20 March 2015 On 27 February 2015 representatives from all seven partners of the LIFE project AIRUSE (LIFE11 ENV/ES/000584) participated in a meeting with the European Commission in Brussels. The objective of the meeting was to provide an overview of the project results to DG Environment staff.
The AIRUSE project aims to develop and adapt cost-effective and appropriate measures to ensure better air quality in urban areas, with a particular focus on the cities of Porto, Barcelona, Milan, Florence and Athens. By identifying the most effective mitigation measures to reduce particulate matter levels to acceptable limits, it thus contributes to meeting current and future EU targets regarding air quality.
Project partners were welcomed by Scott Brockett, Andre Zuber, Daniela Buzica and Marta Muñoz-Cuesta from DG Environment. Topics discussed at the meeting included: the conclusions of the project regarding particulate matter source apportionment; the project’s particulate matter mitigation trials; and recommendations on how to decrease particulate matter in the five southern European cities targeted by the project.
The project analysis led to the following main conclusions:
The next phase of the AIRUSE project will disseminate project results and recommendations to relevant national and local stakeholders, as well as to policy and science forums. Complete reports and more information are available on the AIRUSE webpage.
17 March 2015 Led by the Moors for the Future Partnership, the MoorLIFE project (LIFE08 NAT/UK/000202) staged a well-attended closing conference in Halifax, Yorkshire (UK) earlier this month. Titled 'An integrated approach to upland biodiversity', the two-day conference (3-4 March 2015) highlighted some of the five-year project's impressive results, placing them in the context of landscape-scale efforts to restore Europe's most degraded active blanket bog, the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a Natura 2000 network site.
Sarah Fowler, chief executive of Peak District National Park, one of Moors for the Future's partner organisations, said, “we’ve seen over the last 10 years the partnership really mature from projects through to programme level, spending £20 million." She also highlighted the value of LIFE's support for the restoration work. "The European funding helps us broaden our scope beyond just England or the UK and helps us work closer with partners. And that's been critical to the global element, the global innovation and the science revolution that we are doing here."
Using some innovative methods (which will be outlined in the April 2015 issue of LIFEnews), the project team managed to restore 886 ha of active blanket bog across four sites (Black Hill, Bleaklow, Rishworth Common and Turley Holes). Actions were designed to stabilise bare peat and halt erosion through planting nurse grasses, increase stability and resilience by introducing structural blanket bog species, and stop peat erosion and restore hydrological integrity through gully blocking.
Rachael Maskill, science project manager with the Moors for the Future Partnership explained that at least four of six positive indicator species for blanket bogs are now present in 75% of quadrats. Evidence from earlier revegetation work suggests that all six will be found as the degraded habitat recovers further, including the Sphagnum mosses essential to peat formation.
To achieve this, the MoorLIFE team has applied an estimated one billion fragments of Sphagnum across the project sites. Slow growth processes mean that, "it will be two to three years before we see signs of establishment," said the partnership’s conservation contracts manager, Brendon Wittram. Nevertheless, transects taken from the moors already show 3% Sphagnum cover in some sites six years post application.
Vegetation communities are gradually moving towards more typical blanket bog communities,” said Ms Maskill. “This is a gradual process that will continue over the next few years even after works are finished.”
The work of the project helps to ensure that the targeted areas continue to provide important ecosystem services, perhaps the most important of which is in helping to mitigate the impact of climate change. MoorLIFE has conducted a carbon audit, preliminary results from which show that emissions generated in carrying out the restoration work are significantly less than the benefits generated from doing the work. According to Rachael Maskill, whilst the carbon cost of the project's restoration action is some 100 tonnes/yr of CO2 equivalent, the carbon benefit - the difference between the estimated carbon budget of bare peat soils and the carbon budget of the restored site - is at least four times that for a flat site re-vegetated for one year and some 30 times higher for a gullied site re-vegetated for four years.
The Halifax conference also highlighted other ecosystem services provided by the active blanket bogs, including cultural ones such as the opportunity to walk through and enjoy the landscape, as well as their role in maintaining drinking water and reducing flood risk. Ms Maskill noted that whilst exceptional rainfall in 2012 made it difficult to interpret the impact of gully-blocking on moorland sites, "modelling suggests that re-vegetation across 12% of a 9km square catchment could reduce flood peaks of severe storms by up to 5%, and with additional gully blocking by up to 8%."
The project has also done a lot of work on engaging local communities, developing innovative communication tools, including audio trails and a range of MoorLIFE apps for smart devices. Another novel communication method involved printing information about the project on commercially-available maps for walkers, cyclists, climbers and fell runners. Indeed, collaboration with the private sector is a feature both of MoorLIFE and the wider work of the project beneficiary, including establishing strong partnerships with major landowners such as United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and the telecoms and broadcasting infrastructure company, Arqiva. Speaking at the conference, Arqiva's head of estates and property, David MacDonald, explained that, "enterprises look at a number of criteria when deciding which projects to support or not to support…the sweet spot is where a project aligns interested parties and has a mutual benefit."
