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News: February 2015

EU acknowledges LIFE good practice in results-based rural development

LIFE04 NAT/IE/000125

26 February 2015 Ireland’s BurrenLIFE project (LIFE04 NAT/IE/000125) has produced innovations in results-based approaches to agri-environment action that have been highlighted as good practice by EU rural development authorities. This accolade comes from the first phase of a new initiative by the European Parliament and European Commission promoting wider uptake by Member States of results-based agri-environment payment schemes (RBAPS).

Whilst the LIFE programme has supported many projects that have fed into the development of management-based agri-environment schemes, the BurrenLIFE project is a pioneer of this new results-based approach to agri-environment payment. RBAPS differ from conventional agri-environment schemes because they focus their payments on recorded biodiversity results, rather than compensating for specific land management actions. They also provide farmers with more flexibility to manage their land as they choose in order to achieve the desired results. In addition, biodiversity conservation has been shown to be more cost-effective through RBAPS than conventional alternatives.

BurrenLIFE’s work to develop and demonstrate a successful RBAPS model is showcased in a new ‘Farming for Biodiversity Engagement Platform’ on the DG Environment website pages. The LIFE project introduced an RBAPS methodology as part of its work to encourage farmer-led approaches for conserving Natura 2000 sites located throughout the Burren’s unique limestone landscape.

The engagement platform includes a video case study about BurrenLIFE, as well as shorter videos in which project coordinator, Dr Brendan Dunford, addresses specific issues related to RBAPS, based on the project’s experience, including: How to achieve biodiversity outcomes from RBAPS; what are the essential design factors for an effective RBAPS; and how to involve farmers in RBAPS.

The new platform also features a detailed technical analysis of the Burren RBAPS, part of an inventory of international RBAPS models.

Dr Dunford is enthusiastic about the potential for replicating the LIFE project methodology elsewhere: “We found that our results-based approach works very well because it gives the farmers here a target for improving their environmental performance….it gives the farmers a new language to talk about the environment and their environmental output. And one that makes real sense to them,” he explains.

The BurrenLIFE team is part of a new RBAPS Community of Practice that has been established at EU level by the European Parliament and European Commission to further promote and develop RBAPS.

Further information about RBAPS and the BurrenLIFE good practices can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/rbaps/index_en.htm

LIFE Berlengas spells out dangers of invasive alien plants

LIFE Berlengas

20 February 2015 With the start of the project LIFE Berlengas (LIFE13 NAT/PT/000458) in June 2014 the Portuguese Government and SPEA (BirdLife International Portugal) began work to ensure the sustainable management of the Berlengas archipelago, in particular its endemic flora and seabird population. The group of islands is a popular tourist destination that lies 10 to 15 kilometres off the Portuguese coast, west of the town of Peniche and is a designated Natura 2000 network site. The main aim of the project is to establish a legally-binding management plan with clear, measurable actions and targets for archipelago.

One of the projects main activities is to completely eradicate the invasive ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) from the island and to replant the eradicated areas with native, endemic plants. The ice plant, native to South Africa, is currently one of the most widely distributed invasive alien plant species along the coast of Portugal. It competes with native plants for their habitat, reduces breeding habitat for sea birds and can cause increased landslides and soil erosion.

Recently the project team began mechanically extracting large strips of the plant across the island. Whilst carrying out this work they removed areas of the fig on the islands cliffs to form the words "LIFE+ BERLENGAS". These words are so large that they can be seen for miles around. This unique awareness-raising activity was done to increase the profile of this pioneering project and to promote the problems caused by invasive alien plants.

More information on the project and the innovative awareness raising action above can be found in Portuguese on the SPEA website.

LIFE thematic report on forests now online

Forest Report

18 February 2015  A new in-depth thematic report on LIFE and forests has just been published. Authored by An Bollen and Darline Velghe from the LIFE programme’s external monitoring team, the 118-page publication gives an insight into the diversity of LIFE+ forest projects, analyses revealing trends and evaluates their overall relevance to EU forest policy.

The Forest Thematic Report is intended to provide useful insights for EU decision- and policy-makers, to share lessons learned amongst project practitioners, to disseminate results more broadly, to showcase projects for future LIFE applicants, to account for spending of EU public funds and to raise awareness on new approaches.

The report looks at 134 forest-related projects that started between 2006 and 2013, drawn from the ENV, NAT, BIO and INF strands of the LIFE programme. These are divided into seven thematic groups (restoration and conservation; invasive alien species and pests; monitoring; fire prevention; awareness raising; climate mitigation and adaptation; and renewable energy and resource efficiency) and links to the eight priority areas within the EU forest strategy (2013) are highlighted. In addition, the report includes the results of a SWOT analysis of the featured projects, reaches overall conclusions and presents a future outlook.

