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News: October 2016

LIFE Saimaa Seal project wins photo competition

Photo: LIFE12 NAT/FI/000367

31 October 2016 The LIFE Saimaa Seal project (LIFE12 NAT/FI/000367) was announced this month as one of three winners of the Europe in my Region 2016 photo competition with a photo by Saara Olkkonen from Finland.

The photo competition aims to highlight the excellent work that projects across Europe are doing with the help of EU funding, and explore what these projects mean to local communities. The jury of the Europe in my Region 2016 photo competition chose Ms Olkkonen’s photo based on the following criteria: aesthetic quality, creativity and relevance to the competition theme. In total participants submitted 837 photos.

The LIFE Saimaa Seal project aims to safeguard the critically endangered ringed seals subspecies, the Saimaa ringed seal (Phoca hispida saimensis). Once widespread across Finland, there are now only 300 Saimaa ringed seals left. All of them are found in the Saimaa freshwater lake. In the latest Art 17 report the overall conservation status assessment is ‘unfavourable-bad’ due to the low population numbers and future prospects of this species whose land-locked characteristics isolate the species which is only present in Finland.

The most severe threats to the seal population are fishing and disturbance during breeding, with high mortality rates for young seals. Climate change also poses an increasingly serious long term threat to the survival of the species.  The objective of the Saimaa Seal project, which runs until 2018, is to help the seals adapt to climate change by developing a method of producing artificial snow drifts to improve the seals’ lairing conditions during mild winters.

As Raisa Tiilikainen, manager of the project explains, “the breeding success of the Saimaa ringed seal, like other ringed seals, is dependent on sufficient ice and snow cover. The seals give birth to a single pup in a subnivean snow den, known as a lair, which is situated in snowdrifts formed on shoreline of islands. The lair provides shelter against predators and a harsh climate, and the mother-pup pair use it during the nursing period.”

To help the seals during this crucial period, the project is implementing an artificial snowdrift method developed specifically for this purpose at the University of Eastern Finland. During the mild winter of 2014, 240 artificial snowdrifts were piled up in the seal’s breeding area. More than 90% of the pups born that year were born at lairs with artificial snowdrifts, highlighting the usefulness of the technique. In 2015, “around 70 man-made snowdrifts were constructed at the main breeding areas of the seals where snow conditions were not sufficient for breeding,” said Dr Tiilikainen.

In a bid to reduce by-catch mortality, another aim of the project is to develop and commercialise a seal-friendly fyke (a type of fishing net) and to replace conventional fishing nets by traps that have been made seal-safe. It is also working with some 300 fishermen to convince them to commit to fishing without nets.

For more information about the LIFE Saimaa Seal project, visit the project’s website.

European Commission praises collaborative Flemish nature project

Photo: Carine van Gerven

28 October 2016 An innovative and highly successful nature protection partnership launched in Flanders ten years ago has been identified by the European Commission as a model to be followed across the EU.

Bosland is an example of a participatory process that has delivered on the ground, not just in terms of preserving nature for nature’s sake but also for people” said Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Natural Capital at DG Environment of the European Commission.

“It is a governance model that paves the way for what we want to promote at EU level,” he added.

Speaking at the Bosland 10th anniversary conference which took place in Lommel, Belgium on 13 October 2016, Mr Delgado Rosa paid tribute to the “unique” partnership that has helped restore forests, habitats and biodiversity while also boosting tourism, jobs and social inclusion in the north-eastern part of Flanders.

He noted that while the EU is not yet on track on halting biodiversity loss, the Bosland partnership has achieved what is needed across the EU  in terms of integrating biodiversity objectives in sectoral policies and of a stronger involvement of local and regional actors.

“You have delivered on all of these. You are a model at local, regional, national and EU level”, he added.

Bosland was launched on 30 September 2006 as a statutory partnership between the agency for nature and forests of the Flemish government and the three municipalities of Hechtel-Eksel, Lommel and Overpelt. The idea was to jointly and sustainably manage the 4 500 hectares of forest shared by the three municipalities. 

As Dries Gorissen, Deputy Director for Regional Projects at the agency explained at the conference, “we shared the same conviction that nature had to be given back to local society and we all wanted to restore habitats while providing high quality recreational facilities.”

After several years of intense collaboration, which resulted in the restoration of 150 hectares of open habitat, the systematic conversion of forests and the creation of hundreds of kilometres of hiking, horse riding and bike and mountain bike trails, Bosland’s focus shifted and became more ambitious by bringing new partners on board.

