European Natura 2000 Award
Nature Concerthall is an innovative approach for raising public awareness of the importance of nature conservation. It has been tested and practised for over 10 years in more than 17 municipalities in Latvia. The idea stemmed from musicians wanting to break out of the traditional concert venues and scientists seeking ways to bring knowledge on particular species and habitats to the public. It was clear that standard, project-driven and campaign-driven approaches with traditional seminars, info campaigns and brochures were not enough to really change people's behaviour towards their natural environment in the long term. The musicians, scientists and educators who gather for these events felt that mobilising people's empathy for nature would strengthen their capacities to absorb knowledge and motivate them to act.
Each event consists of three components: i) an interactive exhibit combining graphic panels, object displays and hands-on components open to the public to gain knowledge linked to the selected theme; ii) a discussion between a poet and a scientist on stage to capture the main themes; iii) a 1-hour concert with songs and light/video shows.
Each year, a particular species or habitat is selected as the mascot or hero for the event. This choice defines the location selected, so that audiences can gain firsthand experience of the selected topic. The music is also created each year in line with the species’ habitat, behaviour and evolution. The interactive workshops organised by the scientists and researchers are also dedicated to the particular species or habitat.
The events so far have taken place on or near eight different Natura 2000 sites and focused on different protected habitats, for example Lowland hay meadows, Coniferous forests and Reefs, and species such as the fire-bellied toad, Bombina bombina. Around 10 000 people have attended the multidisciplinary events each year and a survey has indicated encouraging results: 80 % of respondents reported that the event had increased their knowledge about nature and 43 % of them indicated that the event had motivated them to take up concrete actions for the environment. Furthermore, 53 % of the respondents pointed out that they would not attend such an event if it was not combined with the music and video show, thus indicating that this combined approach attracts people who would not traditionally attend nature conservation events.
Nature Concerthall is a collaboration between artists and scientists. It shows that it is possible, through a specially targeted, interactive and multi-disciplinary approach, to attract many thousands of people from different backgrounds, improve their knowledge of nature protection and promote pro-environmental behaviour.
Sturgeons: Protect Danube’s Treasure!
The main direct threat to the survival of the rare Danube sturgeon species (five out of the six species native to the Danube are listed as critically endangered) is overfishing for caviar production. Sturgeon fishing is traditionally engrained in local culture and often comes into conflict with the full fishing ban in place in both Bulgaria and Romania.
In order to tackle the overfishing issue, the project WWF Romania, Bulgaria and Austria implemented a joint coordinated initiative, supported by the EU LIFE fund. It covered six Natura 2000 sites and was complemented by mediation efforts with fishing communities, law enforcement agencies, decision makers, sturgeon breeders, and caviar processors and traders in Romania and Bulgaria. Fishermen’s attitudes were surveyed before and after the project, workshops were organised focusing on alternative income sources for fishermen, and training was set up for authorities. In addition, ‘sturgeon advocates’ mediated between authorities and fishermen to increase their trust of one another and ability to work together. Dissemination materials and a Code of Conduct, listing concrete preconditions that contribute to sturgeon protection, were targeted at caviar companies.
Over the course of the project, fishermen’s attitudes changed positively (from reluctance towards acceptance of sturgeon fishing ban to becoming interested in alternative sources of income). The Code of Conduct was signed by eight caviar companies, and 135 representatives of all relevant institutions in Romania and Bulgaria participated in two workshops and received training on how to recognise legal and illegal caviar and distinguish between sturgeon species. The general public was successfully targeted through the webpage in English, Romanian and Bulgarian with 2 000 views/month, and an estimated 4 million people were reached through the media and social media. The project’s targeted approach to addressing all stakeholders, and specifically tailoring communication to their interests and needs, ensured their involvement during and after the project.
Citizen Science in Monitoring Insects
Invertebrates in general and insects in particular often cause a feeling of repulsion, and people are frequently unaware of their extremely important role in nature. The National Centre of Forest Biodiversity ‘Bosco Fontana’ of the Italian National Forest Service started the first ever Citizen Science project in Italy involving the public in monitoring rare and endangered insects. This project, supported by the EU LIFE fund, is designed for children and adults with the aim of raising their awareness about the importance of preserving old-growth forests and the invertebrates they host. Public participation in ecological studies has recently become a pillar of research on biodiversity and conservation. This Citizen Science initiative aimed at mapping the distribution of invertebrates has the potential to fill gaps left by traditional scientific approaches.
Via a web and smartphone application, citizens are involved in the collection of data on nine rare insect species, the five saproxylic beetle species: Osmoderma eremita, Lucanus cervus, Cerambyx cerdo, Rosalia alpine and Morimus asper/funereus, plus the butterflies Zerynthia polyxena, Parnassius apollo and Lopinga achine, and the grasshopper Saga pedo.
