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News: June 2018

Orchids bloom again in Luxembourg

Photo:CC BY-SA 3.0/ Hectonichus Photo:CC BY-SA 3.0/ Hectonichus

21 June 2018The dry grasslands of south-east Luxembourg are home to an array of different species of orchid. These beautiful flowers include the lady orchid (Orchis purpurea), which favours the shade, the sun-loving bee orchid (Orchis apifera) and fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera), and the adaptable early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula).

With traditional farming practices in decline, many of these grasslands have become covered by shrubs. “Only around 220 hectares remain,” explains Georges Moes from the conservation NGO, natur&ëmwelt. He is leading a project called Life Orchis that is securing and restoring the dry calcareous (‘chalky’) grasslands inside Natura 2000 areas so that the orchids and other species that depend on this habitat can thrive. The impact of this work can be seen at sites that were previously completely overgrown.  “Already in the first year, we have an explosion of flowering orchids. These plants were present before but in a vegetative state without flowering that much,” says Mr Moes.

30% more grasslands

Photo:CC  BY-NC-SA 2.0/Pierre Kessler Photo:CC BY-NC-SA 2.0/Pierre Kessler

The project intends to achieve a “substantial increase” in the area of grassland, by restoring “more than 60 ha” lost to encroaching scrubland, he explains. This involves clearing shrubs and mowing, followed by grazing with cattle or sheep.

natur&ëmwelt is making the project sites accessible to people who want to enjoy the restored landscape and its botanical riches. It also organises guided tours and gets volunteers involved in project actions. At so-called “Chantiers nature - Fit by nature” weekends volunteers help with scrub clearance in the winter, the only time it is allowed under Luxembourg law, and harvest seeds from dry grasslands species to help re-seed freshly-cleared areas.

Land management and biodiversity

To ensure a lasting legacy from LIFE, the project is buying parcels of land from individuals and establishing long-term leases from municipal governments and the state.  “This morning I had an old man come in because we want to buy a hectare of his land,” recalls Mr Moes. “He was pleased and our lawyer is now doing the contract.” Such deals will enable the grasslands to be managed in a way that ensures they thrive.

Photo Life Orchis Photo Life Orchis

Biodiversity agreements are important for long-term grassland management. These are contracts specific to Luxembourg that give landowners the opportunity to receive a payment per hectare for certain management practices, such as not using fertilisers, mowing late, or reducing grazing intensity. They complement Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments. “For example, we work with a shepherd with 350 sheep on several sites,” says Mr Moes. “He is paid from one side by CAP and the other by biodiversity contracts we make with him, together making around €1 000 per ha. The payment from the agricultural side alone is not enough to cover the work he is doing.”

One thousand new concepts for LIFE projects

Image: ESAME (Click to view bigger image)

20 June 2018 Applicants have submitted more than
1000 concept notes for traditional LIFE projects under the Environment sub-programme. The deadline for applications closed last week. Some 54% of the concept notes are for Environment & Resource Efficiency projects, 30% for Nature & Biodiversity and the remaining 16% for the Environmental Governance & Information (GIE) strand.

Concept notes have come from organisations in all 28 EU Member States. 

Billions of euros

The candidate projects are looking to spend more than €3.3 billion in total on actions to improve our environment and benefit nature. This includes project costs of €1.7 billion for Environment & Resource Efficiency projects, €1.3 billion for Nature & Biodiversity and more than €350 million for Environmental Governance & Information. Applicants have requested some €1.8 billion in support from the EU (see graphic). That’s more than eight times the total budget of €217 million that LIFE has made available to the successful projects, so only the best ideas will go through.

What happens next?

Concept notes will now be evaluated and applicants notified of the results by October. The most promising will be shortlisted and applicants to the Environment sub-programme will be invited to submit a full proposal by the end of January 2019. Evaluation of the full proposals will take place from then until June of next year, with projects starting from July 2019 onwards.

Applicants to the LIFE sub-programme for Climate Action must submit their full proposals by 12 September 2018 – there is no pre-selection through concept notes in this instance.

Rural Ghana gains from LIFE-backed energy storage breakthrough

CHOO-NA! -LIPU Photo: SaltX

15 June 2018As solar and wind power grow cheaper, the core challenge of climate change is shifting from generating clean energy to storing it. With support from LIFE, Swedish SME SaltX has demonstrated a technology that locks sunlight inside the chemical bonds of salt crystals. This keeps the solar power safe until needed to heat - or indeed cool - entire buildings.

Now SaltX has its first major order – supplying 8 000 SunCool collectors for sanitary blocks under construction in rural Ghana. Mostly off-grid, these much-needed buildings will give many people in remote areas new access to toilet-, shower- and washing facilities. This order “proves the strength of SunCool as an autonomous and cost-efficient solar energy solution,” says SaltX CEO Karl Bohman. “It is also important to show that our technology can make a big difference for many people who today lack basic pre-requisites,” he adds.

Replacing scarce lithium

Phot: SUNCOOL Photo: SaltX

“Batteries are not going to be commercially viable to store renewable energy on the scale of our demand for heating and cooling,” believes Mr Bohman. He maintains that the SaltX technology offers a very feasible alternative. “Storage in salt crystals is 10 to 100 times cheaper than Li-ion batteries. Also, unlike lithium that is a scarce resource, there is plenty of salt in the sea and in the ground.”

To transfer ambient heat into ordinary salt grains, SaltX coats them in patented nanoparticles and mixes them with classified chemicals. When incorporated into a standard household heating system, the energy stored by the salts can save up to 40% of the gas that a boiler consumes. With a little engineering, the energy can also power a heat pump to chill the building in higher temperatures.