Reducing wildfire risk
Following the conference, delegates could choose to visit one of two of the project sites. On the field trip to Rishworth Common, Moors for the Future's research manager, Jon Walker noted that the site was located in, "the southeast corner of the highest fire risk area in the South Pennines...There were 388 fires in an 8-year period (2000-2008)." The Moors for the Future Partnership was formed to re-vegetate areas devastated by wildfires (there have been three such notable fires in the past 70 years, including in 2003 on Bleaklow). In keeping with this, the MoorLIFE project featured a strong fire prevention element, in addition to its work to rewet the moors and re-establish the mosses that can retain moisture (and thus reduce the impact of fires).
As MoorLIFE Communications Officer, Debra Wilson, explained, the project's Be Fire Aware campaign aimed to tell the fire prevention story using games and maps developed in partnership with the Peak District Fire Operations Group, Wide Sky Design and the University of Manchester. The university combined spatial data with weather-based fire risk modelling to create fire-risk maps. As well as historical weather data, these models also feed in live weather data from an on-site weather station. In addition to the fire risk tool, two games aimed at different age groups - Fire Ranger and Fire Danger - were installed at two popular moorland visitor centres. The Peak District Fire Operations Group intends to continue using the materials developed by MoorLIFE and, says Debra Wilson, "there has been interest in setting up something similar in the Netherlands."
The lesson from the 2003 fire on Bleaklow is that, "we need to keep an eye on catastrophic fires...it’s an issue we cannot lose site of," concluded Jon Walker.
10 March 2015 The final event of the Futurescapes (LIFE10 INF/UK/000189) project, held in Bristol, UK on 4-5 March 2015, was a workshop entitled, the future of landscape-scale conservation in Europe. It was structured around interactive ‘super brain’ sessions to tackle the key challenges facing landscape-level conservation. LIFE project beneficiary, the RSPB, organised the event in partnership with the National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and Bristol 2015 European Green Capital.
Two keynote speakers put the event in context. Sir John Lawton, the Vice President of the RSPB and President of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, summarised the message of the Making space for nature review of England’s wildlife and ecological network that he chaired in 2010. He said landscape-level conservation is, “all about putting the mantra of that report – More, Bigger, Better and Joined – into practice.” By placing conservation efforts on a continuum, from the smallest reserves to the largest rewilding projects, it is clear that size matters in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of nature conservation. The review led to the establishment of 12 Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) in the UK in 2012, to create joined-up and resilient networks at a landscape level.
The other keynote speaker, Teresa Pinto Correia, President of IALE-Europe, focused on the Monfurado Natura 2000 site in Portugal to illustrate the need for methods to protect complex systems and fuzzy landscapes. The landscape in Monfurado is maintained by the rearing of Iberian pigs, the production of cork and other traditional activities. However, financial incentives currently favour the intensification of livestock farming, which results in reduced tree density and the loss of traditional and biodiverse agro-silvo pasture systems.
Most of the first day at the conference was devoted to the super brain workshop sessions, which pooled knowledge and experience to help plan future landscape-level conservation. LIFE Project Manager Adrian Southern explained that the 170 delegates were arranged in, “microcosms,” around 15 tables, with each group comprising someone with experience of Futurescapes and members of the RSPB, National Trust, Wildlife Trust and other key stakeholder groups such as National Park Authority land managers. The groups regularly moved tables, to consider different questions relating to five stages of landscape-level conservation: engaging, planning, doing, evaluation and sustainability. The resulting, ‘recipe for success’ will be available from: http://www.landscapescale.com/
The Futurescapes project addresses the need for landscape-scale conservation to complement the existing network of Natura 2000 sites. LIFE funding has helped engage people and establish partnerships to benefit wildlife and local communities. Green infrastructure, such as ecological corridors, has been established to improve connectivity between Natura 2000 sites, halt biodiversity decline and enhance ecosystem resilience, for instance, as a means of climate change adaptation.
Poster displays at the event showed where the Futurescapes project has focused its activities. There are around 40 Futurescapes in NIAs and national parks encompassing Natura 2000 network sites, in areas as diverse as the Inner Forth (Scotland), Lough Neagh (Northern Ireland), North Wales Moors, and the Humberhead Levels, The Broads, Morecambe Bay and South Downs (England). In the Cairngorms, for example, 58 partnerships have been developed and 93 projects identified to improve local community involvement in conservation activities within the wider landscape. Up to 80 Futurescapes are planned, representing a step change in the scale of conservation activities in the UK - particularly around and between Natura 2000 sites. With predicted shifts in the breeding ranges of birds and other species due to climate change, landscape-level programmes will help prepare new habitat and ecological connectivity to protect biodiversity.
On the second day of the conference, participants had a choice of three trips, including all-day trips to Futurescapes in the Gwent Levels and the Somerset Level and Moors. The third trip was to Bennett’s Patch and White’s Paddock, a new wildlife corridor being established in the Avon Gorge by Avon Wildlife Trust. The site is part of the Trust’s plans to create ecological corridors across the West of England (B-lines) and through Bristol (My Wild City).
