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News: December 2017

Award-winning urban green infrastructure plan

Green Infrastructure for Zaragoza Master Plan

21 December 2017LIFE ZARAGOZA NATURAL has won an award at the 2nd European Urban Green Infrastructure Conference (EUGIC) for its Green Infrastructure for Zaragoza Master Plan.
The City Council of Zaragoza, the project beneficiary, picked up one of the three EUGIC 2017 Awards given at the conference in Budapest on 29-30 November 2017. These were awarded to the poster presentations that the EUGIC 2017 Jury considered the most innovative, interesting and creative Urban Green projects.

Bringing nature into cities

The LIFE ZARAGOZA NATURAL  project is protecting biodiversity, and improving connectivity between Natura 2000 network sites and other natural areas, within the city of Zaragoza in Spain. It is restoring rivers and wetlands, and the forests and steppe that occupy two-thirds of the municipality.

By establishing a Master Plan for the Green Infrastructure of Zaragoza, the project team are helping to integrate environmental aspects into the overall urban planning strategy. The plan has a cross-cutting effect on all municipal decisions, including urban development and the management of city parks and natural peri-urban areas.

Putting the plan into action

To implement the Master Plan, the City Council of Zaragoza has designed over 100 measures  to better manage green infrastructure and its inter-connectivity. These project initiatives go out of their way to involve the public, as they are among the main beneficiaries of improvements to green pathways and corridors around the city.
Given the potential of green infrastructure to improve public health, and help the inhabitants of Zaragoza adapt to climate change and boost their quality of life, project coordinators believe that their results will support the city of Zaragoza in its attempts to develop in a balanced way. 

EUGIC organisers regard nature-based solutions and urban green infrastructure as vital to the future of European cities and citizens. The EUGIC Awards highlight innovative projects that provide good examples for other cities. This aim is shared by LIFE ZARAGOZA NATURAL as the project works to create a European network of cities with green infrastructure.

Flashback 2017


20 December 2017Both harsh and hopeful headlines made environmental news in 2017. Through a year racked by forest fires and hurricanes, the LIFE-programme has continued to support green citizen-led initiatives, clean-tech start-ups, and broader participation in global climate talks.

The LIFE programme has now been at the frontline of EU efforts to preserve its natural heritage for 25 years. To celebrate the programme’s silver jubilee, eco-enthusiasts from across the continent have organised over 200 events. From nocturnal frog concerts off the German coast, to ‘BioBlitz’ photoshoots cataloguing wildlife in northern Italy, LIFE-25 events have helped environmentalists engage with the media and local communities.


Outreach activities culminated on 21 May 2017, a quarter of a century since the EU adopted the Habitats Directive, bringing the Natura 2000 network of protected areas into existence. With more than 27 000 sites across Europe, Natura 2000 has grown into the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. Following an initiative started by the LIFE project Activa Red Natura 2000, this year, 21 May was Natura 2000 Day.

The EU made the decision official in its action plan for nature, people and the economy. A document adopted this year in part to help Europe reach its ambitious biodiversity targets for 2020. The action plan will notably raise the budget for the LIFE sub-programme on nature and biodiversity by 10%.


Turning policy into action will require helping hands. For the first time in 2017, the EU has called for LIFE projects to deploy volunteers from the European Solidarity Corps in conservation work within Natura 2000 sites. The decision is far-reaching. Over the coming two years, nearly 1000 young nature lovers will lend their support to birds and habitats across Europe.

Citizens also took a stand for the environment this year at the 2017 edition of the European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR) in November.  This year’s EWWR spurred some 13 000 events, pulling in millions of visitors in efforts to reduce waste, reuse products and recycle materials.

The EWWR’s enduring enthusiasm for the circular economy is all the more encouraging as, after having gained momentum through successive LIFE projects, the event ran independently for the first time in 2017. Its success is a testimony to the potential of citizen-led initiatives to grow organically once they have built up the necessary critical mass.

Green growth

Bottom-up contributions need not all be based on volunteering to make a difference. With support from the LIFE programme, 2017 saw more private companies join efforts to guide market forces towards the green economy.

