29 September 2016 A commemorative stone featuring the LIFE and Natura 2000 network logos was unveiled on 26 September 2016 beside the southern Brussels ring road to highlight the construction of the Groenendaal ecoduct in the Sonian Forest which borders the city.
Karmenu Vella European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Herman Van Rompuy, the former president of the European Council, and Ben Weyts, Flemish Region Mobility minister, participated in the unveiling alongside Marleen Evenepoel of Natuur en Bos, the beneficiary of LIFE - OZON (LIFE12 NAT/BE/000166), which is carrying out the conservation work. Members from the European Commission’s DG Environment LIFE Unit and EASME were also present.
The ecoduct, a 60m-wide bridge, will allow animals to have safe passage over the ring road between Groenendaal and Waterloo. It will be completed next year and covered with shrubs and trees to simulate natural conditions for animals and to prevent disturbance by noise and light.
At the ceremony, Commissioner Vella praised the “wonderful” LIFE project, saying that it represented a good example of the value of investing in nature. The project is expected to lead to a reduction of at least 90% of the number of animals (e.g. roe deer and red foxes) killed by traffic, he said.
The ecoduct forms part of series of measures to tackle the fragmentation of habitats of several protected species found in the 4 421 ha forest – Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentonii), Leisler's bat (Nyctalus leisleri), the European pine marten (Martes martes), ground beetle (Carabus coriaceus), palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). The project is constructing underpasses, viaducts and culvert to connect habitats, while also erecting fences to prevent animals accessing the roads and rail lines that intersect the forest areas.
In his remarks, Herman Van Rompuy spoke of his connection with the forest and read out a haiku dedicated to the area he called the “heart of Belgium”, owing to its specific location. Most of the Sonian Forest falls with the administrative region of the Vlaams Brabant, Flanders, but some parts are covered by the Brussels Capital region and by Brabant Wallon, Wallonia. One of the successes of the project has been to foster cooperation among these administrative regions.
Life – OZON has been a finalist for the past three years at the Natura 2000 Awards.
26 September 2016 An Italian court’s conviction of a hunter who shot two northern bald ibises (Geronticus eremita) that had been reintroduced to Europe by the LIFE Northern Bald Ibis (LIFE 12 BIO/AT/000143) project sends a strong signal to the hunting community that targeting critically endangered species will not be tolerated.
“This precedent case is a clear signal to the minority of hunters who don’t care about endangered and protected species,” project manager Johannes Fritz said following the court judgment, which came four years after the birds were shot.
“Poaching is not a trivial matter but a serious threat to endangered species like the northern bald ibises.”
The hunter was convicted on 13 September 2016 in Livorno province, fined €2 000 and now faces a civil action by the project to recoup €20 000 of costs. The defendant’s hunting licence has also been revoked.
The birds, Goja and her offspring Jedi, were part of a group of northern bald ibises being reintroduced to Europe by the project, which includes eight partners from Germany, Italy and Austria.
Although the species was once common across southern and Eastern Europe, it is now considered critically endangered.
Prior to the project’s reintroduction efforts, the northern bald ibis had been absent from Europe for 300 years due to hunting, loss of habitat and pesticide poisoning. Only several hundred northern bald ibises exist in the wild today, mainly in Morocco.
The importance of the conviction was underlined by the fact that just two weeks earlier, on the first day of the Italian hunting season, the body of a young northern bald ibis was found in a field in Tuscany. Early indications suggest the bird had been shot.
“Poachers seriously damage the international reputation of Italy and of the Italian hunters in particular,” said Mr Fritz.
“Thus, conviction of the poacher in the lawsuit should also be in the central interest of the hunter’s community.”
The LIFE Northern Bald Ibis – Reason for Hope project is a transnational project aiming to reintroduce this endangered bird into Europe through breeding colonies in Germany and Austria and a wintering site in Italy. The project is seeking to establish three self-sustaining migratory colonies of northern bald ibises with a common wintering site. The birds are being monitored with GPS tags to establish their movements.
