27 February 2016 The first sighting in more than half a century of a bearded vulture nest (Gypaetus barbatus) in Picos de Europa – a Spanish national park – has taken place. The nest was observed in an area of high-quality habitat for the species in the central massif of the park.
The reintroduction of this critically endangered species is being initiated by the project Life+ Red Quebrantahuesos (LIFE12 NAT/ES/000322). The project beneficiary, the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded vulture (FCQ), detected the first signs of species reproduction in November.
Foundation staff noted a range of pre-breeding behaviours in the vultures, such as territorial defensiveness, intraspecific interactions, repeated copulation and collection of nesting material. The breeding pair was then observed in the nest in January.
The species is listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive and the EU population is considered as threatened and critically endangered by the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species. Its populations throughout Eurasia drastically declined over the past century, leading to its disappearance from many areas. The largest remaining wild European population is located in the Pyrenees.
The LIFE project is returning the bearded vulture to Picos de Europa by transferring at risk individuals from the Aragonese Pyrenees. Since the beginning of the project, 10 bearded vultures have been released in the national park. The confirmation of this first breeding pair 400 km from the Pyrenees is a very significant step for the survival of the species in the EU.
The project is also promoting ecotourism and the value of biodiversity conservation for rural development. Project partners included the local government of Aragon, the Picos de Europa national park and the autonomous agency of the Spanish ministry of agriculture, food and environment.
The LIFE programme has also made a crucial contribution to the reintroduction of the species in other locations around Europe. For example, with the help of Gypaete/Alpes (LIFE98 NAT/F/005194), GYPAETE (LIFE03 NAT/F/000100) and LIFE GypHelp (LIFE13 NAT/FR/000093) the species has staged one of the most remarkable wildlife comebacks stories of all time. Following its successful reintroduction in the Alpine chain –where the species had been extinct since 1913 – there are now 30 established territories in the wild.
Thanks to other LIFE projects, the species is also being reintroduced in the Grands Causses (France) by LIFE GYPCONNECT (LIFE14 NAT/FR/000050) that has released nine birds since 2012 and by Quebranta Andalucía (LIFE04 NAT/ES/000056) in Spain that has released 37 birds since 2006.
21 February 2016 The first LIFE platform meeting of 2017 took place in Finland earlier this month. The three-day event was an opportunity for LIFE Integrated Projects (LIFE IP) to discuss common challenges, opportunities and technical requirements, as well as providing a platform for networking.
Around 100 delegates took part in the meeting, including representatives of all 15 LIFE IP funded in the two years since this category of LIFE project has been operational.
The meeting was organised by FRESHABIT LIFE-IP, (LIFE14 IPE/FI/000023) a Finnish project that is working to improve the ecological status, management and sustainable use of freshwater Natura 2000 network sites in eight regions of Finland, by tackling problems at catchment level. Their excellent project video and website explains more.
In the opening address of the platform meeting, Pekka Harju-Autti from the Finnish Ministry of Environment revealed the process by which his country had selected its two Integrated Projects and gave tips for those looking to create a successful LIFE IP. “We saw that the process has to be very open so that organisations feel that they are treated equally,” he said.
Each of the 15 Integrated Projects gave a five-minute snapshot of their objectives. Short videos of the presentations made by the nine such projects funded in the 2015 call for proposals can be seen on the LIFE Facebook page.
The meeting gave participants an opportunity to take stock of the first year of LIFE IP, by looking in-depth at financial matters, technical implementation and communications and dissemination, including a first view of a teaser video highlighting the benefits of LIFE IP.
A session on synergies and conflicts provoked much discussion, allowing participants to talk freely about the challenge of complying with different EU directives - such as the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive - in the same project, using FRESHABIT LIFE-IP as an example. Stephan Von Keitz explained the water, energy and navigation nexus in which the German project Living River Lahn (LIFE14 IPE/DE/000022) is taking place. And Lasse Peltonen from the University of Eastern Finland gave an overview of his research on solving potential conflicts among environmental stakeholders.