Flexible solar cellsPhoto: DYEMOND SOLAR

This year, Swedish start-up EXEGER demonstrated a new screen-printing method to produce flexible and bright coloured solar cells. The company grew out of the close-to-market LIFE project DYEMOND SOLAR.

In 2017, EXEGER has secured the investment needed to expand its operations and hire new staff. The company’s success could help mitigate climate change, and demonstrates how the LIFE programme can support green growth by acting as an incubator for ideas that make economic, as well as environmental, sense.

Keep it snowing              

Climate action remained high on the agenda in 2017 as the USA distanced itself from international efforts to stop global warming. The EU worked alongside leaders from the rest of the world at the COP23 climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, striving for an open and inclusive dialogue.

The LIFE programme took part in these efforts by introducing COP23 delegates to bottom-up environmental initiatives that it has funded. From eco-documentaries touring EU countries, to installing cleaner boilers in Central Europe, LIFE knows the value of public engagement in turning good ideas into reality.

As the year draws to a close, climate negotiators insist that more needs to be done to meet the EU's environmental goals, including those under the Paris Agreement and the 2030 climate and energy framework.

At present, governments, companies and even well-intentioned consumers lack the means to decarbonise their activities. It remains challenging for instance to market, or even quantify, the sequestration of greenhouse gases in woodlands or farms.

At an EU workshop in 2017, LIFE projects sketched out examples of how the forestry and agricultural sectors could help mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases.

Peter Wehrheim from the EU directorate-general for Climate Action said at the event that the LIFE programme has acted in many ways like a field laboratory, testing new ideas that then feed into policy. He says that LIFE projects have already made a significant contribution to climate action. As 2018 shifts into view, he expects them to continue to do so.

European Solidarity Corps volunteers deployed via LIFE projects to help save nature

European Solidarity Corps

19 December 2017The European Solidarity Corps celebrated its first birthday on 7 December. Over the past 12 months, more than 40 000 young people from all countries in the EU have signed up to the initiative. The European Commission has launched a first call for LIFE-funded projects to deploy these volunteers in efforts to conserve Natura 2000 sites.

Two projects from Spain and one from Italy have been selected. Over the coming two years, close to a thousand young nature-lovers will dedicate their time and energy to protecting wildlife and habitats.

The placement will support the Natura 2000 network of sites protecting Europe’s biodiversity. It will also help equip a new generation of EU workers with the skills and experience that they need to make the most of employment opportunities in modern job markets.

Bird watchers

The Italian project Life CHOO-NA! will train 310 young people to tackle threats to 11 bird species and their habitats. Volunteers will help guard nests and tackle poaching. Their efforts will help safeguard protected wading birds, raptors and songbirds.

One team will respond to fuel spills by rescuing oil-drenched birds. Another will communicate project work online. These activities will steer participants towards academic and professional paths related to issues that interest them.

Natura 2000 sites in EUNatura 2000 sites in EU (2014)
Source: European Environment Agency

Two Spanish projects are raising awareness of the Natura 2000 network. NATURA 2000 FOLLOWERS will mobilise over 300 youngsters to share with a broader public what they know about the network and why they care about it. The project will train volunteers in general work skills, as well as in hands-on nature conservation and surveillance skills, necessary for instance to properly monitor bird populations.

The other Spanish project, LIFE IS EVERGREEN WITH VOLUNTEERS, will bring another 300 young people living in Galicia, in northwest of Spain, to conserve habitats, remove invasive alien species, and catalogue the local flora and fauna.

Galicia has more than 60 protected areas within the Natura 2000 network. Reducing human impact on this natural heritage offers a chance for qualified young Galicians to pick up the training and experience sought by modern employers.

To find out more about the LIFE Preparatory Projects for the European Solidarity Corps, visit our latest call for proposals.

How pine trees help keep the North Pole cool

Photo:FoResMitPhoto: FoResMit

14 December 2017A new study shows how selectively thinning trees can restore degraded pine forests and help contain the onset of climate change. Researchers also claim that the innovative silvicultural treatment makes forests nicer to visit and more valuable to their communities.

In a peer-reviewed article soon to appear in the Annals of Forest Research, scientists working on the LIFE-funded FoResMit project have examined the impact of different ways to manage forests surrounding cities in Italy and Greece. They conclude that, among other benefits, thinning pine trees selectively has increased the amount of carbon dioxide that woodlands can sequester.