So far, 980 insect records have been collected by 304 citizens. Involvement of the public also helps to disseminate a strong message about the importance of preserving old-growth forests. Communication activities were also carried out at local and national scale, with public seminars, educational projects in schools, social media activities, press releases, radio and TV broadcasts, brochures and booklets and comic strips. The number of people involved increased more than twofold between the first and second year. However, humans are not the only citizens involved in the project. The personal engagement of ‘Osmodog’, the first Italian dog trained to find the hermit beetle Osmoderma eremita using its nose, has proved to have both scientific and communication benefits! The project is taking place in five protected areas included in the Italian Natura 2000 network and managed by the National Forest Service.
My Little Piece of Land
The objective of this project was to increase the public’s awareness of farmers' important role in protecting Croatia’s Natura 2000 habitats and species. Most citizens in rural areas are still insufficiently informed about the existence and meaning of Natura 2000. To show the importance of maintaining and protecting Natura 2000 areas in the most vivid way possible, examples of successful coexistence of man and nature were highlighted in this initiative called ‘My little piece of land’. 14 farmers working within different Natura 2000 sites were selected to cover the most diverse and important habitats and species in Croatia. They were presented in an exhibition with related dissemination tools.
Authentic images of harmonious relationships with nature aroused people’s curiosity and resulted in a new understanding among the public. An accompanying brochure presented personal stories of the farmers — with citations in the famers’ dialect — in which they talk about knowledge that has been passed on and their view of the importance of nature in their everyday lives. The exhibition was set up in frequently used public buildings such as libraries, town galleries, hotels and cinema entrances, so that it would catch people’s attention and generate interest among all passersby. This encouraged the public to learn about the positive ways in which the farmers’ work affects nature and all of society.
It has been shown in 15 villages and towns and been seen by 6 000 visitors so far. Some 110 web posts and shows on 8 TV stations and 10 radio stations have since followed. To include the younger generation in the project, interactive educational materials were designed for schools in an effort to encourage pupils to independently envisage and express their thoughts about the importance of farming for nature.
The project was a collaboration between a private company, Suske Consulting, the Croatian State Institute for Nature Protection and the German Association for Landcare, an umbrella organisation representing agriculture, nature conservation and policy. The transnational partnership illustrates how different EU countries can learn from one another’s experiences of communicating Natura 2000 to different audiences.
Natura 2000! What’s that?
Junior Ranger is an initiative supported by Europac Germany, WWF Germany and NNL (Nationalen Naturlandschaften). It is addressed to children and aims at raising awareness of nature.
During the 13th nationwide Junior Ranger Meeting 2015 in Eifel National Park, the organisations held a 2-day film workshop for children and young people. In the workshop, participants produced a film called ‘Natura 2000! What’s that?’ presenting in a simple, yet vivid way the still relatively unknown Natura 2000 sites in the region and offered their own lively explanation about why nature conservation and protection are so important.
The film is addressed to a wide audience, notably including both young and adult visitors to Eifel National Park. It has also already been shown at several conferences and workshops related to the project and was subtitled in English to increase its reach internationally. In the future, it will also be made available in 13 information centres in and around Eifel National Park that attract more than 300 000 visitors per year.
This short film is part of the public relations work of the larger EU funded LIFE+ project ‘Woodland — Water — Wilderness’ run by the Biologische Station Städte Region Aachen e.V. (Biological Station for the Aachen City Region) in partnership with Nationalparkforstamt Eifel (part of the State Forestry Administration). The project focuses on implementing measures that will restore woodlands and water courses in the area, thus providing better protection for threatened species such as the beaver and wild cat.
Promotion of sustainable farming products through Natura 2000
Over the years, Fundación Global Nature (FGN) has developed an initiative to support farmers who grow their products in Natura 2000 sites in Spain in the Castile-La Mancha and Castile-Leon regions where the farming sector plays a key role. These Natura 2000 sites in the central plateaus of the Iberian Peninsula include important biodiverse wetlands.
With financial support from the EU LIFE fund, the FGN started an initiative to support nature-friendly legume, crop and almond production. The organisation first provided farmers with seeds. The products were then purchased and packed by the FGN, making clear reference to their origin and the environmental benefits of the production method. The products were promoted at national and international fairs to help farmers sell them. To support differentiated marketing, distribution agreements have been established with other entities.
The production is currently completely organic, and farmers follow environmental guidelines that have been agreed upon and are clearly linked to biodiversity protection. They include measures such as: creating hedges and boundaries for crops to provide shelter and food for fauna species; replacing the use of chemical fertilisers by natural products; promoting crop rotation with varieties of legumes and fallow land to create a mosaic of cultures.
Farmers’ interest in this win-win approach to Natura 2000 conservation and farming has been growing over the years. The annual average number of farmers involved in different project activities in the past 4 years has been 400. They represent about 20 000 ha of land. Within 5 years, 243 legume producers became involved, the project produced 115 000 kilos of legumes and total revenue was EUR 225 100. Networking and cooperation among almond farmers was supported through the creation of a cooperative in Villacaña.
