LIFE is the financial instrument of the European Union, established to support projects for the conservation of the environment and nature in the whole territory of the European Union, as well as in some third countries, which are neighbouring and/or candidates for entry into the European Union. Since 1992, LIFE has co-financed around 3115 projects, allocating 2 billion to protecting the environment.
The main aim of the "Nature and Biodiversity" LIFE programme is to contribute to the conservation of species or habitats of Community interest living within the territory of the European Union.
Natura 2000 is an ecological network of protected sites (currently called pSCIs - proposed Sites of Community Interest) spread throughout the entire territory of the European Union and established under the "Habitat" Directive 92/43/EEC and "Birds" Directive 2009/147/EC, with the aim of ensuring the long-term maintenance of natural habitats and endangered or rare species of flora and fauna at Community level.
Once fully operational, the Natura 2000 network will consist of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) established by Member States under the terms of the Habitat Directive, and will also include the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) set up under the "Birds" Directive 79/409/EC.
The areas that make up the Natura 2000 network are not rigidly protected reserves where human activities are entirely prohibited: the Habitats Directive aims to guarantee the protection of nature while also taking into account economic, social and cultural requirements, as well as regional and local characteristics.
Private citizens can own Natura 2000 sites, but must guarantee sustainable management both from an economic and ecological point of view. In fact, the "Habitats" Directive recognizes the value of all those areas in which the age-old presence of mankind and man's traditional activities has enabled the maintenance of a balance between human activities and nature. For example, agricultural areas play host to numerous animal and plant species that have now become rare and threatened, and which depend on the continuation and valorisation of traditional activities, such as grazing or non-intensive agriculture, for their survival. The title of the Directive itself specifies the goal of conserving not only natural also semi-natural habitats (like the areas of traditional agricultural, woods used, pastures, etc.).
Another innovative element is recognition of the importance of several landscape elements that play a connecting role between wild flora and fauna. Member States are invited to maintain or, where necessary, develop these elements in order to improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network. In Italy, thepSCIs and SPAs currently in the stages of final approval cover a total of 20% of the national territory.
For more information on Natura 2000 sites in Italy, see the specific web pages on the Ministry of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea internet site: Web site Natura 2000
Information on the Natura 2000 network in other EU countries can be found on the European site: Natura 2000 Network: Rete Natura 2000
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