One of the distinctive features of LIFE IP is the use of complementary sources of funding to deliver outcomes beyond the scope of traditional LIFE projects. The 15 projects funded to date will be mobilising some €3 billion of public and private sector funding to address Europe’s biggest challenges around nature conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation and compliance with legislation on waste management, water and air quality. Fittingly, the closing session of the platform meeting focused on these complementary funding sources and actions, drawing on lessons from the first year of FRESHABIT LIFE-IP and Natural Course, a UK LIFE-IP (LIFE14 IPE/UK/000027).
An in-depth report on these sessions will be in the March edition of the LIFE newsletter.
The final day of the meeting was dedicated to a field trip to three sites within the Karjaanjoki water basin, one of the catchments targeted by the first Finnish Integrated Project. On a beautiful winter’s day, delegates learned about an intiative to restore water circulation that took place at the Natura 2000 network site, Lake Vanjärvi. They also visited Pitkälänkoski rapids, where FRESHABIT LIFE-IP will restore breeding grounds for trout along a 1.1km stretch of river, and they heard about plans for a new fish passage at a dam at Olkkalankoski rapids.
20 February 2016 A recently published report entitled LIFE: Contributing to Employment and Economic Growth shows just how effective investment in projects that improve the environment and protect nature can be.
In addition to environmental benefits, the LIFE programme is shown to be making a considerable contribution to the European economy in terms of jobs and growth. The study found that for an initial investment of €2.1 billion (from 1991 to 2016), the LIFE programme has contributed an estimated €9.3 billion to the European economy.
The comprehensive new report is divided into four parts: factors determining a project’s sustainability (viability of outputs after LIFE financing) and replicability (probability of outputs being taken up by others); the economic impact of LIFE projects; the ‘hidden’ economic potential of LIFE Nature projects; and an overview of Green Finance.
In addition to direct contributions to employment and growth, LIFE Nature projects also have a ‘hidden’ added value in terms of ecosystem services (e.g. providing us with clean air and water, flood protection, climate stabilisation, and recreation and ecotourism). Based on a sample analysis of 25 projects, the monetisation of ecosystem services for all LIFE Nature projects was estimated as contributing a further €43 billion to the European economy.
An analysis of a large number of LIFE projects reveals that an average project creates 31 person-years in full time equivalent (FTE) jobs: 21 directly and the rest indirectly. Therefore, 1 000 such projects would create a total of 31 000 jobs during project implementation, with an additional 43 500 jobs in the five years after the start of project replication based on the most conservative replication scenario used.
For selected LIFE projects, the report estimates the number of jobs that would be created under likely replication scenarios. Notable projects for green job creation include RECYSHIP (LIFE07 ENV/E/000787) for dismantling and recycling ships (486 person-years), DYEMOND SOLAR (LIFE09 ENV/SE/000355) in facilities manufacturing dye-sensitised solar cells (480 person-years), The Green Deserts (LIFE09 ENV/ES/000447) for people making tree boxes and planting trees (351 person-years) and EDEA-RENOV (LIFE09 ENV/ES/000466) through the implementation of energy-efficient solutions in housing (248 person-years).
The report notes that the growth in green finance, such as the market for green bonds, is creating new business opportunities that should facilitate the replication of LIFE project outcomes (e.g. innovative technologies, methodologies, or software).
Among the major factors affecting the sustainability and replicability of LIFE projects are level of innovation, personnel and infrastructure budgets, and amount spent on prototypes. For LIFE Nature projects in particular, the most important factor explaining the relationship between budget and ecosystem services value appears to be capital invested in land purchase/leasing. By identifying the key determinants for existing projects, the report can help target future finance to deliver even more jobs and benefits for the European economy.
