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News: March 2018

LIFE Calls for Proposals to be published in 2018


13 March 2018 Details are taking shape for the LIFE programme’s 2018 Calls for Proposals. A provisional calendar   for the call for proposals publication is now available online. Please note that schedules are currently indicative and that more information will be made public closer to the publication date for each call.

This year, calls under sub-programmes for Environment and Climate Action will cover action grants for "Traditional" projects, Integrated projects, Technical Assistance projects and Preparatory projects. An additional call for proposals will be published for operating grants to finance Specific Grant Agreements (SGAs) with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

This will be the first year in which proposals for calls under LIFE's Environment sub-programme will follow the streamlined 2-stage submission process introduced to simplify administrative steps for funding applicants. For the LIFE Climate Action sub-programme, the submission procedure remains unchanged. Applicants will submit full proposals from the start.

As each call is published, a dedicated application package will be made available for download, with full application details on eligibility criteria, administrative procedures and co-financing rates.

Please find the detailed provisional calendar here.

LIFE platform meeting on farms and forests confronts climate change in the Mediterranean

Photo: LIFE+ InBioWood Photo: LIFE AGRI ADAPT

13 March 2018 Representatives from LIFE projects are converging on Madrid, Spain, on 13-14 March to discuss the impact of rising temperatures on agriculture and forestry in the Mediterranean. The two-day platform meeting will draw on additional expertise from EU policy makers, local authorities and stakeholders in the agro-forest sector to tackle the impacts of climate change in an area notoriously exposed to its effects.

The event, organised by Spanish NGO Fundación Global Nature and supported by the European Agency of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (EASME) and the Directorate-General for Climate Action of the European Commission, aims to single out solutions that could help farms and forests adapt to southern Europe’s shifting climate.

From extreme weather events to forest fires, climate change has hit the Mediterranean hard in recent years. According to the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change, the region is among the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of global warming.

This is bad news for local farms and forests that depend on stable weather conditions to produce food and timber. Climate-driven drought, forest fires, rising sea levels, increasing salinization and invasive pests are now threatening these resources and the livelihood of Mediterranean communities.

At the platform meeting, the European Environment Agency and the European Commission will join over 40 LIFE projects in mapping out climate conditions prevailing in the Mediterranean today and how they are likely to affect agriculture and forestry in the future.

Researchers and conservationists will also present satellites, modelling tools and other high-tech instruments that allow farmers and foresters to monitor changing weather conditions and climate trends on site. The discussion will help spread expertise, swap tricks and engage more stakeholders in this increasingly connected community.

Past test phase

Photo: LIFE+ InBioWood Photo: LIFEAdaptFor

In addition to assessing the scale of the climate change, LIFE projects will present measures that are already being taken by the EU to meet its many challenges. Thaïs Leray and Nicola Di Virgilio from the European Commission will also describe the overarching policy framework in place to secure food, water, and incomes for local farmers and foresters

Agriculture and forestry are on the front line of climate change. The two sectors suffer strongly from its consequences, they contribute to its causes and hold the key to many solutions.

For instance, the LIFE Enerbioscrub project, whose work participants at the platform meeting will observe on-site on 14 March, is reducing the risk of forest fires by removing flammable scrubs from Spanish forests and turning them into marketable fuels.

LIFE AGRI ADAPT is testing ways of safeguarding 120 farms across Europe to increase the resilience of EU crops and livestock to climate change. The results could help integrate climate adaptation into existing EU laws and funding rules, and to raise awareness its importance in agricultural circles.

At the meeting in Madrid, field experts will present a range of adaptation measures and prototype technologies that LIFE projects have deployed to help Mediterranean forest managers and farmers adapt to their changing climate.

Pending feedback

Participants will break down into specialised working groups to share experiences and good practices with representatives of farmer associations, forester associations and related industries. The discussion will focus further at the end of the day as experts form targeted working groups.

These smaller gatherings will notably bring field experience from LIFE and Horizon 2020 projects to the same table, discussing the intricacies of climate adaptation in close detail between a community of like-minded, if cross-disciplinary, peers.

The outcome of these discussions and the Platform Meeting will be made public to help the forestry and agricultural sector identify viable solutions, optimise them, and inform policy-makers on how to roll them out over larger scales.

Tree farms grow greener

Photo: LIFE+ InBioWood Photo: LIFE+ InBioWood

8 March 2018 New tree plantations could boost wood production while caring for nature and the climate. Following 20 years of planting mainly poplar monocultures in rural Italy, land owners in Verona are now testing an innovative way of growing mixed tree farms to boost their sustainability and harness valuable ecosystem services.  

Harvesting lumber from intensive poplar monocultures leaves soils barren every 10 years after harvest. These desolate landscapes foster little wildlife and promote the release of soil carbon into the air, contributing to climate change.

