The project would be implemented on two Natura 2000 sites: The Gravine di Matera site, which is part of a 6 000 ha regional archaeological park, and the Lago S. Giuliano e Timmari site, a 1 000 ha nature reserve along the banks of the artificial lake San Giuliano. The sites are hunting grounds for the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni), a priority bird for the European Community. Around 500 couples – 25% of the Italian and 3% of the estimated European population – live in the urban fabric of Matera and Montescaglioso. The Lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus), another priority bird, is present at the sites with two couples (10% of the regional and 1% of the national population). The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is also present with two couples (50% of the regional and 13% of the national population). Finally, the sites also host 3-4 couples of red kite (Milvus milvus) (3-4% of the regional and 50% of national population). The last three mentioned species are considered endangered or at risk of extinction in Italy.
The project objective was to improve the conservation status of the threatened raptors in the Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Sites of Community Interest (SCI) Gravine di Matera and Lago di S. Giuliano e Timmari in the Province of Matera. The main aim was to safeguard (and increase the size of) the most important Italian population of lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) and to ease its cohabitation with the inhabitants of the towns of Matera and Montescaglioso. The project aimed also implement actions to protect the threatened populations of Lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and red kite (Milvus milvus), among others through the drawing up of a wider strategy to protect the Egyptian vulture at Italian and European level.
The project was implemented in Matera and Montescaglioso, two small towns in Basilicata (southern Italy). It focused on the improvement of the protection measures for lesser kestrel and other birds of prey species. A massive campaign to encourage the citizens and the institutions to install artificial nests on their buildings was implemented in both towns with excellent results. This aspect of the project has high demonstration value and the design of the artificial nests represents a useful innovation.
However, the proposed modifications to the urban building codes (prescribing the presence of roof tiles and cavities in the renovated or new buildings as nesting sites for lesser kestrel) were approved by only one of the two municipalities. The two towns stand to benefit from the increase in nature tourism as a result of the protected bird species.
The rehabilitation centre established by the project is fully operational and is being used to host injured or fallen birds prior to their release. But the three charnels established by the project were yet to be operating at the end of the project. The province will, however, ensure that these charnels are up and running in the future.
The project produced excellent dissemination materials and organised two relevant conferences on the target species. ‘A National Conservation Plan for Egyptian Vulture’ was drawn up by the project and published by the Italian Ministry of Environment. The actual impact of the project on the target species is difficult to assess, but certainly the project contributed to increase the public awareness on the importance of the target species and of the needed conservation measures.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).
In 2018, an ex-post visit was carried out by the external monitoring team, 9 years after the project’s completion. This concluded that the project had improved knowledge and awareness of the conservation status of the target species, by involving citizens and the local authorities in project actions such as the identification of lesser kestrel nesting sites and the rescue of injured birds. It established a regional point of reference for the conservation of birds, and identified long-term conservation strategies for the protection of the lesser kestrel and Egyptian vulture. The ex-post found that the project had improved the fitness of the local population of lesser kestrel. The rescue centre also had positive impacts on the conservation of the red kite, as 10 individuals were treated there (2009-2017), and the species was a regular visitor to the charnels established by the project. The project provided best practice and inspiration for other projects, mainly targeting the conservation of the lesser kestrel and Egyptian vulture in southern Italy. The project’s activities are continuing thanks to the funds of the Province of Matera (the project beneficiary), the Region, and the follow-up LIFE project on the conservation of the Egyptian vulture.