The promotion of sustainable economic activities is one of the objectives of the Natura 2000 network. Almost 40 % of the Natura 2000 area is farmland, demonstrating the importance of supporting sustainable farming in the network. This project is an excellent demonstration of how producers can consider Natura 2000 as a source of support for differentiating their products in the market.
Skyros: A mountain as the symbol of an Aegean island
Mount Kochylas, a Natura 2000 site in the south of the Aegean island of Skyros, is considered an area particularly rich in biodiversity. It hosts a number of endemic plants mainly related to rocky and coastal habitats, the world’s biggest colony of Eleonora’s falcons nesting on the rocky coastline, upland pasturelands supporting passerine birds, the endemic lizard of Skyros, the unique local horse race, the Skyrian horse, and clusters of maples (Acer sempervirens) found mainly in the mountain’s numerous ravines.
Having not followed the heavy tourism development of other Aegean islands in the last 30 years, Skyros still maintains a character and a natural and cultural landscape of unique beauty that attracts good quality tourism. However, mass tourism in recent years, the lack of participation by locals in planning exercises, and poor local knowledge of the area’s valuable natural heritage, have resulted in damage to the environment. The Municipality of Skyros Island is working with partners to mobilise the productive, cultural and development forces on the island, all the while respecting the natural environment, culture and tradition in order to establish an eco-friendly model of holidays.
Using EU LIFE+ funding, biodiversity-oriented tourism activities like ecotourism, birdwatching tourism and others have been organised, establishing Mountain Kochylas as a well designed, attractive ecotourism destination. A cleverly designed and attractive trail network of 38 km covering the entire area of the Natura 2000 site has been created and offers birdwatching routes, routes focused on plants, as well as easily accessible sites with species-to-see information posts. This has been combined with concrete conservation actions and a number of original communication initiatives to raise public awareness.
The reorientation of the mass tourism model towards a more sustainable one has succeeded in creating significant income for the local community. In the last 3 years, more than 15 000 visitors have come to the area of Kochylas and around 3 000 have walked through the trail network. Several organised travel agencies have started to operate on the island, focusing on its natural wealth, while many individuals visit the island outside of the high season. An average of 1 000 nature visitors per year has been registered in the last 3 years. An Information Centre on the nature of the island operates in the town of Skyros and hosts a special exhibition of local art products (embroidery, ceramic, woodcarving) inspired by the species of Mount Kochylasin. There have been more than 5000 visits to the exhibition. The annual revenues from nature-related tourism have already clearly exceeded the initial costs of the project.
Terre dell’Oasi: supporting sustainable farming on Natura 2000 sites
The abandonment of traditional agricultural practices in Natura 2000 sites has led to a decline in the species and habitats that rely on farming practices. Recognising that promoting the natural value of these sites and the products coming from them could result in a win-win situation for local communities and nature, the co-operative Terre dell’Oasi was created by WWF Oasi (member of the WWF Italy group) and local producers. The goal was to create a new brand ‘Terre dell’Oasi’ and niche market for organic farming products from four different Natura 2000 sites and other protected areas, while reintroducing the traditional agriculture practices of the local communities and at the same time supporting farmland species that have come to depend on these farmed landscapes.
Local farmers from and around these Natura 2000 sites grow spelt, rice and an old variety of wheat and produce whole food products now sold nationwide. Products include pasta, olive oil, honey and salt. Creating a special local brand and linking the organic products to the natural value of the sites have added value to the products and increased the revenues generated from direct sales on site and online. In addition, collaborations with restaurants and other national partnerships have been established. Thanks to this initiative, farmers and producers have expanded their agricultural activities and new organic products are being promoted and sold.
The project has created new work opportunities, with three full-time and five part-time jobs created so far, and farming being carried out on more than 53 ha. Revenues have increased nine times in 5 years. This represents a win-win for farmers’ incomes and nature. Furthermore, the farmers’ perception of protected areas, which was initially considered a limitation to their work, was changed into an opportunity for organic farming possibilities and new niche markets.
Terre dell’Oasi is growing and will be introducing new products and expanding to new sites. It can represent a model of sustainable agriculture applicable to Natura 2000 sites or nature reserves where agriculture shapes the landscape and biodiversity.
For the Balkans and the People: Nature Protection and Sustainable Rural Development
Bulgaria’s Balkan Mountain region is ranked as the poorest region in the EU. The region of exceptional natural value faces high unemployment rates and aging populations, leading to depopulation and abandonment of traditional farming. Combined with overexploitation of other natural resources (forests, herbs), this is causing the deterioration of habitats reliant on human intervention. Farms are small and cannot invest to meet EU requirements or create value chains for their products, and they lack the capacity to make the most of the opportunities of EU funds, despite the benefits for biodiversity their farming provides. Entrepreneurs lack the capacity to create value from the natural assets, and young people leave because the region lacks opportunities for them and their children.