In contrast, so-called polycyclic tree farms offer a more permanent ecosystem in which different species coexist and are harvested at separate times. By diversifying the species planted, forest managers can for instance grow poplars alongside oaks that mature three times slower, and plane trees that can be harvested for firewood in as little as 6 to 7 years.

As part of the LIFE+ InBioWood project, forest managers are now learning to grow these artificial forests, notably by optimising the distance between trees and timing harvests to prevent fast-growing species from shadowing their neighbours with longer life cycles. Used wisely, diversity could boost wood production and provide a steadier income for tree farmers.

Ecosystem services

Gains in productivity are just one advantage of permanent polycyclic plantations. The shift towards mixed tree farms could also help protect biodiversity and keep carbon locked safely underground.

Bare soil and intensively farmed monocultures struggle to sustain the soil microbes, birds and other animals that keep life-giving habitats healthy. In addition to ensuring a continuous presence of trees, land managers from LIFE+ InBioWood are fostering richer ecosystems in their plantations to by growing non-commercial plants like shrubs.

The blanket of leaves and vegetation provided by these trees also prevents carbon that is locked in the soil from leaking into the atmosphere. Likewise, it can sequester carbon from recently grown biomass and progressively feed it back into the soil as nutrients.

For more information on permanent polycyclic plantations, Italian climate scientist and TV personality Luca Mercalli has lent his voice to the LIFE+ InBioWood project in a short documentary explaining the benefits of diversifying the species grown in tree farms.


Restored lake helps bring Denmark's largest bog back to life

Photo: LIFE Lille Vildmose Photo: LIFE Lille Vildmose

6 March 2018 Birds and visitors are flocking back to the largest raised bog in Denmark now that its once dry lake is refilling with water. The restored lake plays a vital role in this wetland habitat. Its shallow flooding is nursing Lille Vildmose back towards a healthier ecosystem.

In December last year, the LIFE project Lille Vildmose reached a milestone in its restoration work by plugging a centuries-old leak in Lake Birkesø, located in Lille Vildmose, Denmark. Conservationists blocked an agricultural canal that previously evacuated water out of the lake and into the sea.

The lake was drained 250 years ago as part of government-backed efforts to convert the surrounding bog into farmland. In recent decades, environmental awareness has reversed many of these measures in an attempt to restore raised bogs back to their natural state.

Blocking the canal has notably re-established the site’s natural hydrology, flooding over one hundred hectares of land in over a meter of water.

Photo: LIFE Lille Vildmose Photo: LIFE Lille Vildmose

“It is very nice to see this open landscape,” said Peter Hahn from Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food. “Just bog, no trees.” Undisturbed raised bogs can accumulate dead vegetation over thousands of years. These rare and vulnerable habitats host a unique diversity of plants and animals, and lock up exceptional amounts of greenhouse gases.

Past efforts to drain the bog have reduced its water level, exposing long-dead vegetation to oxygen and releasing the carbon trapped inside it into the atmosphere. This decomposition degrades the natural habitat and contributes to climate change. Only a small percentage of Europe’s raised bogs remain intact today. Already some 35 of the original 55 square kilometres of raised bog in Lille Vildmose have disappeared.

Let it splash

To reverse the trend, the LIFE Lille Vildmose project has raised water levels across more than 700 hectares of wetlands in northern Denmark. Its work has required erecting dams, sealing off canals, and returning water to tampered landscapes like Lake Birkesø.

Photo: LIFE Lille Vildmose Photo: LIFE Lille Vildmose

“Many locals have waited over 20 years for the lake’s restoration,” said Hahn. “Without the LIFE programme, these activities may never have been completed. We have been very happy to have time and funding to run this project and we can see the results.”

Already whooper swans and Canada geese are alighting in the lake’s waters to overnight. Birds are not the only visitors celebrating the bog’s revival. Close to 200 people gathered last year in Lille Vildmose to witness the closing of the canal and the restoration of Lake Birkesø’s. Hundreds more have since followed to greet the site’s new wildlife from an observation pavilion on the northern side of the lake.

“Most visitors are very interested in the restoration,” said Hahn. The tourist centre in Lille Vildmose has recorded an increase in numbers from 50 000 to 75 000 a year since the LIFE project started. Some are locals, but many travel from far away to experience the millennial charm of Denmark’s largest raised bog.


Tackling illegal killing along migratory flyways

Photo: Return of the Neophron Photo: Return of the Neophron

1 March 2018 LIFE projects to conserve the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) are moving beyond its breeding grounds in the Balkans to take action along the whole migratory flyway of the species. This is also building local conservation capacity and leading to new knowledge and awareness of this highly-prized species.

