The project area, the Western Messara plain, is a former wetland in southern Crete, located on the islands largest aquifer. Surrounded by Natura 2000 sites, it is an area of great cultural, natural and agricultural value, with rich diversity in flora, fauna, geology, landforms, climate and soils. The valley area faces natural pressures mainly due to the dry climate that are expected to increase due to climate change. The widespread occurrence of shallow and/or coarse textured soils, inadequate or excessive drainage, steep slopes subject to erosion, and the annual variations in temperature and rainfall do not favour farming. In spite of this, the areas economy is based on agriculture, with intensive cultivation of a few crops and excessive use of inputs from non-renewable sources.
Land-use changes land clearing, overgrazing and agricultural intensification, along with intensive use of agrochemicals and water irrigation, have had a strong adverse impact on the areas natural resources and ecosystem services. In particular, the intensification of farming has gradually decreased food availability and habitat quality for wildlife.
The project area can be considered a representative example of a degraded ecosystem surrounded by protected areas, where any action taken following the High Nature Value (HNV) farming concept will contribute to an improvement of the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network and to biodiversity conservation.
The main objectives of the LIFE IGIC (biodiversity) project are to develop a green infrastructure (GI) network in agro-ecosystems and to demonstrate its potential at regional, national and EU level. On the one hand, this GI will reduce habitat fragmentation by reconnecting existing natural areas; on the other hand, it will enhance the conservation of biodiversity in the project area.
Specific objectives are to: Develop and maintain a demonstration network of GI components in 30 pilot fields across 10 areas surrounded by the Natura 2000 network to counteract fragmentation; Improve and/or provide the habitats and enhance the conservation status of 17 flora and 30 fauna target species, selected because they are endangered and for the ecosystem services they provide; Provide the basis for scaling up development of GI through the development of approaches targeting stakeholders and decision-makers using e.g. the demonstration value of certification and labelling schemes; a sustainable tourism development approach; and public awareness/educational activities; Develop a proposal for policymakers at EU and national level with regard to specific targets of the Greek national biodiversity strategy and action plan, promoting GI development in non-protected areas and adopting HNV farming; and Assess land use/ecosystems and the habitats/conservation status of the project area.
The project is in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, specifically Target 2, with the priority to enhance and restore degraded ecosystems by testing and then implementing GI actions.
Expected results: Provision of data for assessment and planning of the project areas agricultural and environmental status, regarding GI development and complementary farming methods, including: assessment of the status of agricultural and natural resources; a transferable plan of GI design and application of complementary sustainable farming methods; and a replicable biodiversity monitoring scheme; A pilot network of GI sites demonstrating functional improvement and connectivity with nearby Natura 2000 network sites in terms of biodiversity, especially target species; and enhanced ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, including those important for agro-ecosystems (i.e. pest control, pollination, nutrient provision). This includes the establishment of GI infrastructure (e.g. ponds, stone piles and 300 m of stone walls) and plants (including 28 species of trees, shrubs and annuals); Establishment of sustainable farming methods in the project area, including piloting/demonstrating biodiversity-friendly agricultural management practices on 30 fields; A proposal for the integration of GI development into existing regional/national certification schemes and their market uptake; A proposal and a decision support tool for the implementation of measures for GI development at national and international level; and Enhanced awareness among rural stakeholders, policymakers and the wider public on the GI development and sustainable farming.