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17 February 2016 The oLIVE CLIMA (LIFE11 ENV/GR/000942) LIFE project is actively contributing to the pilot phase for the elaboration of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs) for olive oil. This process will finish late 2017 and its conclusions will be integrated into the European Commission’s policy proposals regarding circular economy actions that are due to be presented mid-2018.
oLIVE CLIMA is highlighting the climate mitigation potential of olive groves. Specifically, the project is testing the efficacy of a number of measures to increase carbon uptake from the atmosphere and storage of a considerable part of it, first in olive wood and then in the soil.
The project experts contributed to an important decision taken on 18 November 2016 by the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) of the unit dealing with the PEF . The decision recognises credits in the carbon footprint of olive tree products when it can be proven that carbon is stored for more than 100 years in the wood. The decision also covered cork tree products. This decision is a real milestone as it is the first time that, beyond forests, agricultural crops are considered as way to deliver climate change mitigation.
oLIVE CLIMA will next seek to highlight the carbon storage capacity of olive grove soil. The project expects to prove the climate mitigation potential from increasing Soil Organic Matter (SOM) in olive groves. The project will argue that such carbon storage deserves additional climate change mitigation credits if it can be proven to be ‘permanently’ bound.
The project's final results on soil carbon storage capacity in olive groves are expected for 2017 and will be transmitted to the TAB. If proven, the results are expected to offer significant benefits, both to the environment and to olive growers, as it strengthens the message to the consumer that increasing the sustainability of olive production is good not only for their nutrition and health, but also that it offers invaluable services to the environment.
For more information about Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) check out the European Commission guide.
13 February 2016 The IMPROVE LIFE (LIFE13 ENV/ES/000263) project is looking for feedback from underground commuters. The project is currently running a short online questionnaire about underground railway air quality.
Commuting by underground rail is a daily activity for many Europeans. From an environmental perspective, the subway system is relatively clean way of moving large numbers of passengers. However, underground commuters can routinely be exposed to inhalable particulate matter (PM) levels that are higher than the normal legal limits for outdoor air quality in European cities. In fact, PM levels underground are typically much higher than those above ground.
The IMPROVE LIFE project is developing a benchmark study that it hopes will lead to real improvement in subway air quality. The project is being carried out in Barcelona, where the main pollutant sources will be identified in order to inform the prioritisation of cost-effective and low energy air pollution mitigation strategies.
By filling in the short online questionnaire you can help this initiative to reduce air contamination in subways and boost the implementation of air improvement strategies.
For the latest news about this project visit the IMPROVE LIFE website.
09 February 2016 The official 2017 call is provisionally scheduled to be published on the 28 April 2017.
An indicative planning for the LIFE call 2017 is also now available. Applicants busy designing a potential new LIFE project now have a rough guide to the expected deadlines.
Once ready, application packages and supporting information will also be made available, similar to previous calls.
08 February 2016 LIFE ASAP (LIFE15 GIE/IT/001039) is protecting Italy’s biodiversity from the treat of invasive alien species (IAS) and actively supporting the implementation of the EU’s Invasive Alien Species Regulation, which came into force on 1 January 2015. The LIFE project has begun in a blaze of publicity, with articles in major daily Italian national and regional newspapers and a feature on the evening news of state broadcaster RAI.
Invasive alien species (IAS) represent a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Scientists estimate that the number of invasive alien species in the EU has grown by 76 per cent in the past 30 years. IAS-related problems are estimated to cost EU taxpayers €12 billion a year. Beyond the financial impact, exotic flora and fauna can cause irreparable damage to natural habitats and rare native species.
The LIFE ASAP (Alien Species Awareness Program) project is informing the Italian public about the threat to native species posed by exotic plants and animals. It also aims to give effect to EU legislation by training public authorities to support the implementation of the IAS Regulation. By increasing public awareness of the problem the project can reduce both the deliberate and accidental spread of IAS (with a particular focus on the sale of pets and ornamental plants).
