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Brussels, 5 September 2003

LIFE-Nature: Commission grants EUR 71 million for 77 new nature conservation projects

The European Commission has approved funding for 77 nature conservation projects under the LIFE-Nature programme 2003. Sixty-three of the projects will be carried out in 12 EU Member States and fourteen in 6 candidate countries. The projects represent a total investment of €133 million in nature conservation to which the European Union will contribute €71 million. This year's LIFE-Nature projects will further contribute to the establishment of the EU-wide Natura 2000 network through the physical restoration of protected areas, the establishment of sustainable management structures and the strengthening of public awareness.

In the 2003 selection round the Commission received 182 applications of which 144 were considered eligible. After evaluation of the eligible applications and approval by the EU Habitats Committee, 77 projects from 18 countries were selected for financing. Sixty-three are situated in the EU (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) and fourteen in candidate countries (Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia and, for the first time, Slovakia). The successful projects comply with one of the 3 basic criteria of the LIFE-Nature project selection, i.e. conservation of:

(i) sites proposed by Member States under the Habitats Directive(1) (68%); (ii) sites classified as Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive(2) (23%) (iii) species of flora and fauna considered important in the EU (9%).

The participation of candidate countries in LIFE-Nature has allowed six of the 10 countries which will become members of the Union in 2004 to prepare for practical implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives.

The trend of increasing size of projects continues. The average size of project approved in 2003, in terms of total budget, increased by a further 7.5% compared to 2002, after an increase of 15% the previous year. Average EU co-financing per project increased by 3% in 2003. Since the start of LIFE-Nature the total investment in projects has steadily increased from €60.6 million per year in 1992-95 (LIFE I) to an average €138.6 million per year in LIFE III (2001-2003).

For the 2003 projects the €71 million EU funding will cover an average 53% of project costs. The remaining €62 million will come from beneficiaries, partners and co-financers.

The projects will receive this financial support upon their compliance with the administrative and financial provisions.

A variety of habitats targeted and a high degree of partnership amongst project actors

Over two-thirds of this year's projects (54) target sites and their host species covered by the Habitats Directives and a further 17 cover bird species listed in the Birds Directive. The remaining 6 projects target listed species not linked to particular sites. For those projects targeting Natura 2000 sites the whole range of habitats is covered. Rivers, wetlands and forest environments are particularly well represented. One third of these projects cover more than one habitat type. As is habitually the case, the most frequent actions include drawing up and implementation of management plans, management of watercourses, land purchase (especially in northern Europe), grazing management, elimination of exotic species and site restoration and improvement.

Nature conservation actions are likely to involve public institutions and thus it is no surprise that LIFE-Nature beneficiaries are predominantly regional or local authorities (62%). A further 35% are non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Almost three-quarters of beneficiaries work in partnerships, most often between a public body and a NGO active in nature conservation. In this way professional expertise is combined with administrative planning, the best recipe for success in ensuring viability of protected areas. Just over half of LIFE-Nature beneficiaries (51%) in 2003 are new. This is clear evidence that the program continues to break new ground.

The sustainability of LIFE-Nature actions is an important criterion in selecting projects. Particular attention is also given to the involvement of citizens and local communities. Beneficiaries are obliged to undertake public awareness actions in their projects and a preference is given to projects which provide long-term assurance of the management of sites.


LIFE is the European Union's scheme which provides financial support for environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU, in candidate countries and in bordering regions. The general objective of LIFE is through the financing of specific actions to contribute to the development and implementation of EU environmental policy. LIFE has 3 distinct components: LIFE-Environment, LIFE-Nature and LIFE-Third countries. A total fund of €640 million is available for the current LIFE III program which runs until 2004. A little under half of the total LIFE finance is available for LIFE-Nature projects(3).

LIFE-Nature was first set up in 1992 to assist the creation of Natura 2000, a pan-EU network of protected areas established under the Birds and Habitats Directives. The 15,000 sites of the network, which cover 15% of the land area of the EU, are due to be designated by the end of 2004. Most LIFE-Nature projects target Natura 2000 sites; others aim to protect species listed in the Birds and Habitats Directives. The actions proposed by applicants be it restoration and management of specific natural habitats or improvement of conditions for a particular species must be in complete accordance with the EU Directives. To date, LIFE-Nature projects have been active on about 10% of the EU's Natura 2000 protected areas, with indirect effects on many more.

See annex for a summary of the 77 funded projects. More detailed information on each of the new projects, listed by country, is available at:

More about the Natura 2000 network can be found at:


Overview of LIFE-Nature projects 2003 by country.