One of the sites examined in the project is Monte Morello in central Italy. Over the past 100 years, efforts to improve soil quality have to the reforestation of 1 000 hectares of land mainly with black pine trees (Pinus nigra). The forests have since largely remained abandoned, allowing trees to grow in excessive densities.

Under such competitive conditions, Dr Alessandra Lagomarsino from the Italian Research Council for Agriculture and Economics (CREA) says that competition for light and nutrients can prevent new tree growth and make entire ecosystems vulnerable. As part of her work at the Research Centre for Agriculture and Environment in Florence, Italy, Dr Lagomarsino has studied soils and trees in the region.

“These forests are really very degraded,” said Dr Lagomarsino. “There is a lot of dead biomass in them that notably increases the risk of forest fires and releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as it decomposes.” She adds that the situation is common in peri-urban forests across Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean.

The solution being tested by FoResMit involves clearing old trees and rotting wood out of these degraded forests to promote the growth of fresh and more vigorous biomass. This in turn could pull more greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and store them in sustainable woodlands. Dr Lagomarsino says the new approach could help turn carbon sources back into carbon sinks.

Keep cool

Photo:FoResMitPhoto: FoResMit

Greenhouse gases emitted by human activity are already increasing global temperatures to the point of raising sea levels and melting sea ice around the North Pole. At present, the only known way of removing them from the atmosphere and dialling back climate change is to sequester gases like carbon dioxide in soils and biomass. An EU regulation put forward in 2016 is set to include forestry and agriculture in EU Climate Action policy as of 2021. But solution of this nature require healthy, growing vegetation.

Most areas across the Mediterranean have traditionally managed forests by cutting small and leaning trees, while leaving deadwood on the ground - where it releases part of its carbon back into the atmosphere.

In contrast, selective thinning chops down old trees that compete for light, and removes some of the dead trees that have started to decompose. According to the FoResMit study, after selectively thinning plots of forest in Monte Morello, in central Italy, trees had space to grow more vigorously and the new ecosystem balance was better suited to enrich soils.

In comparison with conventional silvicultural treatments, researchers expect that selective thinning will increase by 30% the amount of carbon dioxide that each acre of the region’s woodland can sequester each year. If these results hold over larger areas and longer timeframes, selectively thinned pine forests could go a long way towards mitigating climate change.

“These are initial estimates built on partial measurements,” said Dr Alessandro Paletto, another researcher at CREA and the lead author of the study. The project launched its selective thinning campaign in November 2016, and will need three to five years to document its full impact on carbon uptake in the soils and trees of peri-urban forests.

By the end of 2018, Dr Paletto hopes to release FoResMit’s first forest management guidelines. The document will help forest managers and policy makers trim peri-urban forests back to good health – and keep the world cooler from the Mediterranean to the North Pole.

Finns welcome Rudolph's wild cousin home

Photo:WildForestReindeerLIFEPhoto: Mikko Rautiainen

13 December 2017The wild forest reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) is making a comeback in the EU. Once common in the snowy forests of north-eastern Europe and bordering Russia, the subspecies went extinct in Finland in the early 20th century. The project WildForestReindeerLIFE is now helping Finland recover its endemic species, placing this recent addition to Christmas folklore back in the countryside it came from.

Winter journey

The wild forest reindeer is less widespread than its smaller and semi-domesticated cousin, the Northern reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus). In contrast to other subspecies, these migratory mammals prefer living in dense boreal woodlands. Since the industrial revolution, these shy and discrete animals have been hit hard by hunting, forestry and a rise in natural predators.

The wild forest reindeer would have been lost completely had it not been for a small population that survived in the Russian area of Karelia. Since the 1950s, herds have trickled out of this enclave and back into Finland. Of the 4 500 individuals alive today, some 2 000 have returned to ancestral stomping grounds in the region of Kainuu, and throughout the Suomenselkä drainage divide in Finland.

The journey home is welcome news for Europe’s biodiversity. But the long term survival of the wild forest reindeer remains uncertain. Modern changes to once sprawling woodland habitats now expose the reindeer to frequent traffic accidents and attacks from large carnivores. The subspecies is listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive with an unfavourable conservation status.