The project team, led by ISPRA, the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, is forging partnerships with key stakeholders including florists, pet shops, anglers, hunting organisations and horticulturalists in Italy to promote best practice as outlined in the voluntary European code of conduct in invasive alien species.
LIFE ASAP is engaging with experts to draw up an IAS blacklist whose presence and growth in Italy need to be eradicated. The project plans to train at least 115 public administration representatives on how to apply the IAS Regulation.
The project is also working with conservationists, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, museums and national parks to help spread key messages to the public about the dangers posed to Europe’s natural heritage by seemingly harmless animals and plants.
Public information is a vital part of the project. As well as regular stories in the media, the project is working through airports, schools, voluntary groups and citizen science activities using social media and innovative tools such as smartphone apps. See their press kit here.
07 February 2016 The evaluation of the 2016 proposals is progressing.
EASME foresees the following indicative dates for the next steps:
06 February 2017 The LIFE+ Petrels (LIFE13 BIO/FR/000075) project has discovered a new breeding ground for the endangered Mascarene petrel (Pseudobulweria aterrima) in the French island of La Reunion in the Western Indian Ocean.
The project team has been intensively searching for Mascarene petrel sites since 2015, listening to thousands of hours of audio recordings and exploring the most remote and steepest parts of the island. The breeding ground was finally discovered by tracking the returning birds at night with infra-red equipment and abseiling down steep cliffs.
The project is continuing a 15-year initiative to find the breeding grounds of this rare bird species. Endemic to the island, its numbers have suffered from predation by introduced mammals, such as cats and rats. Light pollution, which causes many immature birds to become disoriented in flight, is another threat. The species was presumed extinct.
The LIFE project is in fact targeting two endangered seabirds. It is also aiming to ensure the survival of the Barau's petrel (Pterodroma baraui). Conservation measures include controlling the spread of the aforementioned invasive species in the remotest areas of the islands.
The team also expects to carry out artificial breeding of the target species as well as improve knowledge and awareness of them. Its efforts were boosted by the acquisition last summer of a pair of dogs to help identify the burrowing grounds of the petrels. They are being trained using rags impregnated with the birds’ scent.
For more about the project behind this great discovery see the project website. A related article with more details is also available (in French). English version is available here.
01 February 2017 Showing how protecting the environment can be good for businesses and encourage jobs and growth in Europe's economy, Swedish start-up and solar technology company, EXEGER, has announced that it is to recruit skilled staff for a number of recently created green posts.
Supported by the LIFE programme via the Dyemond Solar (LIFE09 ENV/SE/000355) project, EXEGER has demonstrated a new screen-printing method allowing it to produce so-called dye-sensitized solar cells in an eco-friendly and cost-efficient way.
This uptake of new solar technology is a great example of how the LIFE programme incubates ideas and demonstrates new technologies, which with further investment can be scaled-up to marketable solutions with major economic and environmental benefits.
EXEGER solar cell technology is lightweight, flexible, attractively designed, and uses a unique patented architecture that enables it to seamlessly integrate into existing commercial technologies. Screen printing also enables solar cells to be produced in a variety of colours and shapes, and to incorporate logos. EXEGER has therefore targeted the consumer electronics market, by entering into joint development agreements with some of the world's largest electronic manufacturers to produce self-charging portable devices (with no need for batteries or chargers).
Having recently attracted a key investor EXEGER is now expanding in order to raise the company's annual capacity to 15 million cells, preparing it for delivery of full scale orders. The Swedish start-up is now planning to hire 5-10 new skilled staff to boost its team, with possible additional recruitments in the future.
The solar technology developed by the LIFE project is environmentally-friendly. The low-cost and relatively simple screen-printing technology for producing the cells has lower energy requirements than other solar cell production methods, does not use scarce or toxic raw materials, and generates no toxic emissions during manufacturing.
Further information about DYEMOND SOLAR can be found on the project's website.