LIFE’s strengths with regard to forests include the fact that NAT projects focusing on habitat restoration and species conservation more often than not result in an improvement of the conservation status of different target habitats and species, thereby contributing to a better Natura 2000 network. Furthermore, one-third of all projects demonstrate an increased biodiversity of forest ecosystems and an improved connectivity between forest habitats. Some 8% of all the NAT projects assessed were trans-boundary forest-related projects, promoting increased connectivity between protected areas at a much wider level.

Another feature of LIFE projects is their emphasis on increased stakeholder consultation and involvement, embedding local support during and after projects and utilising cost-effective citizen science.

Several projects have developed forest management plans that take into account the increasing impact of climate change and that increase resilience overall. LIFE has also shown the way through projects that promote the value of traditional agro-sylvo-pastoral practices in sustainable forest management, highlighting how it is possible to combine low-intensity agriculture with forest conservation and, in so doing, improve the quality of life in rural areas.

LIFE has played an important role in capacity building at project beneficiaries and partners and the authors note also that one of the strengths of LIFE is that is has provided a platform for more private companies to take the first steps towards a bio-based economy. A further strength is that several projects have focused on resource efficiency, either through the implementation of innovative techniques for improved wood durability or by implementing the principle of cascade use of forest resources, which prioritises re-use and recycling of wood.

Amongst the opportunities relating to LIFE and forests, the authors identify potential for the creation of more green jobs, the possibility of increasing the leverage effect of LIFE by attracting more additional funding, the technical leverage effect of innovative environmental technologies, the chance to identify business opportunities to invest in forest ecosystems, and the opportunity for LIFE projects to directly contribute to or influence policy development. “Nature should be considered as a driving force for socio-economic development in rural areas,” the authors conclude.

The report is available to download: LIFE thematic report on forests.

New publication: LIFE and Climate change mitigation

LIFE and Climate change mitigation

17 February 2015 In anticipation of the award of the first action grants from the LIFE sub-programme for Climate Action, the latest LIFE Environment Focus publication takes an in-depth look at LIFE's work till now in support of climate change mitigation.

The LIFE and Climate change mitigation brochure gives an overview of EU climate policy and provides a host of best practice examples from more than 200 featured projects from across the European Union.

With a foreword by EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, the 88-page publication includes interviews with representatives of DG Climate Action and with NGOs active in the field. These highlight the climate mitigation challenges ahead and LIFE's role in the transition to low-carbon agriculture.

LIFE climate change mitigation project examples are divided by theme, with chapters on strategies and plans at local, regional and national level; energy; transport; agriculture and forestry; the role of peatlands and wetlands as carbon sinks; and projects involving enterprises.

Each of these chapters highlights useful lessons from completed LIFE projects and potential areas of focus for future funding. As such it is essential reading for practitioners, policy-makers and all those with an interest in the work that the European Union is doing to fight climate change.

Download LIFE and Climate change mitigation

Ground-breaking research about bird cooperation reported around Europe

Ibis bird

16 February 2015 Migrating birds share the burden of leading the flock in v-formation flight to save energy, a part LIFE-funded study now published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found.

The ground-breaking research, which was supported by the LIFE project Northern Bald Ibis - Reason for Hope - Reintroduction of Northern Bald Ibis in Europe, is generating huge public interest with the story being picked up by major media outlets across Europe and beyond, including the BBC, Spiegel, etc.

Following on from a paper on the reasons for v-formation flight in Nature in January 2014 (more information), an international team of researchers led by Oxford University scientists now provides evidence for ‘turn-taking’ reciprocal cooperative behaviour in birds, after studying 14 juvenile Northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) migrating from Salzburg in Austria to Orbetello in Italy. Such cooperation contravenes the basic notion that evolution favours selfishness.

Ibis often travel in pairs, with one bird leading and a ‘wingman’ benefiting from the up-draught produced by the flapping wings of the leader. The individuals in these pairs take turns, precisely matching the amount of time they spend following and leading.

The study showed that the birds would change position frequently, flying in formations of 2-to-12 individuals.

“We found that larger formations of ibis were still made up of these ‘turn-taking’ pairs,” says the study's lead author Dr Bernhard Voelkl of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology. “The checking that went on within these pairs was sufficient on its own to prevent any freeloaders hitching a free ride within a v-formation without leading. In fact, surprisingly, we found no evidence of ‘cheating’ of any kind within these flocks with the level of cooperation.”

Migration ibis birds

“We think that it is the extreme risks associated with long migration journeys that have driven the evolution of such cooperative behaviour where something like saving 10% of your energy can make the difference between life and death,” Voelkl adds.