To turn the situation around, LIFE’s WildForestReindeer project is adopting measures to better track wild forest reindeer, understand their needs and inform land owners how to care for their vulnerable new occupants. Conservationists working on the project hope that clearer insight and better management will move the animal’s conservation status to favourable by as early as 20

Collars and satellites

Photo:WildForestReindeerLIFEPhoto: Mikko Rautiainen

One challenge to protecting wild forest reindeer is keeping track of them. Herds can migrate over hundreds of kilometres each year to reach feeding grounds scattered in Finland and Russia. In November 2016, LIFE-funded conservationists started equipping females with tracking collars to follow their whereabouts.

Some 80 reindeer have now been collared in Kainuu and Suomenselkä. The tracking devices send location signals to the same Iridium satellite constellation that provides coverage to many satellite phones and pagers. GPS coordinates are beamed back to a database hosted at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden, where they advise researchers on the evolution of the reindeer’s migration patterns.

To complement these ground measurements, WildForestReindeerLIFE is also conducting aerial censuses. In February 2017, eyes in the sky flagged up 741 reindeer in the Kainuu region, on Finland’s border with Russia. These numbers are consistent with research expectations. In contrast, a March expedition to Suomenselkä spotted only 635 animals of a herd that is expected to number 1300 heads. The outcome highlights the need for consistent methods to estimate reindeer population sizes.

One key difference between the two censuses was that the second was performed after the early onset of spring. Snow had started melting by March 2017, making it harder to spot reindeer in the second aerial census data. Such complications are liable to grow more pronounced as climate change alters natural habitats across the Arctic. By test flying potential solutions on board further aerial censuses in 2018, 2022 and 2023, WildForestReindeerLIFE will help conservationists tackle these issues in the future.

No place like home

Photo:WildForestReindeerLIFEPhoto: Milla Niemi

Spotting threatened reindeer is only the first step towards saving them. Since WildForestReindeerLIFE last aerial census, project conservationists have been identifying Finnish habitats favoured by the herds. This information will help identify areas where the subspecies stands the greatest chance of being taking root.

The project is already boosting the range of the wild forest reindeer by reintroducing them into two Natura 2000 network sites. Because reindeer roam across landscapes much larger than these protected areas, conservationists are also appealing to private and commercial forests in Finland to support their work. Their collaboration could notably provide safe corridors for reindeer to cross between distant nature reserves. 

Along with WWF Finland, WildForestReindeerLIFE will release a guide to forestry practices that can help forest managers nurture wild forest reindeer. The project will also conduct restoration work of its own, setting examples to incorporate into routine forestry planning in the years to come.

Unfit for waste

Photo:PixabayPhoto: Pixabay

12 December 2017 A recent report by the LIFE-funded European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) project says that the EU purchased over 6 million tonnes of clothing in 2015 alone. Most of those items will end up in landfills in less than five years, but their impact on the environment will last longer.

Making, shipping and washing clothes consumed over 40 billion cubic meters of water in 2015, and emitted the equivalent of 195 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. To lead the fashion industry to greener seasons, leading brands, like Etam and WE Fashion, are cleaning up their act.

Green threads

Guiding their efforts, the LIFE-funded ECAP project has mobilised clothes stores, fashion designers and shoppers to reduce clothing waste across Europe. The project’s objective is to turn the textile industry, currently responsible for one of the largest environmental footprints in the EU, into a role model for the circular economy.

Making fashion sustainable will be no easy task. ECAP’s report, released in December 2017, outlines gaps in public knowledge on the environmental impact of their clothing. The project asked Europeans how often they wash their laundry, where they buy new clothes and how long they are likely to keep them for. The results highlight a few curious national quirks.

People in the UK tend to spend a quarter more money on new clothes than the EU average. Italians and Spaniards throw away twice as many garments as their neighbours in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark or Sweden. Danes say that they keep their clothing in active use a year longer than people in the Netherlands, the UK or Germany.

