I started my work with LIFE after having spent more than 15 years as a site manager for a governmental administration in Lower Saxony, in the Dümmer wetland area in Northern Germany. My main LIFE achievements include two LIFE nature projects that involved rewetting 25 km² of fen grassland and improving meadow bird habitats. These projects ran from 1998-2000 and 2002-2007.
So I feel that my experience puts me in a reasonably good position to ponder a while about how life with LIFE feels.
Before my time working with the LIFE Programme I had regularly been confronted with similar problems that are common in the environment sector. These included managing conflicts between various stakeholders and ongoing issues between land use, agriculture, water management, tourism and nature conservation. Peat mineralisation and shrinkage of the peat layer owing to drainage was a particular problem in my line of work and the decline of meadow birds was continuing. These problems were never ending, unlike the availability of adequate funding, which was often difficult to find...and then LIFE came along.
I am aware that some colleagues sometimes find the amount of work involved in preparing a LIFE application quite daunting. However, to me I think that this preparatory work is tremendously important because if you are running huge projects with a high budget in nature conservation they always need to be properly planned and based on solid preparation.
Much of my time with the LIFE projects has involved working with stakeholders to explain how the LIFE project needed to be implemented. We had taken care to prepare project proposals that gave us quite a lot of flexibility, but there were still occasions when we had requests from partners to use the LIFE money for activities that had not been agreed in the original plan. I think that flexibility is an important factor in successful nature conservation work and I believe that we have done our best to do what we could with the LIFE funds.
Another factor that has helped my LIFE projects achieve what they have achieved is the willingness of stakeholders to adopt a broad viewpoint and wide horizon in terms of networking with different project from around Europe. I have found that many problems and solutions are often alike and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel again and again. I believe that learning from others and from best practice is one of the keys to implementing support for the Natura 2000 network. LIFE is a very valuable platform for establishing this kind of knowledge exchange and peer learning process. As such, I would strongly recommend that all LIFE projects plan well in advance to ensure that they will have sufficient time and money for networking with other partners.
And what about life after LIFE? Well, at lake Dümmer our LIFE funding of land purchase and consolidation of 25 km² rewetted area has solved most of the immediate problems and now we are concentrating on ensuring that we can sustain this situation by close collaboration with our main partners. These include more than 100 farmers who are maintaining wet grassland for meadow birds via co-operation actions that support both nature conservation and the agricultural community. Drained monotonous grasslands have been turned into flowering wet meadows, meadow birds are increasing again and ten rare species have returned for breeding. I am sure that other LIFE colleagues will fully appreciate the feeling of job satisfaction that such successful outcomes create.
After 10 years of LIFE it is now time to think about the future. Looking into the mirror I realise that LIFE makes your hair grow grey and sparse. So what shall I do now? The best thing I think is to look forward and start thinking about the coordination of a new LIFE-project because I know that my time with LIFE has shown me that in these days Europe’s nature needs LIFE more than ever before.
Heinrich BELTING - Project manager
Re-wetting of the Western Dümmer fen area
Tell us about your "life" experience. Please send us a short description of your typical day as a LIFE project coordinator.