European island habitats range from inland archipelagos to the outmost regions of the EU. They can be biodiversity hotspots and critical sites for nesting migratory birds. LIFE funding gives conservation organisations game-changing resources for species protection, land management and staff training.
LIFE projects that work in marine areas or wetlands often focus on these particular island habitats, and address urgent conservation needs as well as long term financing for protected areas. Through their work, they help implement the most important EU nature, environment and climate legislation including the Habitats directive and the Birds directive.
Europe’s most endangered seabird
A film crew were given special permission to see how ornithologists working with the LIFE Roseate Tern project are giving the Roseate tern (Sterna dougallii ) new hope for survival. Populations have been in steep decline in recent decades, mainly threatened by human disturbance and egg collecting, predation, and loss of breeding habitats to erosion, flooding and storms. The bird is listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive and is considered Europe’s most endangered seabird.
Now thanks to restoration work to a man-made island in Northern Ireland, conservation measures like deterring predators, and foot patrols to prevent egg theft around the main breeding sites, the first tern chick was born in June. On Dalkey Island, over the border in the Republic of Ireland, Arctic tern chicks have survived long enough to be ringed and recorded by the project – a first for the island.
Swedish archipelago life
Lake Vänern is the largest freshwater lake in the EU, with 22 000 islands, islets and reefs. It is an important resting place for migrating birds, and breeding place for many protected birds listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive such as the White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus).
The LIFE Vänern project ran for 5 years until the end of 2018 and cleared nesting areas in 13 Natura 2000 sites around the lake. Conservationists used a combination of traditional controlled grassland burning to rejuvenate heather and encourage flowing plants, and manual clearing. Clearing helped to create better conditions for pine, and increased dead wood which many species depend on.
One unexpected benefit was that restored pasture areas quickly developed into wetland grazing areas, providing quality fodder for cattle throughout summer and autumn.
Long-term support on Réunion
In the outmost regions of the EU, LIFE+ Forêt Sèche is preserving threatened semi-dry (semi-xerophilic) forests on Réunion Island, 40% of which are UNESCO-protected. This habitat on Réunion covers only 1% of its original area, but boasts many endemic flora and fauna. An emblematic species is the native gecko (Phelsuma borbonica) which was translocated by the project to a restored forest site which it had disappeared from.
The forests need long-term support, especially to help reconnect restored and relic areas. This LIFE project therefore continues activities from LIFE+ Corexerun, which restored 39 hectares using similar methods. It will gather seeds from 70 indigenous plant species, plant 120 000 new individuals and remove exotic invasive species.
Over €11 million funding for Natura 2000 in the Azores
Natura 2000 network sites fill over 800 km2 in the Portuguese Azores islands, both on land and at sea, but there is a lack of knowledge and resources to undertake concrete conservation actions. A new large-scale integrated project, LIFE-IP AZORES NATURA, will inject €11.4 million into a total of over €19 million to help implement the region’s prioritised action framework. These are long-term planning tools, based on the Habitats directive, which set out what financing countries need to manage their Natura 2000 sites.
The project will improve or secure the conservation status of 13 habitats and 24 species, including the endangered Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina), develop a global information system database to manage Natura 2000 sites, tackle invasive alien species, and give local conservation teams the necessary knowledge and skills to manage the sites. To assure long-term change, it will create a new prioritised action framework for the period 2026-2031.
Building Spain’s network of marine areas
Spain has 334 marine or maritime-land spaces in the Natura 2000 network, making it one of the largest and best defined in Europe. Another big integrated project, LIFE IP INTEMARES, is working to develop a complete network of marine spaces, including many of the islands dotted all around the Spanish coast. Its most recent step was a summer 2019 workshop with five autonomous communities to draft a master plan for a network of marine protected areas of Spain. More than 700 organisations have already joined the integrated project, with dozens of other workshops and participatory sessions held with socio-economic partners and the public. This kind of collective public support has resulted in over 3 600 volunteers helping to set out marine area demarcations.
As part of wetland restoration in eastern Slovakia, LIFE is creating new nesting areas for common terms, redshanks and gulls, including building a new island, and installing manmade nesting platforms for Black storks (Ciconia nigra) and White storks (Ciconia ciconia). Water management is also central to the LIFE IPORSEN project. Degraded water channels, dykes and oxbow lakes, for example, have a negative impact on the habitats of these protected bird species, since they rely on healthy habitats like wet meadows and reed beds for nesting.
LIFE IPORSEN is working in the special protection areas of Horná Orava, Poiplie and Senianske. The latter alone hosts 285 bird species – 80% of all the species found in Slovakia.
Upcoming LIFE calls for proposals
Image 1: Reunion island © LIFE+ Forêt sèche. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.
Image 2: Roseate tern © 2018 LIFE14 NAT/UK/000394 (Chantal Macleod-Nolan). All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.
Image 3: Lurö archipelago © LIFE12 NAT/SE/000132. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.
Image 4: Native gecko © LIFE+ Forêt sèche. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.
Image 5: The Azores © LIFE-IP AZORES NATURA (SIARAM). All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.
Image 6: © LIFE15 NAT/SK/000861. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.