Bosland Report

“Bosland is one of the largest nature conservation projects in Flanders and the biggest child-friendly forest but it is also a commercial brand, and we want to continue pushing forward. The work is far from finished,” Mr Gorissen explained.

In line with this new approach, Bosland published its masterplan 2012-2020 which is based on six key concepts: cultural heritage, social (ecosystem) services, biodiversity, tourism, public private partnerships and public involvement.  In 2013, it attracted LIFE funding under the Life Together (LIFE12NAT/BE/001098) project, which, as Mr Gorissen explained, “helped speed up important actions for habitat restoration.” The hope is that the LIFE project, which runs until 2017, will allow the Bosland partnership to raise awareness at EU level of the benefits of participatory governance in a community-based nature project.

According to Mr Delgado Rosa, the Commission is impressed by what Bosland has achieved in terms of developing nature-related business activities while improving the quality of life of locals.

He said Bosland has set an example in the EU context of how to focus on the recognition of the role of landowners and land users, “your collaborative approach has shown us that to inform, involve, share responsibility and reward is the right approach. You brought forward what we want to promote, with a good example that we want to see expand at EU level.”

Mr Delgado Rosa said that Bosland was the reminder that, “nature is an investment that is often forgotten,” and that with this in mind the Commission is now looking into how to, “boost green infrastructure,” including through developing the concept of a transnational network for green infrastructure and through financing projects that generate revenues or cost savings promoting nature and climate change adaptation.

Mr Delgado-Rosa also welcomed the publication of the Bosland Manifesto which identifies the main components for a successful community-focused nature-based project.

Ground-breaking fishing agreement signed thanks to LIFE project

Photo:LIFE11 NAT/IT/00188

25 October 2016 The LIFE project Conflupo (LIFE11 NAT/IT/00188) has helped broker a ground-breaking agreement for the conservation of the fish stocks in the Po River.

The Po river in Italy is home to 11 European priority fish species and more than 40 native fish species. Over past decades, however, direct and indirect anthropogenic impacts have contributed to the impoverishment of the fishing community. It was therefore essential and urgent that the regions involved in the Po river management agreed on a way to remedy this situation.

To this end, the Conflupo project, in cooperation with the LIFE Barbie project (LIFE13 NAT/IT/001129) promoted the development of a common agreement between Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. Further to an initial meeting between all stakeholders in September 2015, an agreement was signed in February 2016 by all four regions, "for a sustainable and joint management of the fishing activities and the conservation of the fish stocks in the Po River."

A first in northern Italy, the agreement was transposed into regional law by Lombardy on 30 September 2016.

The main objective of the Conflupo project is to remove alien fish species and to preserve and reintroduce native fish species of the lower-middle Po River including the Adriatic sturgeon (Acipenser naccarii). All native fish species are under pressure due to organisations that illegally sell poached catch to central and eastern European countries.

Conflupo also aims to increase the networking activities between the various local authorities and improve the governance of the large area covered by the project. It is also involved in the management and promotion of a common action plan for the whole Po river basin. A technical group is currently working on this plan focusing on five main themes related to the management of fishing activities: surveillance and control; harmonisation of regulations; sustainable fishing; sustainable tourism; and management of Natura 2000 network sites.

For more information about LIFE Conflupo, visit the project’s website and YouTube channel.

LIFE project makes first industrial conveyor belt from recycled plastic

Photo: LIFE13 ENV/IT/000477

24 October 2016 The LIFE REPLACE BELT (LIFE13 ENV/IT/000477) project, which built on the work of the RePlaCe (LIFE 08 ENV/IT/000393) project, has succeeded in turning its prototype industrial conveyor belt, whose structural components are made from recycled plastic instead of metal, into a commercial product.

This positive outcome arises from a collaboration, during both LIFE projects, between four Italian plastics companies: Plastic Metal produced recycled plastic components in its thermoplastic injection moulding machines; F.lli Virginio designed and assembled the conveyor belt, Vivi conducted the laboratory analysis of materials, and Etra manages a plastic waste separation centre.

The new modular conveyor belt uses recycled plastic components to replace structural components formerly made of aluminium and iron. It also replaces components previously made from PVC, synthetic rubber or virgin plastic with recycled plastic.

The project team are targeting a 15% market share for their light recycled plastic conveyor belt. Their European customers are already said to be benefitting from the innovative conveyance system, which provides economic savings and much-reduced environmental impacts. In particular, energy consumption is significantly reduced during product manufacture. The new conveyor belt can potentially be used in any manufacturing industry, as its components meet the necessary legal requirements.

