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Best EU LIFE Nature Projects Prize

…awarded to BirdLife Partners

Three BirdLife Partners have been awarded the prize for the best LIFE Nature Project in 2008-2009. The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment. The general objective of LIFE is to contribute to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental policy and legislation by co-financing pilot or demonstration projects with European added value. Among them, SPEA ‘LIFE Priolo’, a project that contributed to the recovery of Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula marina, was selected for the ‘Best of the Best Projects’. The selection criteria include the improvement of conservation status of the targeted species or habitats, and the national and international project impact.

"BirdLife Partners have demonstrated that when they match well deserved LIFE funds with their excellent knowledge, skills and committment, remarkable results are bound to follow. This is a precious demonstration that biodiversity can be saved when sufficient resources are available at the right place and time", commented Boris Barov, BirdLife European Conservation Manager.

Priolo Project, Portugal

SPEA’s Priolo project aimed to prevent the extinction of the worlds’ only population of Azores Bullfinch. This bird can only be found on the island of São Miguel in the Azores archipelago. It has been threatened by invasive vegetation taking over its native habitat. The winning project helped the preparation of a management plan for the Special Protection Area (SPA), and carried out restoration of its habitat. A key feature of the project’s approach was the involvement of the regional administration and local people in the application of the project’s conservation actions. The project also intended to support farmers in the use of EU funds and raise public awareness through a range of educational tools.EAGLELIFE Project, Estonia

This project, led by EOS (BirdLife in Estonia) focused on three species listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive: Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina, and the Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga, one of the most threatened eagles in Europe.

The conservation of mosaic landscapes, featuring old-growth forests with large, old trees for nesting and meadows and floodplains for foraging, are essential for these birds. Such habitats are not only rare, but recent changes in rural land-use practices threaten their further existence. The main objective of the project was to preserve and restore these important habitats in five Natura 2000 sites, closely cooperating with landowners and increasing public awareness among local communities. One achievement of the EAGLELIFE project was the establishment of a micro-reserve around each known nest of the target species, if it was outside an existing nature conservation area.

Other successes of the project included gaining new information on the behaviour of these migratory birds using GPS/satellite tracking. Webcams at some nests attracted over 8.3 million visits online and allowed the production of high-quality materials such as a DVD and a booklet.Identification of marine IBAs, Spain and Portugal

The designation of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the marine environment is the next big step on the agenda of many BirdLife Partners and also the EU. While the breeding colonies of marine birds are generally well protected, the definition of marine SPAs at sea is still a gap in the Natura 2000 network.

The projects, led by SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain) and SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) delivered a detailed inventory of marine IBAs for seabirds using objective methodological criteria. The methodology used has now been adopted by other members of BirdLife International as part of a global standard for such surveys.

The results are impressive: 42 marine IBAs in Spain have been identified encompassing 42,883 km2 , or about 5% of the Spanish marine waters. These IBAs provide habitats for 27 different seabirds, including 16 species from Annex I of the Birds Directive.

In Portugal, four IBAs were identified along the Portuguese shore, two IBAs around Madeira, eleven IBAs around the Azores and and nine other areas were classified outside the Portuguese EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).This is the second time for the Portuguese part of the project to be awarded a prestigious award. In 2008 it was granted the Banco Espírito Santo - Biodiversity prize, created with the aim of rewarding and supporting projects and initiatives for research, conservation and management of biological diversity in Portugal.

All completed projects are initially assessed by the LIFE Unit’s external monitoring team (the Astrale consortium). The monitors rank all the projects that end during the reference period to produce a first list of 20-25 "Best" projects. The final selection is undertaken by the Member States, each "Best" project being further evaluated by at least two Member States, and an average score is established (also taking into account the monitors' evaluation). The 5 top-scoring projects are the 5 "Best of the Best" projects.

4th July 2014