Areas of flower-rich meadows and other non-forest habitats, crucial for the survival of butterfly species of Community importance, still exist in three mountain ranges: the White Carpathian (Bílé/Biele Karpaty) mountains in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Lower Carpathians (Malé Karpaty) in Slovakia, and the Pova?ský Inovec mountains in Slovakia.
The project area, which is the largest area of species-rich meadows in Central Europe, hosts very rich fauna and provides important refuges for rare and endangered invertebrate species (especially insects and arachnids). Most of the land targeted in the Moravian (Czech) part of the project area is privately owned and used by large agricultural holdings. However, some of it is managed by conservation associations and land trusts and some consists of small family farms. Parts are also unmanaged and subject to successional processes. On the Slovak side, most of the target area has unsettled ownership and is currently unmanaged. The targeted butterfly species often occur in areas encroached by shrubs and tall grasses, but the survival of viable populations depends on appropriate grassland and landscape management.
The ?Butterflies CZ-SK? LIFE project aimed to introduce, test and promote patchwork management, which is considered essential for the conservation of rare or threatened butterfly species. It would work to actively protect non-forest habitats and (butterfly) species of Community and national importance by applying suitable management practices, and by maintaining and restoring the species and habitats to a favourable conservation status. This in turn, would contribute to halting the loss of biodiversity and strengthening of the Natura 2000 network in the project area.
The project would also propose and test new agri-environmental measures to enable the inclusion of excluded areas under the agricultural subsidy scheme (c. 900 ha affected). Ten threatened butterfly species of the Habitats Directive would be targeted [e.g. the Annex II-listed Danube clouded yellow (Colias myrmidone), and Annex IV-listed large blue butterfly (Maculinea arion)] and 15 habitat types of Community importance [e.g. ?lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)?, ?petrifying springs with tufa formation (Cratoneurion)?, and ?semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia)?] , the latter also providing important orchid sites. Special conservation measures would be carried out on these butterfly species and their meta-populations. Actions would also be carried out to raise awareness about the conservation value of non-forest habitats and their biodiversity.
The Butterflies CZ-SK project achieved its main objective, i.e. the active protection of non-forest habitats and (butterfly) species of Community and national importance ? applying suitable management practices, and maintaining and restoring these species and habitats to a favourable conservation status. This in turn, contributed to halting of the loss of biodiversity and to strengthening the Natura 2000 network.
An important success was the large area of targeted grassland habitats restored (282 hectares) and managed (8 398 ha). The LIFE team successfully developed and implemented special grassland management measures for the target butterfly species and succeeded in incorporating them into the national agri-environmental programme. Moreover, effective dissemination actions helped promote both the project and the LIFE programme and also raised the public awareness and partnerships within the project area. The machinery and equipment bought by the project for grassland management, together with trained staff and the involvement of local stakeholders, also provided an important stimulus for continued grassland maintenance.
A main environmental benefit was an increase overall, of the populations of rare butterflies. Here, monitoring confirmed an increase in population of some species, while in other cases, there was a stable trend. However, it was concluded that more time was needed after-LIFE, for a proper assessment of the long term impacts on the butterfly populations. Restoration of their habitats and enhanced connectivity represented further significant project achievements. The project team developed and proposed a new agri-environmental measure for the target butterfly species aimed at mosaic management of their grassland habitats. This measure was incorporated into the Rural Development Programme and is therefore, now available for farmers across the whole Czech Republic. Activities carried out aimed at testing, introducing and promoting mosaic management (essential for sustainable conservation of the butterfly species) also had a significant demonstration value. This was the first such project in the Czech and Slovak republics allowing implementation of the management methodologies across large areas. It suitably combined traditional and innovative methods for the management of non-forest habitats in the regions.
Work with local farmers, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders was another important and essential part of the project?s demonstration activities helping to ensure awareness of: (i) conservation objects and goals of the project in the area concerned, (ii) impacts of the current management, and (iii) methods of management suitable for the sites.
The project also helped create some jobs locally ? firstly, during the project, but some of a long-term nature, e.g. for carrying out follow-up maintenance of grasslands by local farmers and owners. The restored grasslands are now eligible for agricultural subsidies and the local farmers can use them to support their economy and to maintain the grasslands in conditions suitable for butterflies and also to enhance overall biodiversity. Operating the machinery and the daily care of grazing animals bought with project funds also required some permanent or temporary jobs. One of the partners, also expected to generate income in the future from breeding of the animals and sale of fruits from planted trees. The plan was to put any revenues back into activities for grassland and orchards maintenance.
Finally, looking ahead, under the after-LIFE conservation plan, all partners have pledged to continue the management of valuable grassland habitats (to a similar extent as under the project) and the equipment, machinery and animals bought during the project will be used for this.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).