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LIFE thematic report on forests now online

A new in-depth thematic report on LIFE and forests has just been published. Authored by An Bollen and Darline Velghe from the LIFE programme’s external monitoring team, the 118-page publication gives an insight into the diversity of LIFE+ forest projects, analyses revealing trends and evaluates their overall relevance to EU forest policy.

The Forest Thematic Report is intended to provide useful insights for EU decision- and policy-makers, to share lessons learned amongst project practitioners, to disseminate results more broadly, to showcase projects for future LIFE applicants, to account for spending of EU public funds and to raise awareness on new approaches.

The report looks at 134 forest-related projects that started between 2006 and 2013, drawn from the ENV, NAT, BIO and INF strands of the LIFE programme. These are divided into seven thematic groups (restoration and conservation; invasive alien species and pests; monitoring; fire prevention; awareness raising; climate mitigation and adaptation; and renewable energy and resource efficiency) and links to the eight priority areas within the EU forest strategy (2013) are highlighted. In addition, the report includes the results of a SWOT analysis of the featured projects, reaches overall conclusions and presents a future outlook.

LIFE’s strengths with regard to forests include the fact that NAT projects focusing on habitat restoration and species conservation more often than not result in an improvement of the conservation status of different target habitats and species, thereby contributing to a better Natura 2000 network. Furthermore, one-third of all projects demonstrate an increased biodiversity of forest ecosystems and an improved connectivity between forest habitats. Some 8% of all the NAT projects assessed were trans-boundary forest-related projects, promoting increased connectivity between protected areas at a much wider level.

Another feature of LIFE projects is their emphasis on increased stakeholder consultation and involvement, embedding local support during and after projects and utilising cost-effective citizen science.

Several projects have developed forest management plans that take into account the increasing impact of climate change and that increase resilience overall. LIFE has also shown the way through projects that promote the value of traditional agro-sylvo-pastoral practices in sustainable forest management, highlighting how it is possible to combine low-intensity agriculture with forest conservation and, in so doing, improve the quality of life in rural areas.

LIFE has played an important role in capacity building at project beneficiaries and partners and the authors note also that one of the strengths of LIFE is that is has provided a platform for more private companies to take the first steps towards a bio-based economy. A further strength is that several projects have focused on resource efficiency, either through the implementation of innovative techniques for improved wood durability or by implementing the principle of cascade use of forest resources, which prioritises re-use and recycling of wood.

Amongst the opportunities relating to LIFE and forests, the authors identify potential for the creation of more green jobs, the possibility of increasing the leverage effect of LIFE by attracting more additional funding, the technical leverage effect of innovative environmental technologies, the chance to identify business opportunities to invest in forest ecosystems, and the opportunity for LIFE projects to directly contribute to or influence policy development. “Nature should be considered as a driving force for socio-economic development in rural areas,” the authors conclude.

The report is available to download: LIFE thematic report on forests.