To address these issues, a coalition of several partners has been set up — WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme Bulgaria, the Foundation for Organic Agriculture, Bioselena, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds and the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation. With the financial support of Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation, this coalition worked directly with farmers, micro enterprises and small enterprises (such as wild berry and herb processing, wildlife tourism and bee-keeping businesses) that rely heavily on the rich natural resources in six Natura 2000 sites in the Balkan region. It set up innovative schemes to pay these businesses directly for the environmental benefits (ecosystem services) they help maintain — so-called Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes. Four such schemes were created, and financing from 16 companies was attracted for the restoration of High Nature Value (HNV) grasslands and water ecosystems. Some 25 HNV farmers were assisted, and 13 farms were registered for direct sales assistance by the project. Products were promoted and sold at fairs and farmers’ markets. Additionally, to encourage interest from the younger generation, a Children’s Nature Academy educated 3 500 local kids on extensive farming for nature protection.
These creative ways of paying for the benefits nature provides have wider applications. Policy work helped to broaden the results beyond the initial project area. Some measures have already been included in the Bulgarian Rural Development Programme.
Demonstrating Success in Blanket Bog Restoration at the RSPB / United Utilities Partnership
The blanket bogs of the South Pennines have been degraded by centuries of atmospheric pollution from the nearby industrial cities and towns, leading to a complete loss of peat-building Sphagnum mosses and widespread peat erosion. Air quality has improved since the 1980s and Sphagnum is beginning to recover around the bog margins, but the extensive eroded plateaus have needed enormous restoration efforts to re-vegetate bare peat, begin the process of raising water tables, and move toward a Sphagnum-rich vegetation community once again.
At Dove Stone, the RSPB, in partnership with the landowner United Utilities, is delivering an ambitious programme of restoration work, with the aim of restoring biodiversity and improving water quality on this important Natura 2000 site. Local volunteers are integral to this work and have been a key part of conservation delivery. Restoration began in 2008, and since 2010 the RSPB has had a nature reserve partnership across the 4 000 ha site, of which 2 500 ha are the priority habitat, blanket bog.
Following the successful re-vegetation of bare peat through United Utilities' Sustainable Catchment Management Programme, over 4 000 stone gully blocks have been placed in larger gullies, and over 4 500 heather bales have been used to raise water tables. Trials of Sphagnum restoration have led to successful methods of harvesting from donor sites and planting more than 100 ha; a transformation is underway.
Bird monitoring has shown the results of the restoration work: Golden Plover and Curlew have improved, and Dunlin have increased from an estimated 15 pairs in 2010 to 43 pairs in 2015. This is compelling evidence that restoration works.
Bearded Vulture Reintroduction in Andalusia
Vultures are magnificent birds that not only fulfil a vital function in our ecosystem, but are part of our culture. The bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus is the rarest of the four vulture species that exist in Europe and has a population estimated at 170-180 pairs.
In Andalusia (Spain), the bearded vulture disappeared in 1986 mainly because of direct persecution, accidental poisoning and human disturbance at the nesting sites.
The Fundación Gypaetus operates the bearded vulture breeding centre (CCQ) of Cazorla, which was inaugurated in 1996. It became one of the most important centres for ex situ conservation of the bearded vulture worldwide. More than 50 chicks born in the centre have been used for captive breeding or released in various projects to reintroduce the species in Europe. Ten years after the opening of the centre, young birds were released for the first time in the Natural Park of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas (Jaén, Andalusia). Since then, 37 young bearded vultures have been released in Andalusia.
Unfortunately, in the early days, 11 birds were poisoned through pesticides used to kill small predators in the wild. A major anti-poison awareness-raising campaign was carried out in the region from 2010 to 2015, which significantly reduced the mortality of released birds.
The hard work, also supported through the EU LIFE fund, is showing results and two territories are occupied by individuals released under the reintroduction project in Andalusia. Tono (a male released in 2006) and Blimunda (a female released in 2010) paired up in the National Park and on 7 April 2015, the first chick was born in the wild in Andalusia since the species stopped breeding in the region over 30 years ago! Hortelano (a male released in 2010) and Marchena (a female released in 2012) have taken up residence in a second territory in the same Park — there are high hopes for results!
Something that felt like a dream 30 years ago is becoming reality: seeing the bearded vulture flying in Andalusian skies again.
Collaboration between Public and Private Bodies saves the Iberian lynx from extinction
The Iberian lynx is the most endangered wild cat species in the world. In 2002, when the project activities began, only 100 lynxes remained in the wild, in two isolated populations mainly located in privately-owned territory. The Government of Andalusia managed several projects supported by the EU LIFE fund to curb the species' rate of extinction and begin its recovery.
The main actions developed to achieve this aim were captive breeding and reintroduction of specimens into the wild, together with habitat improvements included in cooperation agreements between public and private entities and actions in support of its main prey, rabbits. All these actions have been vital in reversing the negative trends of the lynx population and paving the way for its recovery.
The design and execution of these initiatives relied on the close collaboration of all relevant public and private stakeholders. The participation of the landowners and managers of private hunting estates was particularly essential for the success of these activities. Stewardship agreements and voluntary contracts have been signed with 132 private owners, managers and hunting clubs in six Natura 2000 sites, reducing hunting pressure on rabbits and securing lynx-friendly land management across more than 95 000 hectares.
These conservation initiatives, implemented in territories included in the Natura 2000 network in Spain, have led to a major recovery among the Iberian lynx population (from 52 mature individuals in 2002 to 327 in 2014), enabling the IUCN to lower its threat category from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’. In addition, the collaborative work established through the project will ensure that this important work for Natura 2000 continues in the future.
URBANCOWS: Restoration of urban coastal meadows in the town of Pärnu
The Pärnu coastal meadow complex is an interesting example of a Natura 2000 site protection priority for conservation of Boreal Baltic coastal meadows and coastal lagoons located in an urban environment. The nature reserve is home to many nationally important species as well as the Marsh angelica (Angelica palustris), which is protected by the EU Habitats Directive.
The area has suffered from a lack of management due to the end of traditional activities such as grazing and haymaking, resulting from changes in agricultural practice during the second half of the 20th century. The lack of management has resulted in these areas becoming overgrown with reed and bushes, which directly damages the natural values of the habitat. Reed beds are an unsuitable habitat for most meadow species, as a result biodiversity in the area has declined. Most of the lagoons were in a poor conservation state due to overgrowth, eutrophication, pollution from rubbish and wastewater. They had therefore also lost their recreational potential.
The Estonian Environmental Board, with the help of EU LIFE funding, has tackled this problem using the tried and tested method of mechanically removing old reeds and bushes and then reintroducing cattle across 200 hectares of coastal meadows — in an urban setting! In addition, water regime restoration improved the conservation status of several lagoons. The location near a major town combined with waste management problems meant that public education was an important aspect of the project activities. A public awareness plan was implemented and included building a visitor centre, two observation towers and a nature trail.
The Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve
Lyme Bay, a world heritage site and habitat for globally significant flora and fauna, is home to an active fishing community and supports a significant tourism trade. The Natura 2000 site: Lyme Bay & Torbay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) became the UK’s largest marine protected area in 2008, when scallop dredging was banned. However, this had the unintended consequence of encouraging fishermen to increase the number of static pots and nets being used. The bay and its fragile reef ecosystem and with it the future of the region’s fishing community and local economy were again threatened by overfishing in the 90 square miles where scallop dredging was banned.
In 2011, to solve this problem and save the fishery, the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), a registered charity for protecting oceans through providing innovative solutions to overfishing and enabling the creation of marine reserves, forged a unique, voluntary partnership between fishermen, marine managers (IFCAs, MMO and Natural England) and conservationists. The Foundation facilitated the creation of the Lyme Bay Fisheries & Conservation Reserve and its multi-stakeholder management committee. BLUE works with local fishermen, enabling them to create a sustainable and profitable future for their businesses while helping to conserve the local reef. A Memorandum of Understanding on regulation of the fishery, a reporting system for all catches and a research programme has been signed. Actions to support the fishery include refrigeration on ships, branding of products and awareness-raising. This revolutionary model of best-practice management financially benefits fishing communities and motivates them to fish more sustainably.
The project has improved biodiversity as well as socio-economic conditions. Fishermen and angler records show that the catch and size of fish are increasing. The conservation status of the reef is also showing improvements. This initiative has provided a blueprint for how fishing can be allowed to continue in other marine SACs and the 127 marine protected zones proposed along the UK coast. The project model is already being replicated in other areas in the UK and has been hailed as a ‘world-first’ given its radical collaborative approach.
Collaboration and partnership to protect Marine Natura 2000 sites
There are several Natura 2000 sites along the coastline of Pembrokeshire in Wales, UK, which aim to protect species like the grey seal, bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise, chough, manx shearwater, puffin, razorbill and others. However, the Pembrokeshire coastline is also very popular with people, attracting a lot of tourists, so it is a source of revenue for the local population. Heavy tourism pressure was causing significant disturbances to the above-mentioned species.
In order to secure an integrated approach to the management and sustainable development of coastal and marine areas, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum (PCF), a not-for-profit independent company, embraced an alternative approach. In the last 10 years, the PCF has been working with all relevant stakeholders — commercial companies such as outdoor activity business operators, regional and national statutory bodies including the Welsh government, park authorities, etc., NGOs and charities — to develop voluntary codes of conduct and to provide educational and communication resources aimed at minimising disturbances to wildlife and reconciling local interests.
As a result, codes of conduct specific to each activity have been jointly developed and agreed upon through focused working groups involving conservationists, landowners, managers and businesses such as recreational operators. As a result, voluntary seasonal access restrictions to sensitive areas for marine species are now in place. Over 1 400 instructors, boat skippers and conservationists have attended environmental training sessions. The code of conduct and good practices aimed at minimising disturbances to wildlife have been developed and promoted among visitors and marina users.
The success of this approach lies on the consensus and trusted relationships among all stakeholders, given that users are now aware that their livelihood relies on the healthy conservation status of the species within the Natura 2000 sites.
Co-existing with bears in the 21st century: Difficulties and achievements
The district of Kastoria in north-west Greece is vital for the brown bear population in the broader region, as it functions as a communication corridor between the bear sub-populations in Greece and the Western Balkans.
However, the construction of a 72-km highway branch (KA45) in the first decade of the 21st century, connecting the Egnatia highway corridor with the Greek-Albanian border area, in combination with the existing national road network, had severe consequences on the brown bear habitat and population integrity in the area. Within just 6 months of opening that branch, five traffic fatalities with bear victims were recorded, putting drivers’ lives and thus road safety at high risk. At the same time, there was an increased number of visits by bears to human settlements in search of food sources linked to human activity. This resulted in more interactions with bears and created a negative view of the bears in the local population.
Seeking to reduce fatalities on the roads and negative human perceptions was essential to ensuring long-term bear conservation. This is why CALLISTO, an environmental NGO, in partnership with local authorities and the Development Agency of Kastoria started an initiative, supported by the EU LIFE fund, aiming to address these challenges and improve the co-existence between brown bears and the local human population in northern Greece.
Among the actions implemented are the installation of road warning signs, technical deterrents (reflectors) and new reinforced fencing along the KA45 highway, in close cooperation with road authorities. Innovative mitigation measures, such as bear-proof refuse containers to deter bears from approaching human settlements, were also adopted. Well-established damage prevention measures, such as electric fences, were also disseminated among farmers. A Bear Emergency Team and a network of Livestock Guarding Dog owners have also been set up, and an extensive communication campaign carried out.
When the results of project actions and interventions became visible, public opinion began to change and the locals’ tolerance towards bears significantly increased; traffic incidents also decreased.
Breaking the Stereotype: NGO and Business Preserving Natura 2000 Together
The Soto Pajares quarry located north-east of Madrid is operated by CEMEX Spain and overlaps with an area of high biodiversity value designated as Natura 2000 site Cortados y Cantiles de los Ríos Jarama y Manzanares which is also a nature reserve. However, meeting conservation objectives while maintaining sustainable and profitable extractive operations presents challenges. The initial mutually-sceptical and mistrusting attitudes of the company and the conservationists were hindering any collaboration.
In order to address these challenges positively, 2011 saw CEMEX Spain formalise a Memorandum of Understanding with SEO/BirdLife and with a local NGO, Grupo Naumwhich. This cooperation agreement has been followed by the joint development of a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), specifically designed for the area.
The BAP helps CEMEX Spain to identify and manage activities which could impact the conservation values of the area and to enhance biodiversity in and around quarries. Conservation priorities have been developed using the outputs of a scientific survey. CEMEX has a clearer understanding of the operational risks its extractive activities pose to wildlife and has consequently begun adapting, updating and improving operational practices, such as reducing the use of power and water in the extractive operations. This move has benefited both the company and nature.
Actions such as restoring the riparian habitat in the surroundings, setting up floating islands for bird nesting, modifying quarrying works during sensitive bird periods, etc. have led to improvements in the conservation status of birds like the marsh-harrier, purple swamphen, black-winged stilt, red-billed chough and red-crested pochard. CEMEX staff were involved in the conservation process in an effort to increase their awareness.
The fruitful cooperation continues, and the partners are discussing and preparing a new BAP which includes further restoration works, for example planting 630 additional trees.
Creating green corridors for biodiversity under high-tension lines in Belgium and France
In today’s society, everyone expects a steady source of energy 24/7 to power our computers, lights, household appliances and more widely our industries. For a Transmission System Operator (TSO), this is a big challenge in forest areas, since trees coming near or touching overhead line conductors could trigger a power failure. To ensure a safe electricity supply, the TSO regularly destroys vegetation under high-tension lines, but this is not only costly for the operators, it also affects species and natural habitats, and is unpopular or even unaccepted by the local people.
Two system operators — ELIA and RTE — in cooperation with authorities, environmental consultancies and NGOs have undertaken an initiative to test alternative methods for maintaining the strips under the powerlines and creating green corridors in wooded areas. It took place in Belgium and France, in areas both inside and outside Natura 2000 sites, and was co-financed by EU LIFE funding.
The project implemented seven innovative alternative methods, and gave a significant role to local stakeholders. Actions conducted under high-tension overhead lines include planting or restoring forest edges, planting orchards, restoring natural habitats like peatlands, calcareous meadows and moors, using traditional breeds of cattle to maintain pasture, sowing wild flower meadows, removing invasive plants and digging ponds. These actions have been undertaken across 580 ha, 190 ha (33 %) of which are on Natura 2000 sites (31 sites in Belgium and four sites in France).
In addition, the new management methods are 1.4-3.9 times cheaper than traditional methods (using heavy machinery), on a 30-year timescale. Moreover, a return on the investment made is expected between 3 and 12 years after the end of the project.
The project endeavoured to rely on local partnerships to achieve its objectives. Communication actions are used to reach stakeholders involved in forest management: public and private landowners, administrative authorities, governmental bodies, environmental NGOs, hunters, farmers, tourists and of course the electricity TSO.
Diving for Conservation
The relationship between scuba divers and conservationists can in many places be described as tense and peppered with prejudice. While scuba divers see conservationists as an obstacle to engaging in their sports activities in nature, conservationists have overestimated the impact of divers on biodiversity.
There are more than 5 000 lakes in the Northeast German regions Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. These formerly oligotrophic lakes mostly turned into mesotrophic and eutrophic waters. This not only affected their fauna, but also seriously changed their characteristic floral composition. The most prominent example is Lake Stechlin, where the project initially started. It is classified as natural habitat type 3140, ‘Hard-water oligo-mesotrophic lakes with benthic vegetation of Chara spp’, protected under the Habitats Directive. Within the last three decades, the lake has lost more than 100 ha of its submerged vegetation. This also occurred with the same habitat in other lakes in the region, leading to a loss of habitat structures and a dramatic increase in turbidity. Nature conservation is often restricted to the littoral zone, as are its measures and instruments, and hardly any data referring to conditions underwater are available.
Conservationists and scuba divers soon formed a new alliance and carried out extensive monitoring.
Via preparatory training and intensive dialogue between divers and conservationists over the last few years, prejudices have been overcome in the Stechlin region and they are now all cooperating with each other on the conservation of the site. This new collaboration gives scuba divers an opportunity to see their diving areas from a new angle. Furthermore, by being trained by conservationists, divers have been able to independently evaluate water conditions on the basis of determining macrophytes and thus actively contribute to lake protection. On the other side, conservationists as well as administrations and private land owners can use these data collected as an early-warning system indicating changing conditions and thus adapt management measures.
Connecting the Sonian Forest and its Stakeholders near Brussels
The Sonian Forest consists of 4 400 hectares of the highest quality European nature, bordering the major city of Brussels. It receives several million visitors a year, contains four Natura 2000 sites and is home to important protected species and habitats. In 1980, management of the forest was transferred to the three Belgian regions: 56 % to the Flemish, 38 % to the Brussels-Capital and 6 % to the Walloon. Since then, the regions have managed the forest within their territories. In 2008, the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions decided to cooperate and better coordinate the various functions of the forest and its uses.
The regions laid out their agreed vision for the forest in a ‘Structural Vision for the Sonian Forest’ and committed to cooperate more intensively to strengthen management. From 2010 onwards, and supported by the EU LIFE fund, multiple successes from this improved cooperation can be observed: inventories, meetings on management plans, establishment of a participatory platform, improved public information, etc. Moreover, the cross-regional cooperation allowed the establishment of a recreational network and five gates where visitors can be welcomed into the forest and informed about Natura 2000, forest management and future projects. Better visitor management has strengthened the core zone of the forest and improved ecological networks. In order to enhance the mutual ecological, economic and social benefits, more cooperative projects are planned between the three regions, the different users and the municipalities involved in the forest.
The real innovation of the project is the collaboration and networking with many stakeholders (such as citizens and associations) and affiliated agencies (such as heritage, road and university bodies, and municipal and provincial authorities). In addition, better connectivity and networking for nature has greatly benefited the Natura 2000 sites, habitats and species.
The French Natura 2000 platform: effective support for Natura 2000 professionals
The national Natura 2000 technical exchange platform was established and is coordinated by ATEN, a public interest group comprising 20 organisations and public authorities involved in managing and protecting biodiversity. The platform allows information exchange between more than 6 000 professionals, bringing together the knowledge, practical skills and experience related to managing the 1 758 land and marine Natura 2000 sites in metropolitan France.
To establish the platform, analysis of the needs among Natura 2000 professionals was carried out to ensure the platform services would be useful. A small secretariat was put in place to monitor the developments in the Natura 2000 management in France and abroad and represent the French Natura 2000 professionals at EU-wide events. The technological context (software and web-based tools) for the effective functioning of the network was put in place.
The platform provides a set of tools for managing the Natura 2000 sites. A web-portal — the Web incubator, providing free, ready-to-use website templates for N2K site presentation — is currently used by more than 25 % of France Natura 2000 sites. A methodological guidance for drafting management plans has been developed and endorsed by the Ministry of Environment and training for its use is provided. Currently, around 95 % of the Natura 2000 sites are using the methodology. The project has also established a free internet-accessible database — SUDOCO — which enables Natura 2000 site managers to upload the site’s conservation objectives and measures and respectively provides them with access to measures implemented in other sites.