Behind these national differences, the data also reveal trends that stretch across borders. Europeans generally struggle to perceive the environmental implications of daily habits linked to their clothes. Few keep old clothes longer than five years or even consider buying garments second hand. Many households also consume vast amounts of energy and water doing laundry, regardless of the impact on greenhouse gas emissions and resource scarcity. These observations draw attention to challenges which a sustainable garment industry faces, but also to opportunities.  

Stitches and thrift shops

Photo: LIFE Econnect Mapping clothing impacts in Europe

A sizeable fraction of the textile industry’s carbon footprint is determined by the laundry settings of shoppers. Higher water temperatures on washing machines guzzle more energy, which in turn release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Most households claim to wash their clothes at a commendable 30‑40 °C. But they tend to do so five times a week – a frequency that ECAP researchers describe as high. Consumers stand to save money and protect the environment by reducing the number of loads they wash.

Another opportunity for consumers to make a difference is to reuse clothes. At least four in five respondents across all countries surveyed by ECAP admitted to never buying second hand clothes. Instead most Europeans purchase garments in shops or online, keep them for three to five years, and often discard them with residual household garbage. This unsustainable market model is common in many economic sectors, but it is all the more striking in the textile industry as hand-me-downs can easily be given a second life in thrift shops and charities.

Circular textile industry

Shoppers are not the only ones who can make a difference. ECAP points out that environmentally-minded textile firms can go a long way in making industrial processes cleaner and greener, for instance by streamlining the production of raw materials. But the holy grail in a circular textile industry is to overhaul each step of the value chain, placing sustainability at its core. The Danish Fashion Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, is taking part in the project by teaching designers to fit sustainability into their ideas from the outset.

This insight can help keep large quantities of clothing out of landfills and return value to the EU economy. LIFE ECAP works on environmental objectives that will also benefit the clothing sector economically.  Growing opportunities for collecting, repairing, reusing, and recycling clothes will open new markets and make better value of raw materials.

Moving mountains for their wildlife

Photo: LIFE Econnect Photo: LIFE Econnect

11 December 2017There are now more grey partridges in the mountains around Alto Campoo, in northern Spain, compared to their numbers in 2014. This is one positive signal that the LIFE Econnect project in the area is having its intended effects of revitalising local wildlife and restoring some of the damage inflicted by ski-based tourism.

Right at the crash-point between local economics and local environment, the project is exploring how the balance can be improved to turn a classic face-off into a win-win scenario where competing interests can both benefit.
This mountain area – reaching higher than 2000 metres - is a perfect test-bed for trying out new forms of cooperation and adaptation. It contains a wide diversity of ecosystems and priority habitats, with zones designated under the Habitats Directive as Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protected Areas.

Its emergence as a popular ski resort has brought unprecedented prosperity to the area. But the infrastructure created and the volumes of tourism have exacted a high price on the local environment.

The landscape in Alto Campoo has been fragmented, driving changes in livestock grazing, which has in turn eroded or compacted soil and harmed peat lands. Vegetation has been destroyed and heather has overgrown some areas, impeding recolonisation by native vegetation. The result has been the reduction of species diversity. The grey partridge was just one of the victims. Another was the hen harrier. 

Photo: LIFE Econnect Photo: LIFE Econnect

The good news is that better management has made it possible to stabilise and even reverse some of the losses. Central to the approach was creating animal corridors, new physical connections between the – until now, separated - areas designated for conservation and special protection.

Seeding, transplantation, improving soil permeability and water retention is regenerating vegetation, and obstacles such as cattle fences are being removed or clearly marked to reduce the chances of birds colliding with them.

Special attention has been paid to countering erosion affecting habitats on moorlands, pasture and riverbanks. The ski station continues to function, but redesign and redirection of tourism flows is remedying the soil compaction around. And local farmers are cooperating in less-destructive herd management.

Success has been achieved, as suggested by the increase in partridge numbers. Hen harrier numbers are now stable too, and ringing the birds with high-tech transponders has revealed previously unknown aspects of their reproductive ecology, which feed into the project's learning process.

But success has been possible only with the engagement of local people and businesses. Conservationists working on the Econnect project have also reached out to tourists visiting the area and using its ski station. Sensitising the public to the vulnerability of the natural world around them has been a key part of the project. These measures are intended to serve as an example for how other European mountain regions can tackle similar problems.

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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