Paschalis was a juvenile Egyptian vulture hatched in 2013 in Dadia, Greece and tagged with a satellite transmitter as part of the LIFE project The Return of the Neophron. He was the only one of 10 such juveniles to successfully migrate to wintering grounds in southern Niger. In late February 2014, the coordinating beneficiary of the project, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), noticed that his transmitter was giving a signal from the same location for a long time, followed by the loss of the signal. This was an indication that there might be a problem. The last signal from the bird in the wild was received from a site about 115 km north-east of Zinder (some 140 km from the border with Nigeria) and the next signals were from a house in the nearest village. A few days later, the transmitter was exported to Nigeria .

Photo: LIFE05 ENV/NL/000200 Paschalis' migration path

BSPB contacted its LIFE project partners from the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) in Niger and the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) at the University of Jos in Nigeria to investigate. These simultaneous investigations took place in March and April 2014 and revealed crucial information that is now being used to protect Egyptian vultures and other migratory species.

What happened to Paschalis?

“The last location they had was not very far from where I used to live so I sent a team of local colleagues to investigate. They managed to get the story about why this vulture had been killed,” recalls Thomas Rabeil of SCF.

The investigation revealed that Paschalis was killed by a traditional vulture hunter who comes regularly from Nigeria. His aim was to sell the bird to customers in Nigeria for traditional ‘blood money’ [juju] ceremonies.

“People in some parts of Nigeria believe that the vulture is a very wise animal. If you kill a vulture or if you do some belief-based use – e.g. eat vulture parts and keep it on you, somehow you are able to become as wise as the bird itself,” explains Dr Manu Shiiwua, Director of APLORI. For instance, some people believe that by smoking the vulture's brains they can see into the future.

APLORI discovered that there is a big market for vulture parts in south-west Nigeria. “Every vulture part is sold in the market – even its droppings. It's not just vultures, other species of birds as well,” says Dr Shiiwua. Though illegal, “these markets are not hidden; it's a traditional practice, that's the difficult thing.”

Vulture parts are valuable and what Paschalis's tale showed was that the market for vulture parts in Nigeria was also having a negative impact on the species in neighbouring countries such as Niger and Chad. “There were jokes in Niger that once raptors cross the border with Nigeria they never come back! We didn't know why, but now we understand,” says Dr Rabeil.  

Photo: LIFE05 ENV/NL/000200 Photo: Svetoslav Spasov

Across the border

The SCF team in Niger began working with wildlife authorities and local communities to change perceptions of vultures. “The Egyptian vulture is listed in Appendix 1 of the wildlife law in Niger, but the rangers and wildlife authorities didn't pay it any attention. It was considered a pest, a useless species,” recalls Mr Rabeil. SCF worked with the LIFE project to raise awareness. “We implemented a public awareness campaign with some journalists, people from the wildlife authorities and the NGO,” he says. “We also visited the main rulers. Traditional hunter is an official job in Niger. For example, in Zinder, which is quite a big town, the second or third largest in the country, the Sultan has more than 200 traditional hunters working for him.”

Dr Rabeil says this campaign was very useful in sensitising people to the issues, the threats to the species and the vulture's important rule as an ecosystem service provider. “There was a better understanding of the importance of the vultures within the wildlife authorities. We managed to get very strong support from the main rulers.” The project also worked with the traditional hunters, increasing their awareness of which species are protected by the law and which can be hunted, and providing compensations for any impact on their livelihoods. “We tried to do that by hiring some of them to use their knowledge about wildlife for tracking purposes,” explains Dr Rabeil.

New LIFE for vultures

Now LIFE is helping to build on these first steps. The newly-funded Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project aims to reinforce the breeding population of the species in the Balkans by carrying out measures in its breeding grounds and along its migratory flyway, with the active involvement of 10 countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as four in the Balkans. Both SCF and APLORI will be involved in the new project. 

Photo: Return of the Neophron Photo: Return of the Neophron

“We will be monitoring the micro habitats of the Egyptian vulture: noting where they are found and seeing what is attracting them to those habitats where they are stopping over,” says Dr Shiiwua in Nigeria. “We will also be doing awareness campaigns along their route, working with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation” These campaigns will involve a lot of face-to-face meetings, as well as pamphlets and other materials in the local language, Hausa.

“The enthusiasm with which everybody along the flyway is coming on board is very positive,” says Dr Shiiwua. “I think the project will be very useful. Take Nigeria for example: we get to locations where either some of the birds have fallen victim we will talk to some of the people just on a one-to-one basis; another country does something; the next does something, it passes on a very good message: at least some of the birds will come out here and return.”

According to Thomas Rabeil: “If we want to protect Egyptian vultures along the pathway, their seasonal movement, it's very important to get a great collaboration with all the stakeholders in the different countries. This LIFE project is a real opportunity for that. It's not only going to benefit the Egyptian vultures, it's going to benefit all the vultures and all the raptors.”


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