For further information on Futurescapes, see the project’s website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/futurescapes/
04 March 2015 In the framework of the LIFE project Natura 2000: Connecting people with biodiversity (LIFE11 INF/ES/000665), the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO)/BirdLife España has now published a brochure entitled Positive Natura 2000 Experiences.
Aiming to demonstrate the numerous benefits of the Natura 2000 network sites, of which there are over 2 000 in Spain and more than 27 000 all over Europe, the brochure features articles about Natura 2000 and sustainable agriculture, forestry, fisheries/marine farming, and tourism.
“Natura 2000 is much more than nature reserves. It’s about people and nature, because it ensures that conservation and sustainable use go hand in hand with benefits to local citizens and the wider economy,” Pía Bucella, director of the Natural Capital Directorate in the European Commission’s DG Environment, writes in the introduction. She notes that too few people in Europe and in Spain know about the Natura 2000 network and its values. One of the key actions of the EU Biodiversity Strategy is to enhance public awareness and communication about Natura 2000.
Raising public awareness is at the heart of the Natura 2000: Connecting people with biodiversity project. It aims to call society to action and get more Spanish citizens informed about and involved in Natura 2000.
The brochure figures among a communications campaign that runs until the completion of the project in 2017. It includes a television programme, short radio broadcasts and an interactive webpage, various publications, press and media coverage of all aspects of the Natura 2000 network, as well as an interactive game about Natura 2000 for social networks, to name but a few examples.
SEO coordinates the project in collaboration with Spanish international news agency Agencia EFE. It also represents BirdLife International, the world’s largest association of nature and bird conservation organisations, in Spain.
03 March 2015 The LIFE project Monti della Tolfa (LIFE08 NAT/IT/000316) recently hosted a national networking workshop on issues relating to raptor feeding platforms, which attracted more 145 experts and policymakers.
Speakers shared their experiences and presented findings on the use of feeding platforms for raptors. Discussion focused on conservation and management techniques for improving the conservation status of birds of prey as well as the legal issues surrounding the supply of meat and the costs of management. The event featured presentations from five LIFE project beneficiaries as well as invited experts from similar Italian projects, the ministry of health and the national environmental research institute.
The experts highlighted the benefits of the feeding platforms for maintaining and increasing populations of raptors, especially juvenile individuals of red kite (Milvus milvus), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). They also emphasised the urgent need for a Europe-wide ban on veterinary diclofenac, which is extremely toxic to vultures and eagles, and the use of lead pellets in hunting.
The main objective of the host LIFE project is to carry out long-term nature conservation actions in three Natura 2000 network sites in the Monti della Tolfa area, where a feeding platform has been set up. Here, many bird species were threatened by encroaching human activity that has led to the degradation of pasture and unique oak and beech forest habitats. As a result, suitable mating, nesting and feeding areas for birds have decreased over the years. Conservation actions, however, are now targeting a range of bird species, including the endangered raptor species, the short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus), red kite (Milvus milvus) and the European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus).
More information about the findings of the workshop is available (in Italian) on the project website: www.lifemontidellatolfa.it/
02 March 2015 The positive impact of the AgriClimateChange (LIFE09/ENV/ES/000441) LIFE project continues to grow as it has now been included in a set of technical guidance notes from the European Commission.
Produced by the DG Climate Action for Member States’ rural development programme authorities, the recent publication Mainstreaming climate change into rural development policy post 2013 features much of the transnational knowhow developed with LIFE support by the AgriClimateChange partners.
The guidance aims to promote the design and integration of new and innovative climate operations. There are at least 16 references to the LIFE project’s practical tools to help farmers both mitigate the causes of climate change, as well as adapt their businesses to become more aligned with changing weather patterns.
Greenhouse gas controls, carbon storage potential and energy saving options are among the main AgriClimateChange actions promoted by the report authors. Such factors can form part of an on-farm action plan that also quantifies carbon footprint improvements and translates them into direct economic benefit.
Jordi Domingo, from Fundación Global Nature was part of the AgriClimateChange team. He believes the project’s ongoing work with policy and programme decision-makers ensures an effective legacy from LIFE’s demonstration work.
“One year after completion of the LIFE AgriClimateChange project, we are coordinating a multidisciplinary Working Group in Spain for mitigation and adaptation in the farming sector that includes representatives from key stakeholders. We have also applied the knowledge gained from AgriClimateChange in order to train an additional 120 farm technicians and advisors on the use of assessment tools such as ACCT, and on how to include climate change measures in their regular support to farmers. A baseline reference document for agriculture and climate change has been produced, which has already been delivered to more than 50 000 people,” says Mr Domingo.
Such policy contributions from the transnational project build on the previous collaboration with high-level policy initiatives in the European Parliament. AgriClimateChange tools have been highlighted as good practice in the European Parliament magazine and the project team continue to work closely with the Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) in its work to promote climate-friendly farming.
Communication remains a key factor for the project’s success and its achievements were recognised last year with its prize at the European web awards.
For more information about this highly influential LIFE project see the AgriClimateChange website.