In addition to providing a substantial new market for solid plastic waste, so reducing waste disposal through landfilling or incineration, the new-generation conveyor belt also represents a reduction in the amount of raw materials used. Therefore, the project outcome contributes to EU policy objectives concerning resource use efficiency and the circular economy.

For more information about the innovative LIFE REPLACE BELT initiative, visit the project’s website.

LIFE project releases first captive-bred blue chaffinch in Gran Canaria

Photo: LIFE14 NAT/ES/000077

20 October 2016 At the start of September 2016, the LIFE+PINZON project (LIFE14 NAT/ES/000077) released the first captive-bred Gran Canaria blue chaffinch (Fringilla polatzeki), known locally as the pinzón azul, into the pine forests surrounding the summit of Gran Canaria (Spain).

The Gran Canaria blue chaffinch, which is listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, is endemic to the Canary Islands. Its entire population (around 200 individuals) is mainly restricted to the central core of Gran Canaria. The LIFE+PINZON project is planning annual releases of birds over four years, at various points in the central pine forests. The birds are being supplied by a captive breeding centre in Tafira and also translocated from a population source in a protected area (Reserva Natural Integral de Inagua) to new areas.

In 2016, the project plans to perform two releases of captive-bred blue chaffinch. The first of these in September involved seven birds. The release process was carried out in two phases. Firstly, the birds were moved from the captive breeding centre in crates to the summit and acclimatised for several days in cages. In the second phase, the cage doors were opened to let them fly free. The project team will track the birds, along with the rest of the blue chaffinch population.

The LIFE+PINZON project aims to establish a sustainable population of blue chaffinch on Gran Canaria, by augmenting the population and extending its habitat, to ensure the long-term survival of the species. Project actions also include enhancing ecological corridors on the island, which were established during the prior Inagua (LIFE07 NAT/E/000759) project, to improve connectivity between suitable pine forest plantations.

For more information about LIFE+PINZON, visit the project’s website.  

Committee of the Regions highlights LIFE's role in greening the economy


18 October 2016 The workshop EU LIFE programme: A chance for green business – innovation and job creation preserving the environment, held at the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in Brussels on 12 October 2016, was a chance for representatives of Europe's regions and municipalities to learn more about how the LIFE programme can demonstrate ways to stimulate the circular economy, build the environmental capacities of authorities and foster greater cooperation among regions.

The event, which was held during the European Week of Regions and Cities, was chaired by Babette Winter, the CoR rapporteur on Circular Economy Action Plan, State Secretary for European Affairs and Culture, Region of Thuringia, Germany. The meeting began by featuring presentations on two LIFE Integrated Projects. Tom Andries told participants about the aims and ongoing activities of the BNIP - Belgian Nature Integrated Project (LIFE14 IPE/BE/000002). The project is implementing the Prioritised Action Framework (PAF) for the Natura 2000 network in Belgium, through improved governance, capacity-building and collaboration among the Flemish, Walloon and federal authorities.

The Polish province of Małopolska is located in one of the two air pollution hotspots in the EU, thus suffering from very poor air quality due to transport related emissions and the widespread use of polluting solid fuel boilers. Tomasz Pietrusiak spoke about how his integrated LIFE project Małopolska Region (LIFE14 IPE/PL/000021) is facilitating the switch to cleaner boilers in line with the Ecodesign Directive. It is engaging municipalities in the region to implement the Małopolska Air Quality Plan, increasing competences and the integration of environmental considerations in local planning. The project is also raising local citizens' awareness of the problem of pollution and the possibility of financial assistance for replacing obsolete boilers.

The second half of the workshop featured a panel of representatives from organisations that have been the coordinating beneficiary or partner of a LIFE project:  Lisa Labriga from ACR+, Liliana Chamudis-Varan of AIMPLAS Technological Institute of Plastics and Michele Pancaldi of the municipality of Ferrara, Italy. The panel gave short presentations on the achievements of their respective projects. This session was a further opportunity to better understand how LIFE projects can have tangible socioeconomic benefits, make a favourable environmental impact and contribute to the implementation of the circular economy policy.

Hervé Martin, Head of Unit LIFE Environment, European Commission, concluded the workshop by re-emphasising the value of LIFE. He said that the challenge for the programme at a time of stretched funding across Europe was to ensure that demonstrated commercial advantages are successfully marketed. Combined financing with other EU funds has the potential to achieve more sustainable results, he added. LIFE projects can be the link between eco-innovation and growth and jobs.

