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News: December 2017

LIFE project raises legal shield to protect Egyptian vultures

The Return of the Neophron Photo: Return of the Neophron

05 December 2017Return of the Neophron has delivered a key measure for securing the survival of globally-endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in Greece. The LIFE project produced a National Species Action Plan (SAP) for Egyptian vulture, which was recently endorsed by the Greek Deputy Ministers of Finance, and Environment and Energy. On 25 October 2017, the SAP was published in the Official State Gazette.

The project team consider the approval of the SAP to be one of the most important outcomes of the five-year project, which concluded in December 2016. Project partner the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS), with the help of WWF Greece, delivered this successful result after years of close collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy, and an extensive consultation process. The scientific community, forestry services, environmental NGOs, hunting associations, stockbreeders, and local and national authorities, all provided input to the SAP.

Action Plan is a first

The Return of the Neophron Photo: Return of the Neophron

"This news is of extreme importance, as this is the first time that Greece has officially approved Action Plans for the protection of endangered species,” says Panagiotis Latsoudis, President of HOS. “Although SAPs have been drafted in the past, none had been endorsed due to the lack of a concrete legal framework.”

The National SAP for Egyptian vulture was approved together with one for the lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), and a Regional Action Plan for the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) in Thessaly.

“HOS awaits with expectation the implementation of these three Action Plans whose budget has already been approved by the Green Fund,” states Mr Latsoudis. “The adoption of these Joint Ministerial Decisions now opens the way for the establishment of National Action Plans for the remaining 254 endangered species of vertebrates in Greece."

Tackling multiple threats

The Return of the Neophron Photo: Return of the Neophron

Although the Egyptian vulture is strictly protected by both national and European laws, the SAP will ensure the implementation, with necessary funding, of conservation actions targeting the most serious threats facing the species in Greece. These include the illegal use of poison baits, collisions and electrocution on power lines, and direct persecution. The National SAP establishes a set of concrete actions for the conservation of Egyptian vulture that will be implemented over five years. After this period, it will be reviewed.

The Return of the Neophron project implemented a range of actions in 27 Natura 2000 network sites in Bulgaria and Greece aimed at protecting the species. These included supplementary feeding to improve breeding success; satellite tracking to increase knowledge both of the migration routes to Africa and of the wintering areas used by the breeding Balkan population; and the trialling of methods to prevent bird crime.

With the SAP in place, to provide a legal shield and a framework for conservation actions, the future for the remaining Egyptian eagles in Greece is looking a lot more secure.

Further information on Return of the Neophron is available on the project’s website.


Metal-munching plants mine nickel out of soil

Photo:Agromine Photo:Agromine

02 December 2017 A rose-coloured liquid extracted from a common yellow plant is helping the green economy flourish in an old Spanish mining site and naturally nickel-rich soils in Albania. It is also boosting the circular economy there and across Europe.

The flower, Alyssum murale, absorbs nickel and removes pollution from the soil. Land that has for years been unsafe for people to venture onto, and perilous to grow food on, is being regained. It's a two-way win, because the plant also offers a rich source of materials that are increasingly valuable in industrial processes.

To extract the nickel stored in the plant, researchers harvest the fields on which it grows and burn the biomass. Hydrometallurgical processes then retrieve nickel salts from the ashes.

There is a ready market for these raw materials, because industrial demand for nickel is soaring worldwide. At present, Europe produces only small quantities of the metal. Mine output in New Caledonia, Greece, Spain and Finland represents only 8.6% of total world production.

The metal-absorbing flower is native to the Balkans, and just one of a wide range of so-called hyperaccumulator plants that are capable of drawing pure nickel compounds out of nickel-rich soils and wastes.

Photo:Agromine Alyssum murale absorbs nickel
from soils - Photo:Agromine

The LIFE AGROMINE project is driving research and practice in this new branch of creating a greener economy. Phytomining, to give it its technical name, exploits the naturally-occurring processes of certain plants to provide an eco-efficient way of recovering valuable metals from low-grade ores.

This is more eco-friendly than current techniques involving pyro- or hydro-metallurgical processes. These conventional alternatives consume a lot of energy, and pollute in their own way.

LIFE-sponsored phytomining demonstrations are now underway at sites in Greece, Albania, Spain, France and Austria, checking the financial viability of growing these plants on agricultural land with naturally high levels of ores, such as disused quarries and land damaged by industrial wastes.

The pilots are conducting the full phytomining cycle, starting with cultivation of phytomining crops and running right through to recovery of valuable Ni-rich products and bioenergy.

The plants accumulate trace metals from soils and transport them to their shoots, which are then harvested. This technology fills a gap, making it possible to recover metals in places where the concentration is too low for conventional mining processes to be economically viable.

Photo:Agromine Photo:Agromine

"From one hectare of crop we can extract 100 kilos of nickel, and that's just a start", said Guillaume Echevarria from the University of Lorraine in France. "Some companies are now exploring the possibility of obtaining nickel through an acid reaction on the plants' cinders".

The range of suitable plants continues to grow: a researcher from Papua New Guinea recently presented the LIFE project with information on another 12 plants he had identified in New Caledonia that absorb zinc, cobalt and manganese, as well as nickel.

The AGROMINE project also promises to deliver better organic matter content in soils after cropping, increased water retention, reduced soil compaction, raised microbial respiration and enzymatic activities, and greater macroinvertebrate diversity.


Results of the LIFE mid-term evaluation

LIFE logo

01 December 2017 The LIFE programme is on track to be effective, efficient, relevant and complementary and to provide EU added value. Those are the main findings of the mid-term evaluation of the only EU programme exclusively dedicated to the environment, nature conservation and climate action.

The European Commission's mid-term evaluation of the LIFE programme for the 2014-2020 funding period explored whether the LIFE programme continues to be relevant in tackling the issues it seeks to address. It assessed whether LIFE is operating in an effective and efficient manner and whether its provisions are consistent and coherent with other programmes, delivering EU added value in the process.

The evaluation, which also took into account results of the previous (2007-2013) LIFE+ programme, focused on three key areas in particular:

  • The extent to which synergies between objectives have been reached
  • Whether LIFE has had a positive impact on species and habitats protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives (as measured by the effect on their conservation status)
  • How successful LIFE Integrated Projects have been (or are expected to be) in leveraging other EU funds

It also took into account LIFE's contribution to the Europe 2020 strategy, especially job creation, and to what extent the programme's activities can be sustained or reproduced

Positive contribution

The evaluation concluded that LIFE is delivering in line with set targets. There is evidence of a positive cost-benefit ratio when comparing funding to societal gains. For instance, it is estimated that projects funded in the 2014 call for proposals will produce a benefit to society of some €1.7 billion, more than four times the overall LIFE budget for 2014.

It was also found that LIFE is on track to be internally and externally coherent with relevant objectives. LIFE helps to make the application of EU environmental and climate legislation and policies consistent across the EU. The programme is also helping to exchange best practice, transfer know-how and make better use of project results. Integrated Projects show potential to boost the implementation of relevant Union legislation. 

The mid-term evaluation also highlights aspects of the LIFE programme which need to be improved, including simplifying application and reporting processes, increasing strategic focus and improving the targeting and coordinating of communications.

The results of the evaluation guided the discussion on the multiannual work programme (2018-2020) and will contribute to the definition of the next LIFE Regulation.

  • To read an executive summary of the mid-term evaluation of the LIFE programme, click here.
  • To read the full mid-term evaluation of the LIFE programme, click here.
  • To read a report from the European Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions accompanying the mid-term evaluation of the LIFE programme, click here.

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