LIFE is beautiful...in Italy
Our Italian partner LIPU has been awarded one of the EU’s most prestigious nature prizes – ‘Best LIFE Project’ - for their stunning work to create an ecological corridor between the Campo dei Fiori massif and Ticino Park in Lombardy.
Life, as they say in Italy, is beautiful – La vita è bella. And where better to find the truth in this than amongst the vast chestnut and beech woods of the Campo dei Fiori massif in Lombardy’s Varese province, where wild boar and roe deer roam in idyllic setting. Or amongst the natural riches of the fauna-filled heaths, arboreal woods, streams and lowland forests of the Po Valley’s Ticino Park. Yes, life here is beautiful. And now the EU has deemed ‘LIFE’ here to be offically the ‘Best’!
LIFE is the European Union’s fund for nature, the environment and climate protection. Since 1992, it has invested more than three billion EURO across more than 4,500 nature conservation, climate action and green technology projects. BirdLife national partners across Europe have spearheaded many of its most iconic inititives, bringing new hope to countless critical habitats and threatened species. This past week, special recognition was bestowed on the work of our Italian partner, LIPU (Lega italiana protezione uccelli). At the EU’s annual LIFE Awards ceremony on 23 May, LIPU was the deserved recipient of a prestigious ‘Best Life Project’ prize for its successful creation of an ecological corridor between the neighboring, yet quite distinct, ‘bioregions’ of pre-Alpine Varese and continental Ticino.
Like countless other densely-populated areas around Europe, the northern Italian region of Lombardy has been adversely affected by human activity, resulting in habitat fragmentation and destruction, and in turn biodiversity loss. The regional authority has been trying to tackle these problems through the creation of a regional ecological network – Rete Ecological Regionale (RER). Though the 15,000 ha area between Campo dei Fiori and Ticino Park includes no less than 14 Natura 2000 sites, it was nonetheless considered to be the RER’s weak link. Many native species depend on this route connecting the Alps and the Apennines as their only means of dispersal. But human interference forced local fauna to run a veritable gaunlett of man-made obstacles – from electric cables and barriers to compromised road and river crossings.
And so in 2011, LIPU joined forces with the Province of Varese, Lombardy Region – with the support of the Cariplo Foundation to launch LIFE TIB (Trans Insubria Bionet). With the over-arching goals of encouraging the safe movement of target local species in the face of an often hostile environment, this ambitious four-year project had to get innovative from the start. A system of new underpasses under main roads was specially constructed to facilitate the movement of locally endemic species of toads and frogs as well as smaller mammals like the European pine marten; while three existing culverts were adapted along waterways for the movement of wolves and other larger mammals.
Meanwhile, some 400 m of dry stone walls – and a further 295 m of existing walls – were newly erected or renovated to shelter amphibians, reptiles and small mammals. Insects were certainly not forgotten, with the installation of 150 luxury insect hotels, or log pyramids, catering for Hermit and Stag beetles.
Birds, of course, were high on the list of priority species with countless enigmatic species making their homes here: Black woodpecker, Marsh tit, Western Marsh harrier, Little bittern, as well as the Purple, Black-Crowned Night and Grey species of heron. 541 nest boxes were installed as well as essential bird-deterrent devices along more than 5 km of power lines.
The success of these conservation actions has surpassed the wildest expectations – local fauna is once again enjoying the freedom of moment they were born to know. For the dedicated team of conservationists leading the project, to see nature bounce back like this before their eyes is its own reward. But at the same time, it is fantastic to see LIFE TIB recognized by the EU as one the ‘Best’ LIFE projects! Yes indeed, LIFE here is beautiful.
LIFE TIB is co-funded by the European Commission’s LIFE fund for nature and the Cariplo Foundation, the project was coordinated thanks to the efforts of the Province of Varese, LIPU, and the Lombardy Region.
Visit the project website: http://www.lifetib.it/En/index.html
Gui-Xi Young - Editor & Campaigns Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia