Celebrating 25 Years of LIFE, the Habitats Directive & Natura 2000
The EU LIFE programme and the Habitats Directive, approved on the 21st May 1992, are celebrating 25 years this year! The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council and the Committee of the Regions will proclaim the 21st May 2017 as ‘European Natura 2000 day’ at a special event in Brussels.
In tandem with its approval, the Habitats Directive, along with the 1979 Birds Directive, formed the basis of the Natura 2000 network, designed to preserve Europe’s unique natural heritage. The network consists of over 27,000 sites across Europe helping to protect countless species and habitats. (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/EUnatura2000day/index_en.htm) To celebrate European Natura 2000 Day, the LIFE programme is organising events across Europe during the month of May. Keep up to date here - life-25.eu
In Ireland there are 28 species of land mammal, over 400 species of birds and more than 4,000 plant species and over 12,000 species of insect. The majority of EU-protected species are in “Favourable” status in Ireland, but a number are considered to be in “Bad” status and require continued efforts to protect them. There are 430 Natura sites in Ireland. The area covered by SACs is approximately 13,5000 hectares, including habitats such as raised and blanket bogs, sand dunes and woodlands. Among the species given protection are Otter, Freshwater Pearl Mussel and Bottlenose Dolphin.
Ireland’s 154 SPAs covers approximately 570,000 hectares. Species protected by these SPAs include birds such as the Dunlin, Golden Plover and Hen Harrier. Many migratory species visit our shores at different times of the year, such as seabirds. Ireland’s wetlands also provide wintering habitat and resources for over three-quarters of a million waterbirds each year. [Note 1]
More is needed to continue the protection of the habitats and species but a lot has been achieved through projects funded under the LIFE Programme.
What has LIFE achieved?
In the EU it has helped fund over 4000 projects. The LIFE programme has for example;
- helped to bring the Griffon Vulture back from the brink in the Balkan and Pirin mountains, Bulgaria.
- aided the designation of a huge Natura 2000 network marine area in Sweden to protect the harbour porpoise.
- made a major contribution to the recovery of the Iberian lynx populations in Spain and Portugal, so much so that the species is no longer on the IUCN ‘critically endangered’ list.
- helped nine new pairs of imperial eagles to form, also in Bulgaria bringing the population to 25 pairs, also creating jobs in the region, through the Save the Raptors Project.
Not only is it helping nature and biodiversity but also addressing wider issues such as climate change and waste, while in many cases also creating jobs.
- The SlideIn LIFEproject in Sweden has demonstrated how old trolley bus networks can be revived to provide fossil-fuel free transport.
- FromRoofToRoad in Denmark showed bitumen in waste roofing felt can be reused in asphalt for roads, reducing pollution and creating jobs.
- ClimaBiz in Greece has helped develop tools for businesses to adapt their strategies in relation to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
What it has done in Ireland?
In Ireland, a total of 58 projects have been co-financed by LIFE funds, including 38 on environmental innovation and 20 on nature conservation. Take a look at projects in Ireland here. [Note 2] Some examples of successful and ongoing projects in Ireland are the LIFE Raised Bogs project, the RaptorLIFE Project, Duhallow, Cork and the BurrenLIFE project, which has also been shortlisted for the LIFE Green Awards, a part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations.
- LIFE Raised Bogs
The LIFE Raised Bog (‘The Living Bog’ ) project aims to improve over 2,600 hectares of raised bog habitat in Ireland’s SACs over the next five years, restoring habitat for numerous important flora and fauna. It incorporates 12 important raised bogs across 7 counties. These habitats once covered approximately 350,000 hectares of the country but many have been lost due to human activity, such as mechanised turf-cutting and peat extraction. With the stark realisation of the need for peatland conservation in the 1970s, the Irish-Dutch movement began trying to restore remaining salvageable bogs, in particular Mongan Bog, (part-owned by An Taisce), along with Clara and Raheenmore Bog. Since then, 53 of the raised bogs that have been saved, have been designated as SACs under the Habitats Directive. With an estimated 99% loss of the former area of active growing raised bog, only 1,650 ha of the remaining ‘intact’ high bog can now be classified as living, ‘Active Raised Bog’. The project also aims through community involvement to promote understanding and awareness of the value of our raised bogs, not only as habitats but also for their role in carbon storage and flood prevention.
Read about Mongan Bog here
- The RaptorLIFE Project
The aim of IRD Duhallow RaptorLIFE Project which began in January 2015, is to work with the local community to achieve a better environment, "Connecting and restoring habitats for Hen harrier, Merlin, Atlantic salmon and Brook lamprey in Duhallow, Ireland". It is the first project to integrate the conservation efforts of two important Natura 2000 sites, Blackwater SAC and the Stacks to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick hills and Mount Nagle SPA. The project is particularly important, given the decline of the Hen Harrier in recent decades, due to habitat loss and persecution. The project places great emphasis on stakeholder engagement and one of the main aims is to work with stakeholders and the local community in a positive way to promote raptor conservation through better public awareness and habitat restoration.
- The BurrenLIFE Programme
The BurrenLIFE Programme is a unique agri-environmental initiative designed to conserve the habitats of the Burren. The Burren is a unique place, with an array of interesting and rare flora and fauna and a wealth of archaeological and geological heritage. Farming has for centuries been an integral part of the landscape there. The practice of winter grazing has been fundamental to its biodiversity and habitats.
The BurrenLIFE Project (2005-2009) pioneered a new approach to conservation and farming. The findings of this became the basis for the Burren Farming for Conservation Programme (BFCP), which started up in 2010. This then became the current BurrenLIFE Programme in 2015.
The aims are to ensure the implementation of up to 170 focused farm plans intended to ensure sustainable agricultural management of high nature value farmland, maintaining and enhancing the quality of the environment, particularly in relation to Annex I habitats under Natura 2000, helping to improve water quality and to maintain the high quality of the Burren landscape and cultural heritage. [Note 3]
The Burren also has another very successful LIFE Project, the Burren Geopark which aims to integrate tourism development and biodiversity conservation and cultural heritage.
To learn more about the LIFE Programme and European Natura 2000 Day visit the LIFE website. You can see and vote for BurrenLIFE on Green Awards here! Voting is open until the 10th May, 2017. See the shortlist here!
NPWS - 'Protected Sites' - https://www.npws.ie/protected-sites
European Commission, 2017, LIFE Programme - Country Factsheet - Ireland Overview - http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/countries/documents/ireland_en_apr17.pdf
NPWS - 'Burren LIFE Programme' - https://www.npws.ie/research-projects/burren-life-programme