LIFE brings closer to market

Phot: SUNCOOL Photo: SaltX

As part of the LIFE-funded SUNCOOL project, SaltX (then known as ClimateWell) pushed the green credentials of the technology to new standards by heating the salt crystals with solar power instead of gas burners.

To demonstrate the new approach, the tech firm installed 180 m2 of specially-produced solar concentrators on the roof of Löfbergs - a coffee-roasting house in Karlstad, Sweden's sunshine city. EU funds allowed SaltX to manufacture these, because they were not commercially available at the time. Initial results showed that the solar panels and salts crystals cut energy use for the building's heating and air conditioning by 90%. The LIFE project also enabled the company to calculate capital expenditure and profitability for homes, hotels and hospitals in four European countries, plus China, India, Sri Lanka and the US.

Now listed on the NASDAQ First North Premier stock exchange, SaltX's strategy is to develop, deliver and license its technology to manufacturers of energy efficient heating and cooling products around the world. Its cost effective and scalable energy storage capacity is designed to make customers’ products more energy efficient, which saves energy and thus costs for the end users. The extra expense for SaltX compared to existing solutions can be recovered in less than three years, depending on the application.

ESC gives volunteers a chance to 'Choose Nature'


13 June 2018Camilla Zuretti, is one of the first 150 volunteers taking part in a pilot nature conservation project for the European Solidarity Corps (ESC).

A recent graduate, Ms Zuretti has always been interested in nature, and when her friends told her about the volunteering opportunity at the Choose Nature (CHOO-NA!) project she decided to get involved right away.

“My first contact with nature was when my grandfather would take me round fields on the bike and to summer camps in the mountains,” she explains. When her friends got involved with CHOO-NA! she thought “it would be interesting and give me a possibility to do something concrete as part of a bigger group.”

Based in Italy and led by the Italian BirdLife partner, LIPU, CHOO-NA! aims to help protect 11 bird species and their threatened habitats. By the end of this year, the first 150 volunteers will be joined by a further 150, who together will help guard nests, rescue birds affected by oil spills and communicate the project's messages to target audiences.

European values


“The project aims to foster active citizenship that can promote European values among young people”, says Massimo Soldarini, head of the project volunteer office for CHOO-NA! This European dimension makes it “a completely new environmental volunteer experience,” he believes.

Ms Zuretti was drawn to volunteer at CHOO-NA! because of this collective approach to protecting the environment. As she sees it “nature needs us and we must safeguard it because we need it too. Each of us can do their part to help, starting from small activities to create a better future.”

Where CHOO-NA! has a lot to gain from recruiting enthusiastic and passionate volunteers, Mr Soldarini also sees the volunteers themselves benefitting from “the opportunity to work alongside scientists, professionals and other volunteers. They experience the work of a large environmental association, and acquire new skills that will be useful in the world of work.”

He is keen for more people to get involved in volunteering. There is a link on the project website for anyone who wants to apply.

Six show the way

CHOO-NA! is one of six LIFE Preparatory Projects for the ESC. More than 600 volunteers in Spain are taking part in the projects NATURA 2000 FOLLOWERS and LEWO. Some 800 more volunteers are expected to participate in the three latest ESC projects in Portugal, Italy and Italy and Hungary.

To learn more about the European Solidarity Corps, visit:

Onboard with marine protection in Spain


06 June 2018“The marine environment is very important for Spain, covering one million square kilometres in diverse regions with fantastic biodiversity,” says Itziar Martin from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and Environment (MAPAMA), ahead of World Oceans Day this Friday (8 June).

The Integrated Project LIFE-IP INTEMARES is developing management plans for Natura 2000 network sites in Spanish waters in the North-east Atlantic, Mediterranean and Macaronesian regions, and ensuring that the plans are adopted by 2023. The project covers 10% of all Spanish marine waters - an area about the same size as Austria.

Mobilising different funds

To achieve its ambitious goals, LIFE-IP INTEMARES draws on different funding for different purposes. “In particular, two EU funds, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). There are also funds from the public organisation Fundación Biodiversidad, on top of the LIFE project funding,” explains Ignacio Torres, LIFE-IP INTEMARES project manager.

“The EMFF provides funds for increasing the sustainability of the fisheries sector, and for measures to improve collaboration between fishermen and scientists,” says Mr Torres. “The ESF supports training and capacity building among sea users, the creation of employment, and the promotion of entrepreneurship in the context of a blue and sustainable economy.”

The ESF is being used to diversify local economies, so that where fishing is restricted to protect biodiversity, other activities like fish tourism or marine litter fishing can fill the gap.


Overfishing, abandoned fishing gear and other waste at sea, and maritime traffic are major pressures on marine biodiversity. This makes it doubly important to actively involve the fishing industry and ship owners in planning how to manage protected areas, as LIFE-IP INTEMARES is doing.

Maritime traffic has an impact on marine organisms, for instance, on marine mammals. “We have a big issue with sperm whales colliding with ferries,” reveals Mr Torres. The LIFE Integrated Project is working with ship owners to solve this problem. “We are comparing whale movement patterns with ferry routes and are testing technologies to avoid collisions, such as the use of thermal cameras on ferry boats to identify where the cetaceans are so they can be avoided.”

Pressures from tourism

Participatory workshops are also being used to address specific impacts on the marine environment caused by tourism, for instance in the Canary Islands. Antonio Sampedro is a marine biologist and the Director of Atlantic Eco Experience, a company offering whale-watching tours off the south-west coast of Tenerife. For the story of his involvement in LIFE-IP INTEMARES watch this short video. To find out more about the project as a whole, watch this special video report from LIFE.



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