14 September 2016 This issue of LIFEnews focuses on a recent platform meeting about the circular economy.
The first article gives an overview of the event, whilst the second article looks in more depth at the meeting's two workshops, which considered how to improve LIFE projects' replicability and boost the market for secondary raw materials.
13 September 2016 A pilot processing plant set up by the LIFE+ WOGAnMBR project (LIFE13 ENV/ES/000779) has begun treating wastewater from the food industry. The plant is testing the project’s new treatment process on wastewater from food company, Eurofrits. The wastewater results from the preparation of precooked-meals of fried squid and breadcrumbs.
The LIFE project was launched to develop a new process for treating wastewater generated by food and beverage industries that can save energy. Current processing technologies generate a large amount of sludge and consume high amounts of energy.
The LIFE project is using anaerobic membrane bioreactors (AnMBR), an emerging technology that avoids problems associated with processing wastewater with a high concentration of organic matter, such as the flotation of suspended biomass and the recollection of biogas.
The new approach was shown to be an extremely efficient way of removing organic matter. Initially 87% removal rates were achieved, which have risen to 97%. The project is continuing to identify areas where the process can be improved. One such improvement was to control the treatment flow by establishing several effluent discharges in order to prevent the possibility of the system becoming overcharged.
The project team expects that the technology will be transferrable to situations where the use of conventional anaerobic bioreactors is an inefficient way to treat wastewater. The project is being carried out by the University of Burgos.
12 September 2016 The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx carpathicus) has returned to the Palatinate forest (Pfälzerwald), in southwestern Germany, after disappearing from the area more than 200 years ago. Three captured individuals from Slovakia were transported to the forest thanks to the project LIFE Luchs Pfälzerwald (LIFE13 NAT/DE/000755).
The three released lynxes, one male and two female – named Lucky, Kaja and Luna by local schoolchildren – have been in quarantine since May where they received diligent care and the required vaccinations.
"I am relieved that it went well, that the animals are healthy and they have found their way into the forest. We hope that they will feel at home in the open habitat as quickly as possible," said Jochen Krebühl, CEO of Die Stiftung Natur und Umwelt Rheinland-Pfalz, the project beneficiary. The LIFE project expects to transfer around 20 animals to the area, 10 from Switzerland and 10 from Slovakia.
Speaking at the release of the animals, Ulrike Höfken, the German Minister of the Environment, said that the lynx were a valuable asset to the natural value of the forest. The project has received much media attention, including an item on the regional television news of channel SFR.
A key objective of the project is to establish close co-operation with German and French stakeholders, especially hunters and livestock owners, in order to foster the long-term acceptance of the lynx. Individual lynx have been sighted in the forest from time to time, but these are believed to have originated from the Vosges population, the nearest to the area. The Palatinate forest is around 90% publically-owned land and authorities are sympathetic to the conservation initiative.
07 September 2016 Two years into an ambitious LIFE project in Slovakia that aims to protect the country’s many bird species from flying into power lines, project leaders are highlighting the work of the 62 assistants who participated in a field survey to determine the most dangerous parts of the power network.
Field staff engaged by the LIFE ENERGY project (LIFE13 NAT/SK/001272) have walked a combined total of 32 000 km during the first fifteen months of this five-and-a-half year initiative, which is part-funded by a €1.41 million grant from the EU’s LIFE programme.
Their job was to pave the way for the project’s core task of protecting ten priority bird species in Slovakia from collisions with power lines. The field staff visually assessed around 7 000 km of power lines in thirteen Natura 2000 Special Protection Areas.
Many birds, including some rare and endangered species, are ensnared by power lines every year – and not only in Slovakia. LIFE ENERGY is working with electricity companies to install bird flight diverters and to plant trees to create windbreaks and forest patches that will help birds avoid collisions. The project team is also installing artificial nests to help keep the birds as far away as possible from power lines.
Among the endangered bird species targeted by the project are the lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) and Saker falcon (Falco cherrug). Slovakia is an important roosting habitat and a crossroads for many migratory species.
At the end of the visual mapping exercise, the project team circulated a questionnaire among the field staff to better understand the project’s engagement with local communities.