In addition, events such as training days (and e-learning) and an annual technical exchange day are organised. This provides an excellent model for collaboration on Natura 2000 management, and the approach has already been followed elsewhere, e.g. through twinning with partners in Romania and across the EU.
Futurescapes: a unique approach to landscape-scale conservation across the UK
The Natura 2000 network makes a vital contribution to the protection of some of our most threatened species and habitats. Despite this, biodiversity continues to decline and it is clear that site-based strategies on their own are insufficient to tackle this crisis.
A coordinated approach is needed to join up sites with targeted management in the wider countryside, providing links and buffers to protected areas that are often too isolated or fragmented on their own to fully support functional and biologically diverse ecosystems.
The RSPB’s Futurescapes programme, supported by the EU LIFE fund, was developed to explore and implement landscape-scale conservation solutions. This has been done through targeted coordination amongst partners, communities and individuals in 38 landscape focus areas across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Work in these Futurescapes and at national levels, supported the Natura 2000 network in the UK through an ambitious programme of advocacy, communications and partnership development. The legacy of the programme is not only the substantial practical conservation actions undertaken, but also the partnerships established and creative engagement tools developed.
Futurescapes resulted in the development of 144 partnerships delivering more than 100 000 hectares of conservation enhancements and the provision of land manager advice on over 168 000 hectares of land. In total, 134 Natura 2000 sites were influenced by these project actions, and 310 000 members of the public were reached through a community engagement programme. Actions ranged from linking iconic Caledonian forests in the Cairngorms, Scotland, to working with private water companies in Northern England to protect and enhance peatlands. A number of ecosystem services studies were undertaken at a landscape level.
The RSPB plans to continue to work with partners to scale up their response to the current loss of biodiversity and deliver a step change for nature that results in a society more connected with a natural world where biodiversity is thriving.
Europe’s rarest waterbird benefits from a team effort in conservation
The Fennoscandian population of the Lesser White-Fronted Goose (LWFG) is declining alarmingly in south-east Europe. The Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) / Birdlife Greece and partners have combined efforts to carry out urgent, concrete conservation actions in the wintering and staging grounds of the species as well as policy work, awareness-raising, vocational training and environmental education to tackle the problem head on.
Through an extensive network of international, national and local experts and stakeholders, the partners have implemented a successful ‘flyway approach’ spanning the entire Eurasian migration path of the species. A wide range of actors are involved in the initiative — two national public authorities (Ministry of Environment and Energy/Greece and Metsähallitus/Finland), three NGOs (HOS/Greece, BSPB/Bulgaria and WWF/Finland), the Forest Research Institute/Greece, Hortobágy National Park Directorate/Hungary and the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat. In addition to these partners, the project reached 15 countries and experts along the species’ flyway. This partnership has played a key role in implementing a standardised monitoring programme and securing patrolling and habitat restoration work. The initiative was supported by the EU LIFE programme and the Norwegian Environment Fund.
The project is implemented simultaneously in seven Natura 2000 sites across Europe and relies on building networks at all levels. Through the project, knowledge about the species has increased. At the start of the initiative in 2011, the population of LWFG was known to number some 50-70 individuals; now, over 110 birds are registered. The network in Europe involved in conservation of the LWFG now has over 100 people who are engaged in monitoring in 18 countries. Around 2 000 people overall from school children and local hunters to international experts and senior policy makers have been engaged through the project. Around 50 people in Greece and Bulgaria have been trained in applying novel patrolling schemes.
International flight from Spain to Bulgaria — Lesser Kestrel recovery in the Sakar SPA
Extinct as a breeder in Bulgaria, today the Lesser Kestrel is the focus of huge efforts by conservationists to bring about its recovery in Bulgaria. Green Balkans from Bulgaria and DEMA from Spain, with financial support from the EU LIFE fund, are working together to bring back the Lesser Kestrel as a breeding bird in the Sakar SPA, and to enhance its conservation status at national level.
Using the so-called ‘hacking’ method, juveniles bred in captivity at the specialised breeding facilities of DEMA and Green Balkans are raised in an aviary with foster parents and later released. This method is based on the long-term experience of DEMA, which has successfully implemented a series of similar initiatives in Spain and France. As a result of these actions, a total of 286 Lesser Kestrels were released/fledged in the Sakar SPA from 2013 to 2015.
The project is already showing results. Thanks to these conservation activities, the first breeding Lesser Kestrel pairs for decades have already been recorded in Bulgaria: 8 to 9 pairs in 2014, and 9 to 13 pairs in 2015. Most of them bred in the special artificial nest boxes provided by the project team. This is an excellent example of a positive cross-border partnership that has resulted in the recovery of a species considered extinct as a breeder in Bulgaria.