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LIFE improving the conservation status of species and habitats

Article 17 of the Habitats Directive requires Member States to submit information on its progress in implementationevery six years. The latest reports, covering 2001-2006, contain a first assessment of the conservation status of more than 1182 species and 216 habitat types. This is the most comprehensive survey of EU biodiversity undertaken to date, providing an invaluable reference point for measuring future trends. The results show that Europe's biodiversity is still under heavy pressure, and that only a small proportion of the habitats and species of Community interest are in a favourable conservation status. These findings highlight the urgent need to intensify ecological restoration efforts. Where substantial restoration work has been carried out, it often shows measurable and positive impacts on conservation status. The LIFE programme has been the most visible EU financial instrument dedicated to nature conservation since 1992. LIFE Nature projects are now well-known across the EU (with more than 1100 projects financed) and are favourably perceived at local level. Their positive contribution has been shown beyond doubt for different types of
habitat and species. Several specific habitats or species whose conservation status, as reported by the Member States, is improving have been targeted by LIFE Nature projects. The link between LIFE projects and improved conservation status has been shown in several cases (for example,
the Spanish lynx and peatlands and bogs in several Member States). It is also clear that LIFE projects have helped develop and demonstrate best practice that has subsequently been applied to similar situations elsewhere in Europe, and have made a significant contribution to setting in place the Natura 2000 network and its management. The overall contribution of LIFE Nature projects remains, however, difficult to quantify as it is heavily dependent on the scale and timeframe of the project actions as well as on the distributions of the species and habitats. Most projects only target species and habitats at a local or regional scale, usually on one or a few Natura 2000 sites,
although some have covered the complete distribution range (for example, endemic species and habitats with a restricted distribution). For many projects, the full impact will only be seen after several years or even decades. The objective of this publication is to provide an overview of the contribution LIFE Nature projects have made to improving the conservation status of a considerable range of species and habitats covered by the Habitats Directive. It must be stressed that this brochure does not aim to show that reported improvements in conservation status are necessarily linked to LIFE projects. Nature simply does not often react that fast and LIFE projects are not the only nature restoration projects working on the ground. It is however certain that LIFE Nature and
biodiversity projects will continue to play a vital role in reversing the decline of biodiversity in the EU.