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News LIFE REGAIN project helps improve water-related ecosystem services

Denmark's Nature Agency has used LIFE for a number of different projects involved with managing the supply of water-based ecosystem services. A good example is the LIFE REGAIN project (LIFE04/NAT/DK/000022) that used a regional approach on the island of Fyn to improving water quality in the River Odense and Odense Fjord.

Annita Svendsen was part of the LIFE project’s team and she describes its background saying, “The REGAIN project was designed to help reduce the amount of nitrates that were leaching from the fields through the river systems and out into the Baltic Sea at the fjord. We wanted to take a regional approach that involved carrying out coordinated actions in different parts of the island that would combine to create synergies for tackling the nitrification problem.”

“Inland areas were selected along the River Odense for restoring more natural hydrological conditions and coastal habitats were also included in the project. The river works targeted improvements to the conservation status for endangered EU species like thick shelled river mussels (Unio crassus),brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri), and two species of protected snails (Vertiego moulinsiana and 
Cobitis taenia

“Along the fjord coast we wanted to improve the conservation status of important meadow habitats that were threatened by overgrowth and drainage and this area is also used by birds that are protected by EU law such as the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) and Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope).”

REGAIN received a Best of the Best LIFE Nature project prize in 2012 and much of the project’s main physical works took place inland on the island near the village of Nr. Broby. Here is where the project achieved some significant outcomes in terms of establishing effective ways of including farmers in the process of improving water quality.

Mrs Svendsen notes that, “This was a really big achievement and we think it is probably part of the reason why the project has received such good attention. In Denmark, most of our NATURA sites are on private land and we do not have the same amount of national parks or public nature conservation areas as other countries have. This means we need to find appropriate ways of getting private landowners like farmers involved in nature conservation. It is challenging but we have had some good tools at our disposal, one of these is of course LIFE.”

Coffee power

Mrs Svendsen observes with a smile that a key tool for achieving the project’s outcomes is coffee. “We Danes drink a lot of coffee and it took a lot of meetings with farmers to finalise the structure for the LIFE project’s conservation agreements. During these meetings we drunk a lot of coffee and the results have been enormously advantageous.”

“Our approach to involving farmers in the conservation process is very participatory and we believe this is the best way to achieve outcomes that the farmers feel ownership of. The participatory process also means that we all properly understand each others’ priorities and needs from the beginning. The knowledge we gained from this technique through REGAIN has been indispensable and we are able to replicate it in other habitat restoration projects.”

A further interesting aspect of the REGAIN project that the LIFE team intend to replicate elsewhere is the collective approach to habitat management that was demonstrated during the project. A ‘grazing guild’ was formed by a group of landowners who worked with the LIFE project to develop a territorial-style method for habitat management. Mrs Svendsen states that, “We want to encourage more landowners to make use of the EU funds that encourage collective approaches to nature conservation.”

“We find that our partnership with the grazing guild continues to be a very efficient method of operating. It has generated unexpected outcomes such as the farmers making a voluntary arrangement to allow public access to the wetland sites. This may not have happened without LIFE’s initial intervention.”

Outcomes of the coffee meetings with landowners and grazing guild members led to agreements being made that allowed long-term changes in the river catchment habitat, including reintroducing two kilometres of natural meanders, riparian zones, ponds and other wetland features.

Around 350 hectares of priority habitat were covered by the LIFE project’s nature conservation activity where extensive approaches to grassland and wetland management are now practiced. The LIFE team estimate that this helps to retain around 60 tonnes of nitrates in the landscape each year, and thus prevents it from leaching into the Baltic Sea where it has had an adverse effect on water quality.

REGAIN’s coordinated actions along the Baltic coast were also achieved through the same type of participatory approach with farmers. Here the LIFE team were able to encourage farmers to introduce extensive cattle grazing as a business diversification option that would help manage the coast’s high nature value meadow habitats.

Integration benefits

Mrs Svendsen reports that, “REGAIN was one of 13 projects chosen by the EU to explore how NATURA designations can complement the Water Framework Directive (WFD). This was important because in Denmark we could do more to improve the way that authorities work together. Organisations responsible for reducing nutrient levels in watercourses for example may often tend to work independently on their tasks, and people who work with biodiversity also often work mainly with other nature conservation initiatives.”

“LIFE demonstrated how NATURA can integrate well with the WFD and I think that could be an important mission for LIFE elsewhere as well. Our project highlights the benefits that can be gained if we take a more holistic viewpoint. This makes sense because the more reasons we have to carry out nature conservation work the stronger our argument is for winning the essential funding.”

“These justifications are particularly important at times of economic crises and we believe that holistic approaches can be used to generate socio-economic outcomes from nature conservation. We are now looking to see how we can use LIFE for testing, validating and explaining this type of integrated project approach. We are aware that there is a lot of competition for new LIFE project funding and we have been following the discussions which are steering LIFE to becoming more of a catalyst for bigger integrated projects.”

“REGAIN highlighted how successes can be achieved using LIFE to lever in additional actions for nature conservation through links with rural development and the WFD, but we now want to see how we can extend these positive outcomes to bring in other possible partners.”

“One area with potential is climate action. We have seen our weather becoming wetter during the summer and an increase in flash flood threats pose problems for our towns and villages. Wetland habitats provide natural flood management functions and so we are exploring how climate adaptation action could be integrated within LIFE support for habitat conservation and/or vice versa.”

“Rural tourism is one more sector which could be integrated within biodiversity projects. This is something that LIFE can help contribute to by integrating facilities for visitors in habitat conservation proposals. We did this through REGAIN and similar approaches should prove fruitful for boosting the overall budget of an integrated LIFE project.”

“This is good because it can help to refute common misconceptions about NATURA being a potential problem for business, and it can highlight the real value of NATURA as an effective tool for long-term environmentally-sustainable development that everyone can benefit from.”

Such conclusions, combined with the project’s success at facilitating water quality improvements, are a fitting reason for REGAIN being awarded a Best of the Best LIFE Nature prize for 2011.

Contact information n/a
News type Inbrief
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Source of information EC DG Environment - LIFE
Keyword(s) EU-LIFE
Geographical coverage Denmark
News date 12/10/2012
Working language(s) ENGLISH