Previous studies suggest that up to 35% of juvenile birds die of exhaustion on their first migration.
For more information about “Reason for Hope”, please visit the project website. The full scientific report can be read in the journal PNAS.

Links to a selection of the media coverage generated by this project:

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New publication: LIFE and freshwater fish

LIFE and freshwater fish

12 February 2015 The latest LIFE Nature Focus publication takes a close look at the work LIFE projects have done to protect threatened freshwater fish species and improve their habitats. The 64-page brochure, LIFE and freshwater fish, highlights the status of key species and the threats they face, as well as providing an overview of LIFE's efforts to improve their conservation status, help in the management of the Natura 2000 network, and meet the targets set by the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.

Since 1992, more than 135 LIFE projects have directly targeted over 50 threatened freshwater fish species listed in the annexes of the EU Habitats Directive or in the IUCN European Red List. Hundreds more projects have indirectly benefitted fish populations through restoration of river, lake and other habitats vital to the lifecycle of freshwater and migratory fish populations.

The publication features a plethora of best practice examples from such LIFE projects across the EU, including in-depth profiles of projects in Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy and Spain. In addition to chapters on habitat restoration, reintroduction and restocking work, actions to overcome river barriers and stakeholder engagement and awareness-raising measures, LIFE and freshwater fish concludes with a set of lessons from LIFE for all those involved in fish species conservation. 

Download: LIFE and freshwater fish

NGO brochures now available

NGO brochures

11 February 2015 Two new LIFE brochures are now available to access online. An achievements brochure outlines the broad range of activities funded by LIFE operating grants for NGOs in 2013, while the NGO compilation brochure overviews all the NGOs funded under this aspect of the LIFE programme in 2014.

Last year, 28 NGOs successfully applied to the European Commission for LIFE operational grants totalling around €9 million (19% of the total budget). These NGOs focus on a wide range of fields including nature and biodiversity conservation, sustainable use of resources, water quality, climate change mitigation and adaptation, environmental education and awareness raising, clean transport and sustainable production, farming and food consumption.

The 2013 NGO achievements brochure highlights the specific achievements of four environmental NGOs covering different policy areas, namely: Carbon Disclosure Project, Health Care Without Harm, NGO Shipbreaking Platform and Slow Food. It gives short profiles of the NGOs and their environmental aims, outlining how the operational grants have enabled them to meet those goals in 2013.

Though most of the LIFE+ (2007-2013) budget was dedicated to awarding the LIFE action grants, LIFE+ also supported the activities of EU-level environmental NGOs through the competitive and transparent awarding of annual operating grants. In 2013, around 22% of the budget was spent on grants awarded to 32 NGOs with the aim of strengthening their participation in environmental policymaking and implementation.

Bulgarian raptors project wins good practice award

Photo: LIFE07/NAT/BG000068

09 February 2015 Work preventing bird electrocutions on power lines carried out by LIFE+ Save the Raptors (LIFE07/NAT/BG000068) has been recognised by the international Renewables-Grid-Initiative (RGI). The project beneficiary – the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB - BirdLife partner) – was presented with the good practice award, in the environmental protection category, at RGI’s annual conference, held in Brussels in January 2015. 

Accepting the award on behalf of the BSPB, Svetoslav Spasov, project manager said, “I am delighted that in two particular cases we were able to secure the over-head power lines and prevent the death of many eastern imperial eagles in Bulgaria and Egyptian vultures in Sudan. There’s a lot still to do though – for a permanent solution, we need active cooperation and partnership between state authorities, private electric companies and the nature conservation community.”

Between 2009 and 2013, the LIFE+ project conducted an extended survey on juvenile imperial eagle (Aquila heliacal) mortality. It showed that electrocution from electrical pylons accounted for the death of 67% of the tagged birds in Bulgaria. Meanwhile, at the other end of their flyway, in Sudan, an infamous power line that runs from the Port Sudan area to the Red Sea coast is estimated to have electrocuted hundreds and perhaps thousands of Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) since its construction in the 1950s.

BSPB’s work started with investigating the threat to the eagles and vultures in Bulgaria, and then working with grid operators such as EVN Bulgaria to retrofit insulation materials to make the lines safe. It then became clear these birds also faced similar threats in Sudan. Therefore, action was taken to combat this threat under another BirdLife project and with its local NGO partner, the Sudanese Wildlife Society. Thanks to these efforts, in 2014, the Port Sudan power line was decommissioned and replaced by a new fully insulated and bird-safe line.

The award recognises outstanding practice in grid development, innovation and improvement in the field. This is the second award for the BSPB LIFE+ project, which in 2014 won the Natura 2000 award for the insulation of pylons around imperial eagle's nests.

See the project website for more information.

 

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