The questionnaire revealed that almost three quarters of the field staff are men between the ages of 25 and 54, with a similar proportion educated to university level. Almost two thirds of field staff are working in jobs directly related to ecology and the environment.
More information about the project is available from the LIFE ENERGY website.
06 September 2016 A LIFE project aiming to reintroduce the endangered West Indian manatee (Trichetus manatus manatus) to waters around the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe is celebrating the arrival of the first two animals to be released into the wild.
The duo, named Kai and Junior, have arrived safely in Guadeloupe after a transcontinental journey from their home at Singapore Zoo, which agreed to donate the animals to the LIFE SIRENIA project (LIFE14 NAT/FR/000885).
The project team, working with staff from the zoo, organised the construction of special crates for the manatees to be transported on four separate flights to their final destination on the French island. During their long journey, veterinary experts accompanied the aquatic mammals to ensure their welfare and safety.
Kai and Junior are now in quarantine so that the project team can monitor their gradual adaptation to a new environment. In due course, the largely herbivorous animals will be released into the waters around Guadeloupe.
The manatee, also known as the sea cow, is one of the most emblematic species of the Caribbean and an integral element of Creole culture. However, centuries of hunting have reduced the manatee population to the point where the animal is a comparatively rare sight in the tropical waters of the Caribbean.
Adult manatees can grow to three metres in length and weigh half a tonne. Their usual habitats are shallow coastal waters. While they are capable of withstanding substantial changes in water salinity, they are extremely sensitive to changes in water temperature.
LIFE SIRENIA, a project planned to last more than five years, aims to oversee the reintroduction to Guadeloupe of this iconic animal. Overall, another eight manatees are expected to join Kai and Junior in the coming years.
The project has a strong educational component, with efforts to make fishing and tourist boat operators aware of the importance of the manatee for the island’s delicate marine biodiversity and the potential of the animals to spur eco-tourism.
The project’s website (in French) provides all the latest details.
02 September 2016 On 10 August 2016, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds released three young captive-bred Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) into an artificial nest in the Rusenski Lom Nature Park in Bulgaria. The activity was carried out within the framework of the LIFE project, Return of the Neophron (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152), in collaboration with the Nature Park and Green Balkans. It was the first such release not only in Bulgaria, but throughout Eastern Europe.
The LIFE project is taking measures to secure the survival of the Egyptian vulture in Bulgaria and Greece. In addition to releasing captive-bred individuals, the project aims to protect all the remaining pairs found in 15 Natura 2000 sites in Greece and 12 in Bulgaria. Between them, the sites host 76%-93% of the Greek and over 90% of the Bulgarian populations. The project actions address the most relevant threats identified in the EU Species Action Plan for the Egyptian vulture (2008), including the high mortality rate due to poisoning and accidents caused by human infrastructure.
Each of the three newly-released birds was tagged with a satellite transmitter and marked with a ring. The two females, Elodie and Regina, were named after their zookeepers; while the male was named Lom, after the Nature Park. The young birds spent two weeks in the artificial nest, under constant observation and care, before being released into the wild within a known feeding site and near a couple of local Egyptian vultures. The idea is that the wild birds will show the newcomers a safe migration route to their wintering sites. Although this method of introducing captivity-bred birds has been used for many species, the practical experience with Egyptian vultures is relatively small. Therefore, this experimental introduction in Bulgaria will significantly contribute to the accumulation of knowledge in this area.
The Egyptian vulture is the only vulture species that migrates long distances. Every year the birds travel over 8 000 km from the Balkans to Africa and back. After their first migration, young birds remain in Africa for four years before they return to their breeding territories. Thanks to the satellite transmitters, the LIFE project team will be able to track the three birds. This information will help evaluate the success of the method, as well as revealing if the vultures return to Rusenski Lom.
The three vultures were provided within the framework of the European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP) of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), by courtesy of the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). Two of the vultures came from Vienna Zoo and the other from a zoo in Paris.
To find out more about the LIFE project, visit the Return of the Neophron website.