A full report of the event and interviews with Tom Andries and Tomasz Pietrusiak will feature in the next edition of the monthly LIFE programme newsletter, LIFEnews.

Hungarian team makes capacity-building visit to Italy


14 October 2016 The LIFE Climate Team of the Hungarian Ministry of National Development has made a study visit to Italy, meeting with Stefania Betti, the Italian LIFE National Contact Point (NCP), and representatives from several Italian LIFE projects.  

The LIFE Climate Team, which was established under the ongoing LIFE Capacity Building Project in Hungary (LIFECAPHUN - LIFE14 CAP/HU/00010), met the beneficiaries of nine Italian LIFE projects and visited some of the project sites over a five-day visit (26-30 September).

The LIFE programme introduced action grants for Capacity Building Projects for the 2014-2017 funding period. These are projects designed to build Member States' capacity to participate more effectively in the LIFE Programme. Specifically, these projects propose interventions to develop the capacity to submit successful applications for funding for projects under the sub-programmes for Environment and Climate Action. Member States that meet the criteria may each receive funding of up to one million euros for one Capacity Building Project led by the national level public body responsible for the implementation of LIFE.

Capacity Building Projects enable the exchange of experiences and best practices with Member states that have implemented a high number of successful LIFE projects.

The Hungarian team visited those LIFE projects addressing topics of most relevance to potential Hungarian applicants: LIFE ManFor C.BD (LIFE09 ENV/IT/000078), LIFE FoResMit (LIFE14 CCM/IT/000905), LIFE AGRICARE (LIFE13 ENV/IT/000583), LIFE WSTORE2 (LIFE11 ENV/IT/000035), LIFE HEROTILE (LIFE14 CCA/IT/000939), LIFE IRIS (LIFE14 CCA/IT/000663), LIFE PRIMES (LIFE14 CCA/IT/001280), LIFE Climate ChangE-R (LIFE12 ENV/IT/000404) and LIFE Helpsoil (LIFE12 ENV/IT/000578).

On the first day of the visit, the Italian LIFE NCP staff met the Hungarian delegation in Rome at the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea, to explain how Italy supports its LIFE applicants and beneficiaries. Some members of the Italian LIFE NCP team also accompanied the delegation on its subsequent trips to Florence, Venice, Ferrara, Bologna and Mantua.

Spanish LIFE project makes bioplastic from cheese by-product

Photo: LIFE13 ENV/ES/000608

13 October 2016 The LIFE WHEYPACK project (LIFE13 ENV/ES/000608) has synthesised the first bioplastic material to be made from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. The project succeeded in producing polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) through a fermentation bioprocess of whey.

The process could solve the problem of what to do with excess whey derived from the making of cheese and thus potentially boost the circular economy. It will enable the diary industry to profit from the production of new PHB biodegradable packaging tailored to the needs of their products.

The LIFE WHEYPACK project, which is based in Spain, was set up to demonstrate the environmental benefits of biodegradable food packaging, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in comparison with current non-renewable, petrol-based food packaging materials. It is demonstrating how PHB obtained from whey surplus could replace traditional plastics in the packaging of dairy products and thus offer significant economic advantages. PHB packaging has the same characteristics as petroleum-based plastic packaging and is suitable for use in cheese packaging.

The project is being coordinated by AINIA, a non-profit industry association, in partnership with the cheese industry (Central Quesera Montesinos), AIMPLAS, a Spanish technological centre, and Embalnor, a Portuguese packaging company.

The European dairy industry produces an abundant surplus of whey from milk and cheese processing. The annual production of whey from cheese makers is estimated to be 75 million tonnes. Around 40% of this whey is disposed of as waste, while some is returned to the food chain for the production of other dairy products.

MEPs praise LIFE water conservation campaign

Picture: Catch the Drop

06 October 2016 At a recent event in the European Parliament in Brussels, MEPs have paid tribute to the campaign targeting businesses, hotels and SMEs carried out in Malta by the LIFE project, Investing in Water (LIFE10 INF/MT/000091). The MEPs also recognised the  Catch the Drop campaign carried out by the HSBC Water programme.

The event, which was opened by MEP Ester De Lange, chair of the MEP Water Group, was the initiative of MEP Therese Comodini Cachia and MEP Miriam Dalli. Mrs Cachia said that both campaign projects are “exceptional” and that they show “how private industry can work hand in hand with schools to provide valuable education and how the industry can not only make a positive environmental contribution but also generate skills for green and new jobs".

