Volcanic rock, combined with climatic factors and relief, has created thermophilous habitats in the Lounsk Stedoho hills, especially thermophilous steppic grasslands, dominated by Stipa grasses and rock outcrops with dry pioneer and grassland communities. These habitats host species-rich plant and animal communities with many rare and threatened species, including species of European importance. Many invertebrate species in the Czech Republic are only found in this area, and some of these are endemic. Efforts to protect the remnants of these rare habitats and species led to the establishment of two protected sites in 1936. The area was traditionally used for animal (especially sheep) grazing evidence of grazing dates back to the 13th Century and continued until the 1980s, when there were some 2 500 sheep in the area. However, all sheep were removed from the site in 1991. An immediate consequence of this was the spread of shrubs and the accumulation of dead biomass, leading to significant changes in habitat structure and, subsequently, a rapid decline of endangered species.
The project aimed to help maintain and restore to favourable conservation status of the unique thermophilous habitats and species in the Lounsk Stedoho hills. The project would seek to increase the populations of target species, improve overall species diversity and raise public awareness of thermophilous habitat types and species, their protection, maintenance and sustainable use. The project aimed to target nine habitat types listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive (6210, 6110, 6190, 6510, 40A0, 8150, 8160, 8220, 9180) and four species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive: Stipa zalesskii, Spermophilus citellus, Stenobothrus eurasius and Callimorpha quadripunctaria. In addition, several nationally important butterfly species were targeted.
The project achieved the main objective of significantly improving the conservation status of target habitats and species. This aim was achieved especially by broad restoration and grassland management activities. The large areas of grasslands restored and managed (more than 320 ha) are the main direct environmental benefit. Special measures increased the population of the main target species (souslik) from 150 individuals in 2011 to 500 in 2016 and enlarged the area of the crucial habitat type 6210 by 60 ha. The applied measures have also benefitted non-target species, often threatened ones.
The project was unique in the context of the Czech Republic with its activities - launching, implementation and promotion of management and protection methods of steppe habitats, which include traditional historical farming methods (shrub elimination and grazing as part of farming), but use them for protection of habitats and species. One of its crucial components is working with local farmers, local authorities, NGOs and other stakeholders, experts, academics, school children and wider public, in order to ensure sufficient knowledge of subjects and targets of protection in that territory, the impact of the current management and appropriate ways to manage these sites.
The project team influenced the land management as a result of several action: land purchase (15.71 ha), transfer of the state land (15.11 ha) and leasing the land administered by beneficiary to farmers (98.27 ha), as well as facilitation of the lease contracts between municipalities and farmers (136.63 ha) and assistance in registration of this land for agricultural subsidies (191.64 ha).
Extensive dissemination activities represent another success of the project, which were recognised by a Natura 2000 Award in the ?Communication? category in 2014. A full-day event, ?Celebration of steppes?, is organised annually even after the project. Positive relations, local acceptance of the project and stakeholder cooperation were fostered by intensive and constant communication with local stakeholders and communities, contributing to the sustainability of the project results.
The project had a large impact on the local economy. Before the project sheep breeding was not taking place in the project area, but after the project several hundreds sheep were owned by several farmers who planned to continue breeding. Such a revival created jobs for local people, with local contractors also profiting from the project. Furthermore, that the beneficiary helped local farmers registered their land for agri-environmental subsidies also contribute to the sustainability of the project results. The beneficiary plans to continue project activities using funds from the landscape management and nature conservation programmes.
The project contributed to implementation of the Habitats Directive (measures for species and habitats listed in its annexes), Common Agricultural Policy (registration of farmers for agri-environmental measures), and the EU Biodiversity Strategy (Targets 1, 2, 3, and 6). The project also demonstrated how different types of stakeholders (namely, public authorities at local, regional and national levels, NGOs, private farmers, local communities, etc.) can cooperate to protect and restore the natural values of Natura 2000 sites.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).