Presenting LIFEstockProtect at part 2 of LIFE19 Welcome Meeting

The second session of the LIFE19 Welcome Meeting took place this week with more than 200 participants. Both the coordinating beneficiary BIO AUSTRIA Niederösterreich & Wien and the European Wilderness Society participated in this meeting, which was organised by EASME and NEEMO. In this meeting, the coordinating beneficiaries of newly approved LIFE projects are invited to present their project to each other, and become more familiar with the Agency EASME that coordinates the LIFE programme on behalf of the European Commission.

Looking forward to the next LIFE period

The year 2020 marks the last year of the current financing period for LIFE projects. The programme is currently being revised by experts and will be published in the near future. In the opening speeches Angelo Salsi, the Head of Unit (EASME), shared some interesting details and achievements of the LIFE projects that are being financed by the LIFE programme. This was followed by a presentation from Frank Vassen from the Directorate General Environment – Nature unit. Mr. Vassen provided insight in the plans of the European Commission regarding the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, and what new focus topics will be important in the coming years.

Presenting our project to fellow LIFE projects

Following these first presentations, the participants were grouped in breakout rooms to present their own projects to others. The LIFEstockProtect project shared its breakout group with the following inspiring LIFE projects that focus on different mammal species:

LIFE BEAVER, coordinated by the Institute for Conservation of Natural Heritage (LUTRA), is focusing on the European beaver. The beaver has been locally extinct in Slovenia and Croatia for two centuries, and is now re-colonising its historical habitats. It has favourable conservation status in these two countries. However, its long absence means the beaver is now considered as a “new” species, and even a pest, with conflicts arising as the population increases. The project partners will improve awareness about the animal’s return, emphasising its positive impact on the environment. This will ensure public acceptance of the beaver and create positive attitudes towards the species. The institute will also strengthen cross-border cooperation between Slovenia and Croatia for exchanging best practices and synchronised population management. 

LIFE BEARS WITH FUTURE, coordinated by Fundación Oso Pardo, addresses the brown bear population in the Cantabrian mountains, which has been steadily increasing, while climate change represents a serious challenge for its conservation, making hibernation more difficult. The LIFE project will therefore ensure that bears have sufficient resources by planting chestnut trees and fruit-producing trees and shrubs, as well as purchasing land and striking agreements with landowners for their cultivation. The project will also address conflicts that relate to shorter wintering periods, carrying out an extensive information campaign. 

LIFE LYNXCONNECT, coordinated by the Andalusian Consultancy for Agriculture, Farming, Fishing and Sustainable Development. This project addresses the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) which is listed as ‘Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List. Its genetic diversity is among the lowest reported for any species, and current rates of natural migration are not enough to guarantee the viability of the global population. LIFE LYNXCONNECT aims to increase both the overall population size and the connectivity among Iberian lynx population nuclei, to assure a viable overall population and down-list the species to IUCN ‘Vulnerable’. The project team will consolidate four existing population nuclei, and create two new ones, by introducing captive-bred individuals, and creating stepping stones of favourable habitat to encourage gene flow between them. Actions will also reduce non-natural mortality by making road crossings safer, repair farm structures such as henhouses, and draw up agreements between landowners, hunters and farmers to reduce conflicts. 

LIFE SYSEL, coordinated by the Regional Association for Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development, is all about the European ground squirrel. Once common in Central and Eastern Europe, the population and habitat range of the European ground squirrel is declining. The LIFE project will address this decline, carrying out grassland management to provide suitable habitat for the species and to re-connect its fragmented sites and thus boost its genetic viability. It will also tackle the threat of predation and lack of food supply, installing boxes and stone and wood piles, while planting favourable crops. It will also encourage replications beyond the initial target northwestern border area of its range.

We are very thankful to the support of the LIFE programme to turn the LIFEstockProtect project into practice. We are looking forward to sharing our experiences with other relevant LIFE projects, and look forward to learning from them vice versa.

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CAP and RDP funding opportunities for livestock protection

One of the many different topics that we will address in this project is the integration of sufficient funding streams for the implementation of livestock protection via EU financing schemes. Especially important for this are the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Rural Development Programmes (RPDs). These two funding schemes are currently being revised by experts. Hence, now is the time to ensure that for the next years EU Member States will allocate enough funding for livestock protection.

What are the CAP and RDPs?

The CAP was first launched by the European Union in 1962. It is a partnership between the agricultural sector and society, focusing on all the farmers in Europe. It is the common polity in all EU countries in fact. The CAP aims to ensure that farmers can sustain food production in an environmentally friendly way. Also it helps to promote rural development. The CAP includes different aspects to support farmers in the EU. For example direct income support, but also financial support for climate change mitigation actions, and for efforts to maintain a vibrant rural community.

Furthermore, each EU country has one or more RDPs. These programmes are there especially to:

  • foster knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture, forestry and rural areas;
  • enhance the viability and competitiveness of all types of agriculture, and promote innovative farm technologies and sustainable forest management;
  • promote food chain organisation, animal welfare and risk management in agriculture;
  • promote resource efficiency and supporting the shift toward a low-carbon and climate resilient economy in the agriculture, food and forestry sectors;
  • restore, preserve and enhance ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry;
  • and promote social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas.

Having these RDPs allows EU countries to tackle and address their own unique challenges and capabilities. At least four of the six priorities listed above should be included in the RDPs, which can be designed on regional or national level.

Discussing lobby synergies for CAP and RDP

In Austria, Italy and Germany it is important to create synergies between such lobby efforts from different organisations. Some of our partners have already been actively lobbying for months and years, and we need to make sure that these are not conflicting with other livestock protection lobbying. That is why there has been an online meeting last week with the management of Majella National Park and Legambiente. The association Legambiente is one of the most prominent and widespread environmental association in Italy. It has 20 regional coordination offices and more than 600 local groups of volunteers. During the meeting, we explored the opportunities to create lobby synergies, for example in the form of a common position paper.

More details and updates will follow as we will work on this interesting and important topic. Addressing this topic will help to ensure that livestock protection across the entire Alpine region will be effectively implemented with sufficient financial support from the European Union.

LIFEstockProtect by European Wilderness Society

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Austrian and Italian shepherds sharing experiences

Three local shepherds from Tyrol travelled last week with the European Wilderness Society and EURAC to Central Italy. Their aim was to learn from shepherds how they implement livestock protection. After all, the Apennines in Central Italy represent one of the regions in Europe where wolves never disappeared. This multi-day meeting was extremely useful for the shepherds to see effective protection measures with their own eyes.

Locals and wildlife in Majella National Park

Located just 30 km from the Adriatic coast and a 2,5 hour drive from Rome, you find Majella National Park. The park harbours one of the first certified Wilderness areas and is home to wide array of wildlife. Most characteristic are the approximately 100 wolves in 10 wolf packs, along with 11 permanently resident bears. Who thinks that this park must be enormous in size because of the number of large carnivores is wrong. Majella covers a surface of ‘just’ 75 square kilometres, or 75.000 hectares.

Besides the wolves and bears, the park has a high density of red deer and wild boar, which form the main source of food for the predators. Amongst all the wildlife, there are villages and towns scattered throughout the park. Many of the locals living inside Majella National Park are either working in the tourism or agricultural sector. Especially livestock farming, along with shepherding is a historical practice that has been around for centuries.

Because wolves and bears never completely disappeared from the region which currently lies within Majella National Park, local livestock owners have always been used to their presence. Historically, their way of coexisting with predators has developed to an effective and sustainable way of living. This is contrary to many other regions of Europe, where predators have disappeared sometimes for more than 100 years. As part of the LIFEstockProtect project, it is important to learn from the knowledge these locals posses. We can tailor best practice examples to the needs in the German-speaking Alps and implement them to ensure effective livestock protection across the region.

Meeting the local livestock owners and their dogs

On the first day, the Austrian shepherds had a meeting with a local who owns together with his brother and father approximately 1.400 sheep and goats. They are keeping their animals on some of the highest grasslands in Majella National Park. This area lies directly within a wolf territory and is surrounded by several others. The way that this family-run business protects their livestock is by using livestock guarding dogs together with shepherds. At the moment, the family has 24 livestock guarding dogs, mainly the Abruzzese Sheepdog breed. During our visit, the local owner showed how one of their shepherds moves across the alpine pastures. The Abruzzese dogs, which many believe are dangerous to humans, showed how well they behave in the presence of people they do not know. This was really an eye-opener for the Austrian shepherds!

Tasting local cow cheese

The following day we visited a local cow farmer, who is also producing different types of cheese. Not only does he live right in a wolf territory, he finds sounders of wild boar up crossing his lands too. This cow farmer explained how the cows are instinctively dealing with the presence of wolves in the region. When the cows spend enough time outside in the open, they instinctively protect young calves by standing around them, facing outwards. This way, the farmer says, the cows have a natural and effective protection against depredation.

Yet, when the cows spend the cold summer months inside the stable, they forget this behaviour again, says the farmer. Once they return to the pastures, it takes a while before the cows’ instincts become active again. Nevertheless, accompanied by a handful of dogs, the farmer has not dealt with cow depredation in the past years. We ended this visit with a cheese-tasting and long discussions about the colour and fat-content of goat cheese. This differs significantly between Italy and Austria, so it seemed.

Locals working with foreign shepherds

The next day, the group went in the early morning to meet two sisters and a Macedonian shepherd who have approximately 300 sheep and goats. The sisters took over from their parents and are running the business in between two wolf pack territories. Also these sheep are protected by Abruzzese dogs, and they are kept in a metal night enclosure. Many years ago, one of the bears managed to climb into the night enclosure, therefore the sisters improved the enclosure after the incident.

Since then, the enclosure effectively protected the livestock from any predator at night, together with the livestock guarding dogs. The shepherd from Macedonia is not an exception, there are in fact many foreign shepherds in Majella National Park. For example, many shepherds from Slovakia, Hungary and Bosnia Herzegovina spend their summer in Italy to look after livestock in the Apennines. Financial support for livestock owners to pay for such shepherds does not exist yet in Italy, contrary to France.

Successful young livestock owners

On the last day of the visits to the locals in Majella National Park, the shepherds visited a young couple. They started their own goat farm three years ago. After he finished his studies in agriculture, he wanted to work more with his hands in the field. She worked in Rome in a different sector, but decided to join him and run the goat farm together on 60 hectares of land that they rent. After three years, they are still waiting for the financial support to cover part of the investments they made to build a stable and fence for the goats to stay at night.

Nevertheless, the young couple is very happy with their goat farm, along with their five livestock guarding dogs. Experimenting with different herbs and ingredients, they have created some delicious goat cheeses. These cheeses are actually in high demand in the local region. The business is now running so well that all cheese was already sold during the summer months, despite the dip in tourists during the corona pandemic.

An inspiring visit with more to come

This trip has been only the first of many meetings and trips that will take place during the implementation of the LIFEstockProtect project. Learning from livestock owners that have always implemented livestock protection will be important to implement the best practices also in the German-speaking Alps of Austria, Germany and Italy. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

Attending the LIFE19 Welcome Meeting

Earlier this month, the coordinating beneficiary BIO AUSTRIA Niederösterreich & Wien and associated beneficiary European Wilderness Society attended the LIFE19 Welcome Meeting. Usually, this meeting takes place in Brussels, at the headquarters of EASME. This year however, the first 2 days of the meeting took place virtually due to the corona restrictions. This meeting aims to welcome and introduce all newly approved LIFE projects to the programme and its regulations. The second part of this LIFE19 Welcome Meeting will take place mid-November. This is where we will present LIFEstockProtect to other approved LIFE projects in the Nature subprogram.

The LIFE programme, EASME and NEEMO

The LIFE programme is a funding instrument of the EU for projects concerning the environment and climate action. It was created in 1992 and its budget continues to grow with every funding period. The current funding period 2014-2020 has a budget of €3.4 billion. A significant part of this is allocated to the subprogram Nature, where LIFEstockProtect falls under. The European Commission set up the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) to manage on its behalf the LIFE programme. EASME also manages several other EU programmes regarding SME support & innovation, environment, climate action, energy and maritime affairs. At this moment there are approximately 1.000 LIFE projects ongoing. Therefore EASME has an external monitoring team to evaluate the performance of the projects. NEEMO is responsible for this monitoring, and consists of a consortium of international experts from the European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG).

During the LIFE19 Welcome Meeting, Angelo Salsi from EASME and Jan Silva from NEEMO introduced their organisations to the participants. Their colleagues shared more details with the project beneficiaries about financial administration and reporting regulations. Furthermore, we discussed effective ways and best practices to communicate and disseminate information about the project to the general public and important stakeholders. Afterwards there was time for a Q&A session to cover some of the most pressing issues that some beneficiaries are currently facing.

For our project, this was a very useful meeting! Of course it was good to get to know the people behind EASME and NEEMO better. Yet it was also helpful to get more practical tips and advice on how to adhere to the programme’s regulations. We are already looking forward to the second part of the LIFE19 Welcome Meeting, where we will present our project to fellow LIFE19 projects online.