Led by the Malta Business Bureau (MBB), the LIFE Investing in Water project carried out a series of information campaigns and audits to demonstrate how target stakeholders can contribute to the reduction of water and energy consumption in Malta. It focused on direct contact with enterprises as a means of gathering information, identifying water-saving practices and encouraging their adoption.

MEP Dalli emphasised the impact of water scarcity on the environment and that more needs to be done to address the problem despite the decline in abstraction of water for industrial use over the past 15 years. “We need to invest more in projects that can reduce the use of water such as onsite recycling of wastewater, whilst promoting innovation such as advanced cooling technologies that require less water," she said.

Glenn Bugeja, Manager – Corporate Sustainability Department, HSBC Bank Malta, said that the bank’s campaign, Catch the Drop, is the largest of its kind in Malta. It aims to show how water resources can be used in a sustainable way.

As reported by the media, MBB CEO Joe Tanti said that, "savings of around €1.4 billion per annum are possible for the EU hospitality industry. The savings could be achieved through the EU-industry-wide adoption of flow rate regulation and grey water treatment."

He added that, “take up of these solutions will bring environmental benefits, increase the competitiveness of the EU's hospitality industry through reduced costs, and create a new green industry and new green jobs for the supply of equipment and services to the industry. This supply industry would also have strong EU-export potential.”

Join the 2016 European Week for Waste Reduction

EWWR logo

04 October 2016 This year’s edition of the European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR) takes place from 19-27 November 2016, so now is the time to start preparing your waste reduction activity.

The EWWR consists of multiple activities taking place all around Europe that promote awareness about sustainable resource and waste management. This year’s edition is particularly focused on packaging waste reduction.

Packaging waste linked to current consumption trends is problematic, especially when such waste is due to unnecessary, over-packaging of products. The good news is that each one of us can easily help to tackle waste reduction. Participation in EWWR is also easy. To get involved simply register your action before 4 November 2016 on the EWWR website.

To help prepare activities, the EWWR site contains a large database of examples and ideas of how to organise an action. There are also a lot of support tools available to help formulate, implement and evaluate actions.

As ever, the EWWR – which is run by the LIFE project EWWR+ (LIFE12 INF/BE/000459) – is an occasion to engage around the ‘3Rs’ of waste reduction: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. To date more than 61 500 actions have taken place as a result of the EWWR since its launch in 2009. The organisers hope to implement more actions in 2016 than in any previous edition.

LIFE projects featured at European Ecosystem Services 2016 event

Photo:LIFE10 NAT/ES/000563

03 October 2016 The LIFE NEEMO communications and monitoring team held a session on the impact of the LIFE programme on restoring ecosystem services at the European Ecosystem Services 2016 conference on 20 September 2016 at the University of Antwerp.

LIFE projects that have focused on various aspects of ecosystem services – from developing mapping tools to devising means of payment for ecosystem services (PES) for further restoration – were invited to give brief overviews of their aims and outcomes. A total of 17 projects were featured, and 47 participants registered for the session.

The focus on ecosystem services is a growing aspect of the LIFE programme. Since 2006, more than 50 projects addressed ecosystem services.

LIFE projects not only focus on mapping and accessing ecosystem services, they also seek to make such services marketable to ensure the continued economic sustainability of restoration and management efforts. For example, as Dr Peter Long of the University of Oxford told attendees, Naturetrade: creating a marketplace for ecosystem services project (LIFE12 ENV/UK/000473) has explored ways of, “providing the ground for these transactions.” Although the project worked with economists, he added that ecosystem services were not given a monetary value, but rather an exchange value.

Similarly, the Greek project LIFE-Stymfalia (LIFE12 NAT/GR/000275) has demonstrated how private companies can contribute to long-term financing of the management of target wetland areas through the sustainable use of ecosystem services, namely the conversion of agricultural and reed biomass into pellets and water into hydropower.

Bent Jepsen of the NEEMO Co-ordination Team concluded the session by emphasising that all the projects present were, “pioneers,” that had demonstrated, “a high degree of integration of a wide range of issues.”
A follow-up LIFE project Platform network meeting on ecosystem services is being planned for spring 2017. The event will be hosted by the Latvian LIFE Viva Grass project (LIFE13 ENV/LT/000189) that was also present at the session. It will provide an opportunity for the issues raised by the session to be further discussed. An online questionnaire would also be set up to gather suggestions for topics for the meeting.  

The LIFE project’s presentations are available for download: Zip file of LIFE project’s presentations

zip (~ 16 MB)


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