Number of projects funded - 3

Two projects target rivers. The first a partnership of municipality, angling associations and large landowners - will restore and improve the Upper Mur valley in Styria. Obstacles to migrating fish will be removed, landscape-engineering works will help formation of sediment banks and islets, and alluvial forests will be regenerated. The second project will protect the most endangered habitats of the Danube in the Wachau gorge. The project is essentially a pilot scheme to recreate gravel banks from material from dredging shipping channels. If successful, the technique will be adopted by the river authority. Dry grasslands and woods on the slopes will also be restored.

The third project will assure a former peat extraction site as a breeding, resting and wintering areas for birds.


Number of projects funded - 4

One very large project will restore almost 10,000 hectares of military training grounds in Flanders. It is a co-operative effort between regional nature conservation and forest authorities and the Ministry of Defence. Management plans will be drawn up for 12 Natura 2000 sites and will enable military exercises to be planned with regard for nature conservation needs.

The second project is run by a hunters' association in the Ardennes together with the regional authorities. It will restore uneconomic spruce plantations to a complex of wetlands, meadows, mires and humid natural forest and serve as a model for “nature friendly” forestry management.

A third project will continue actions on saline meadows, important winter migratory bird sites, on the Flanders coast. It will integrate sustainable farming and tourism.

The last project, on the urban fringe of Ghent, will restore a botanically rich complex of ponds and wet meadows, and will involve anglers, farmers and local councils.


No projects funded this year


Number of projects funded - 2

One project aims to restore large areas of coastal grassland, particularly by encouraging the farmers and land-owners to reintroduce farming practices of grazing and mowing. The project will clear the areas of scrub and give farmers an initial boost to graze and mow the land. It is expected that long-term management agreements will be reached through agri-environmental programmes.

The second project adopts a similar approach for polders along the shores of Lake Pepsi, where hay meadows have recently been abandoned, threatening the nature conservation value of the sites.


Number of projects funded - 4

Finland hosts a large share of the remaining natural forests and mires in the EU. Three of this year's projects target restoration of 77 such sites in the Natura 2000 network. Each project will adopt best practice conservation experience and techniques in one of three regions. Local support for management will come through agreement with foresters and land-owners. General awareness raising of the sites in Finland is foreseen.

The fourth project will restore 12 wetlands along one of the EU's most important migratory routes, benefiting as many as 35 EU-listed species. Actions include clearing of overgrown areas, reintroduction of grazing and mowing and managing flows of visitors.


Number of projects funded - 7

Six of this year's projects are in the Mediterranean region. The seventh is an international project targeting the bearded vulture in the Austrian, French and Italian Alps.

Unusually, all of this year's projects are aimed at the conservation of fauna. Four projects target bird species - the bearded vulture, the Egyptian vulture, Cory's shearwater, storm petrel and Mediterranean shag. Two target mammals, one on land (the Corsican wild sheep (Ovis gmelini musimon) and one at sea (bottlenose dolphin). One project concerns a fish species of the salmon family (Salmo trutta macrostigma).

These projects will give an opportunity to develop partnerships between France and other EU organisations. For Cory's shearwater, there is already an ongoing project in the Balearic Islands (Spain), in Italy on Ovis gmelini musimon and the bottlenose dolphin and in Slovenia on Salmo trutta macrostigma.

All the above projects will contribute to the establishment or updating of regional, national or international Action Plans for the species concerned.


Number of projects funded - 7

Two of the projects concern priority habitat types (continental salt marshes, petrifying springs with tufa formation) for which Germany has a particular responsibility as it hosts some of the most significant examples in the EU. The salt marsh project in Thuringia focuses on hydrological works to reverse the effects of past pollution and drainage while the tufa springs project in Franconia will liberate dozens of springs from shading and acidifying spruce trees, inappropriate man-made constructions and run-off from nearby fields. Both will carry out extensive awareness work to raise the public profile of these little-known but unique habitats.

Three projects tackle nature conservation in densely populated and intensively used districts.

Along the Main river east of Würzburg remnant resting areas for migrating birds will be expanded by converting cropland, silage grassland and former gravel pits to suitable bird habitat. This project is remarkable for being a collaborative effort by various local authorities. The River Ems in Niedersachen is the scene of a project which, carrying on work done in the south by an earlier project, will remove embankments, re-open former meanders and allow sandbanks to return to the river bed. The end result will be a much more natural river, an ecological corridor through a district characterised by intensive farming. Finally, a relict raised bog in the densely settled Minden area will be restored to optimum hydrological conditions. Trees, which proliferated on the dried-out bog, will be removed and sheep grazing will be started up to keep the vegetation in good shape. Because this pocket of land is much visited by local people, visitor guidance infrastructure like paths and platforms will be built to allow recreation and conservation to complement each other.

The final two projects will take place in a hill country setting (Rothaargebirge and Eifel). They focus on reversing afforestation and then restoring the various humid and submontane grassland habitats on Annex I of the Directive, and on removing embankments, diversions and weirs which forced local streams into unnatural corsets and raised barriers to migrating fish and aquatic invertebrates. Both projects, working in rural settings, have strong emphasis on collaboration with important stakeholders like farmers, foresters, fishing interests and municipalities.


Number of projects funded  - 4

Two of the projects concern forest areas; one targets the brown bear and two priority forest habitats in the Northern Pindos national park; the other will convert Quercus frenetto and holm oak coppice back to natural stands in the Athos peninsula.

The other two projects target bird species. The first is aimed at the conservation of Eleonora's falcon on 9 island sites in the Aegean Sea, which together host a large part of the world population of the species. The second project, on a single Natura 2000 site, will restore the Agras wetland, a small semi-artificial lake, which hosts 4 EU priority bird species.

With the exception of the falcon project, all are located in the north of the country.


One project funded

This project will restore the Pannonic oak woodlands and dry grasslands on the Szénás Hills near Budapest, which have great botanical value but have suffered from past forestry practice and are under threat from the expanding suburbs of Budapest. Pine stands will be converted to natural woodlands and the excess game population brought under control. Awareness raising will be carried out locally.

IrelandOne project funded

The project targets one of the most important Natura 2000 areas, which runs for nearly 10 miles along the east coast. The project will first purchase then restore calcareous fens on part of this area. The actions will in turn help to conserve the whole site both for its habitat and bird interests.


One project funded

The project targets one of the most important Natura 2000 areas, which runs for nearly 10 miles along the east coast. The project will first purchase then restore calcareous fens on part of this area. The actions will in turn help to conserve the whole site both for its habitat and bird interests.


Number of projects funded  -14

Out of the fourteen projects, nine are aimed at management of habitats such as woodlands, grasslands and wetlands. The actions foreseen will also benefit several animal species (amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates) of EU-wide importance. Two projects will restore and extend alder woods in order to increase the number of breeding herons. Five projects are directed specifically at animal species. Two deal with highly threatened species of rivers and streams, the white-clawed crayfish in central Italy and the Adriatic sturgeon in the Po basin, a further two deal with dolphins.

One of these aims at the protection of the endangered bottlenose dolphin in the recently established supranational cetacean (the mammalian order including whales and dolphins) sanctuary, in the northern part of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The other is directed at the conservation of sea turtles along the southern coast of Sicily.

Finally one project will continue restoration of the habitat of the remnant population of the Apennine brown bear in the central Apennines.

Sixty-four per cent of all Italian projects include, as a principal action, eradication or control of invasive alien species, a horizontal issue, which is causing growing concern among nature conservation managers.

Five of the projects will take place within areas protected under national law one in a national park, three in regional parks and one in a nature reserve. Of the other projects, three will be run by county and two by municipal administrations. Four out of fourteen projects continue actions carried out during previous LIFE projects.


Number of projects funded  - 3

Three very different but strategic projects have been selected. The first will take place in a northern river valley of high natural value with a mix of taiga forests, alluvial woodlands, hay meadows and bogs, harbouring many EU-listed species, including over 300 pairs of corncrake. As the area is still not protected, the first tasks will be to make an inventory and draw up a management plan.

The second project targets a huge wetland complex in the heart of Latvia. Originally artificial, the area includes the largest variety of wetland habitats in the country, but has suffered from highly dispersed management. The project will tackle this by creating a broad partnership of stakeholders to agree on a new water regime and other conservation actions for the area.

The third project concerns Lake Pape on the border with Lithuania, a former forbidden border area situated on the palearctic bird migratory route. Actions will include reintroduction of grazing of meadows and management of the water level of the lake and surrounding bogs.


No projects were submitted this year.


No projects funded this year


Number of projects funded - 3

Three Natura 2000 sites are targeted by the new projects. Two of them are aimed at the conservation of bird species and their habitats. One focuses on the global population (approximately 100 pairs) of the Azores bullfinch on São Miguel island in the Azores. The second targets a large range of birds, which feed, refuge or nest in the Tejo estuary saltpans.

The third project will restore degraded habitats and conserve existing ones through the implementation of adequate management practices, all on a large area in Alentejo (southern Portugal).


Number of projects funded - 3

The three projects selected will improve the conservation status of protected areas whilst at the same time promoting the sites for visitors in a sustainable manner.

One project will restore forest habitats of stone pine, dwarf mountain pine and Norway spruce in the Rodna Mountains by planting seedlings taken from neighbouring areas. The second project will draw up and implement a management plan for the Macin Mountains in the south-east of the country. They host a very rich and diverse flora and fauna.

In the third project LIFE-Nature will co-finance conservation measures on five strategic sites in a national park in the Carpathians, including protection of bat colonies in caves and regulation of climbing and hiking to reduce degradation of valuable natural habitats. The actions will be integrated in the park's management plan and be a model for other potential sites in Romania.


Number of projects funded  - 3

The first project will improve conditions for the globally endangered imperial eagle in Slovakia, in close co-operation with a similar project in Hungary. Measures include surveillance of nests, moving power lines and increasing availability of prey. Surveys will improve knowledge of the species and help identify areas for protection.

The second project targets the last remaining natural floodplain forests along the river Danube in Slovakia, where a sustainable forest management plan will be applied. Considerable effort will go into demonstrating appropriate management techniques.

The third project concerns Sur Fen, one of the largest alder swamp woods in Central Europe on the outskirts of Bratislava. These suffer from having been drained continually since the 1940s. This project will restore the former conditions to stop further desiccation of the forests. The project is strongly supported by a local municipality partner.


Number of projects funded - 2

There is a significant corncrake population - a globally threatened species classified as vulnerable on 3 sites in Slovenia. However none of them is protected. The project foresees the production of a national corncrake Action Plan and management plans for each of the three sites. Guidelines drawn up will be tested by a series of concrete actions.

The other project will ensure conservation of habitats and species - in particular EU-listed birds - within the Secovlje salt pans on the Dragonja estuary at the southern end of the Slovenian coast. Main actions will be the restoration of dykes and embankments and creation of additional breeding areas for terns.


Number of projects funded - 12

Overall, 50 Natura 2000 sites are targeted.

Three projects together focus on five EU-priority bird species. One targets Audouin's gull in Murcia (southern Spain), another the houbara bustard, a native of the steppes of the Canary Islands. A third targets the imperial eagle, black vulture and black stork in central and western Spain.

The conservation of invertebrates is the subject of two projects this year in Spain. One project will improve the lot of seven insect species in Extramadura and another that of the freshwater mussel in Castilla y León. A project in the Canary Islands will target larger marine animals, the bottlenose dolphin and loggerhead turtle.

Several projects, particularly those targeting habitats, will apply an integrated approach to management of Natura 2000 sites at regional level. Examples are management of forest priority habitats in 5 mountain sites in Valencia and management of 10 sites within a Murcia county's sustainable development scheme. Drawing up of joint strategies for management of wetlands and coastal habitats will be supported by two separate projects in Andalucía. A further project in Extremadura will restore a seasonal wetland and mitigate the impact of human activity there.

One important theme of projects is increased integration of socio-economic activities in nature conservation. One project in Catalonia will restore the second biggest lake in Spain and at the same time promote sustainable development in that heavily frequented area. The above-mentioned project on 3 priority bird species approaches management of breeding and food supply on private estates with direct participation of landowners, a major concern in the achievement of the conservation aims of the Habitats Directive.


Number of projects funded  - 2

The area of biologically rich hay meadows in northern Sweden has declined dramatically since the abandonment of traditional farming practices and only a few dozen scattered sites now remain. Working closely with the local farming community, the first project will restore 31 sites so as make them eligible for agri-environmental support schemes and secure their long-term conservation management.

The second project focuses on the entire EU population of the severely endangered arctic fox, building on the experience of previous LIFE projects. The project should give an important boost to the species' recovery programme to assure at least a halt in decline in numbers.

United Kingdom

Number of projects funded - 2

One project targets the entire population of the increasingly rare marsh fritillary butterfly in south-west England, where it is scattered over a host of tiny Natura 2000 sites. The project aims to improve both suitable sites for the species and the corridors between them. The project includes a partnership with the national roads authority which has recently re-routed a major road running close to the sites.

The second project focuses on 2 important ravine woodlands one in the Wye valley on the border between England and Wales, the second in the Peak District national park in northern England. The project aims to reconstitute, restore and protect the woodlands by applying viable integrated management.

(1)Council Directive 92/43/EC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna

(2)Council Directive 79/409/EC on the conservation of wild birds

(3)47% of the fund is available for each of the LIFE-Nature and LIFE-Environment programs and 6% for the LIFE-Third Countries program.

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