It began in 1992 with 731 projects, and has now contributed to over 5,400 projects across the EU and even beyond. The LIFE Programme has already had a big impact on the ground, helping preserve our biodiversity, saving hundreds of species and their habitats.
It will also help us meet some of the objectives of the EU Green Deal on restoring and preserving natural habitats and biodiversity not just in Europe but in the world. Our environment, our natural jewels, our seas and oceans, must be conserved and protected. With our Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, we aim to establish protected areas for at least 30% of the land, plant 3 billion trees, reduce the risk and usage of pesticides, restore rivers and, halt and reverse the decline of pollinators.
As our LIFE programme, turns 28 it is a good moment to look back at some of the projects that have made a difference.
Here is just a brief overview of our top ten projects:
1. European bison
The European bison is the continent’s largest wild land mammal and an important species for biodiversity. Once widespread across Europe, it was driven to extinction in the early 20th century by hunting and habitat loss. But now it’s making a comeback in Romania thanks to a reintroduction programme and the pioneering LIFE Bison project, which has carried out several bison releases since 2016.
2. Saimaa Seal
Confined since the last ice age to the freshwaters of Lake Saimaa in Eastern Finland, the endangered Saimaa ringed seal needs a peaceful place to breed in winter. LIFE Saimaa Seal helped increase the seal population from about 310 to 370 by addressing some of its main threats: fishing gear, diminishing snowfall, and man-made disturbances.
3. Northern Bald Ibis
It has been nearly 400 years since the last Northern Bald Ibis migrated in Europe from their summer breeding to wintering grounds.
A unique cross-border LIFE project now works to reintroduce the critically endangered species with a very unique method: A man in microlight aircraft flies over Alps with dozens of birds following him to teach them their long-forgotten migration path.
4. Siberian flying squirrel
The Siberian flying squirrel is under threat from habitat loss due to farming, but help is at hand. The ongoing LIFE Flying Squirrel project aims to increase the population in Finland by up to 50% and the number of habitats in Estonia by more than 20%.
5. Capricorn beetle
The great Capricorn beetle is extinct on the Swedish mainland but is considered a key species. It creates habitats for other species, supports natural decay of old trees, and offers an important food source for other animals. LIFE Bridging the Gap is reintroducing the beetle as part of a project to improve the conservation status of degraded wooded pastures and meadow habitats.
6. Red-breasted Goose
LIFE Safe Ground Redbreasts has put an end to the local killing of red-breasted geese in Bulgaria by tagging them with GPS transmitters. Deaths are now near-zero thanks to intensive work with farmers, hunters and public authorities across its migration route.
7. Iberian Lynx
The Iberian lynx is the most threatened carnivorous mammal in Europe due to various rabbit epidemics and loss of habitat. Since 1994 however, 29 LIFE Nature projects in Spain and Portugal have taken steps to halt its extinction through managed breeding, release and protection. Numbers have tripled in just one decade.
8. Hungarian Meadow Viper
The Hungarian meadow viper was nearly wiped out due to agricultural pressures and a shift towards intensive cultivation. LIFE projects buck the trend by reinforcing and reconnecting small populations to help prevent its extinction.
9. Danube Sturgeon
Danube sturgeons have outlived the dinosaurs, but they are now the most threatened fish species worldwide. LIFE For Danube Sturgeons is working with law enforcement to set and uphold fishing bans, and supporting fishing communities to find alternative incomes.
10. Yelkouan Shearwater
The main threats to ground-nesting seabird the Yelkouan shearwater include rubbish and the resulting rats that eat the eggs and young chicks. Several LIFE projects have improved the breeding success of this species, to secure its future in the Mediterranean. In Malta, for example, the LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project is working to reduce littering close to colonies.