity analysis,” says Dr Riede.
Recording and analysing bioacoustic signals – the sounds of birds, insects, and other animals – can help species identification, especially since many animals are more often heard than seen. In addition, some species look so similar that zoologists use their song to distinguish them.
Acoustic monitoring can speed up the identification process, making it possible to assess the biodiversity – the where and when of species – in specific regions more quickly. These assessments can then inform the establishment of red lists of threatened species and conservation measures. “There is a great need for increased use and further development of automated animal sound recording and identification to improve monitoring efficiency and accuracy for the benefit of conservation,” the researchers write in the newly published paper.
The three-year AMIBIO project collected roughly eight terabytes of (mostly audio) data. While the project ended in June 2013, the analysis of the data continues.
For more information, please visit the AMIBIO project website.
Samples of orthopteran sound recordings can be found in the Europeana database.
12 November 2014An English egg collector has been convicted in Bulgaria for the plundering of eggs of rare and endangered bird species. Jan Frederick Ross was handed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for three years, and a BGN 5000 (€ 2500) fine after pleading guilty to the illegal possession of 16 bird eggs and 3 taxidermy specimens.
Central to his conviction in October was the testimony of experts from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) who are involved in the LIFE projects, LIFE for Eagles Forest (LIFE12 NAT/BG/001218) and Return of the Neophronria and Greece’ (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152). The egg-collecting conviction, the first of its kind in Bulgaria, followed a lengthy investigation carried out by the BSPB, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)/ BirdLife UK and the Bulgarian police.
The investigation revealed that Mr Ross had collected eggs of the griffon vulture, a rare breeding bird in Bulgaria (60 pairs). The diaries of the convicted collector revealed that he had also taken eggs of the extremely rare Egyptian vulture (24 pairs in Bulgaria) and the imperial eagle (24 pairs in Bulgaria), but these eggs were not found by the police, and they were unable to convict him for these offences on the diary evidence alone.
The griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) population in Bulgaria was on the brink of extinction in the early 1990s, but thanks to the efforts of the BSPB, it has been recovering in recent years. The BSPB has also focused on the conservation on Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the imperial eagle (Aquila heliacal), and with the support of the LIFE programme, it has learned a great deal about the reasons for the population decline of these species. Moreover, it has carried out measures that have also prevented their extinction from Bulgaria.
The BSPB began cooperating with RSPB/Birdlife UK on wildlife crime under the LIFE programme. It believes that the conviction of the egg collector represents a great step towards preventing such crimes recurring in the future and that greater legal emphasis will now be placed on this issue as a result. A short video has been made about the case and can be accessed online.
The BSPB recently launched a campaign, entitled ‘I protect the forests and the eagles of Bulgaria’, as part of its ongoing LIFE project (LIFE12 NAT/BG/001218). The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of wildlife crime and to honour those who help prevent such crimes. The campaign is not only focused on birds but accepts nominations concerning all legally protected species.
For more information about the campaign, visit the project’s website: www.eagleforests.org
07 November 2014The LIFE project Saving Danube Sturgeons (LIFE11 INF/AT/000902) has produced and published award-winning videos on the plight of the highly endangered species the Danube sturgeon. In Bulgaria the films were broadcast by several TV stations, including the national television channel. The project teams in Bulgaria and Romania also used the films in a web and information campaign about the sturgeon. The videos were directed by Dragomir Sholev, one of best young Bulgarian directors, and the TV campaign "The Invisible Fish", won bronze in the prestigious FARA 2014 advertising awards in Bulgaria.
Saving Danube Sturgeons is a three year LIFE project coordinated by WWF Austria. The project aims to stop the overexploitation of the critically endangered Danube sturgeon in Bulgaria and Romania and thus to ensure the long-term survival of this species, which has a high natural and economic value. The film is one of several activities planned to achieve this goal. It is central to the project’s information campaign about the sturgeons and has been very successful at raising public awareness about the issue.
To find out more about the project please visit the project website: http://danube-sturgeons.org/
03 November 2014The results of the ambitious Swedish electro mobility project, LIFE+ Hyper Bus (LIFE10 ENV/SE/000041) have surpassed expectation. This public-private sector collaboration has developed and trialled three new plug-in hybrid buses with fast-charging batteries in Gothenburg. It was the first time that the vehicles were tested in regular service. As a measure of the international interest in the project – in September 2013, the technology behind the Hyper Bus was showcased to US President Barack Obama during his visit to Sweden.
Before the year-long Hyper Bus trials started, the project had hoped to achieve a 65% fuel saving over the diesel (EURO 5) currently used on the Gothenburg city buses. In practice this has been well exceeded. The new plug-in hybrid (built by project partner Volvo Buses) consumes less than 11 litres of fuel for every 100 km, which is 81% less fuel than the equivalent diesel bus. There has been a 75% reduction of CO2 emissions compared with standard diesel buses. And the objective to reduce the average tailpipe emissions of NOx, PM, HC and CO by more than 75% is also being met.
The plug-in technology allows the battery to be charged with external electricity, via two charging stations located at each end of the route. Each charging station is connected to a 400V AC supply, and has a charging capacity of 100 kW. To completely charge the bus requires 10 kWh, which takes just six minutes.
Although the project has only just ended (September 2014), the Hyper Bus is already on the market; and will be mass produced from the beginning of 2016 as the Volvo 7900 Electric Hybrid. Four European cities have already placed their orders. Thus the bus and its charging infrastructure will shortly – in the first quarter of 2015 – be introduced onto the streets of Stockholm (where eight plug-in hybrids will go into full service) and Hamburg, followed by Gothenburg later in the year and Luxembourg in 2016. In addition, there are also ongoing discussions with several other cities, both in Europe and beyond.
Meanwhile, interest in hybrid buses is growing on all continents. The USA, China, Japan, Germany and France are all investing heavily in the technology. According to the Hyper Bus partners, during his visit to Sweden, President Obama was especially interested in costs: the US government has invested $2.4 billion to accelerate the manufacturing and deployment of the next generation of batteries and electric vehicles.
For more information on the project, visit the project website.
03 November 2014The achievements of Murerleben (LIFE08 NAT/A/000614) have been recognised by the Australian-based International RiverFoundation (IRF), which has awarded the LIFE project a prestigious River Prize.
The IRF rewards outstanding sustainable management projects that benefit the world’s rivers, lakes and wetlands. Its flagship programme comprises the Thiess International, the Australian and the European River Prizes. Although the International prize was founded in 1999, the European River Prize was first awarded in 2013. This prize is administered from the IRF Europe office in Vienna and is judged by a panel of European experts, with the winner receiving an elegant trophy and €25 000 thanks to sponsorship by Coca-Cola Europe.
The LIFE Murerleben project won the award for restoring, maintaining and improving the landscapes of the upper Mur River in Styria (Austria). The upper Mur had become badly degraded due to river channelling, which causes a reduction in river dynamics and a loss of habitats, and the construction of weirs and hydropower stations that disrupt river continuity. Since 1997, extensive work has been done to re-establish the natural conditions of the river for the benefit of rare and endangered species listed in the Habitats Directive, including species of amphibian, fish and plants. A priority stretch of over 22km of the River Mur has been restored during this and a previous LIFE project (LIFE03 NAT/A/000011). For further information see the Murerleben project’s website: http://www.murerleben.at
All the River Prize finalists have the opportunity to participate in the River Foundation’s Twinning Programme. The Murerleben project team will therefore share their knowledge and expertise with another organisation working toward the sustainable management of the world’s freshwater habitats.
For more information see the IRF press release.