Umbria is one of the smallest Italian regions (almost 8 500 km2). Located in a transition area between the Mediterranean and Continental biogeographical regions, it is highly heterogeneous and rich in environmental diversity. This is due to a large variety of rock types, a wide altitude range (about 2 400 m), a wide spectrum of climatic conditions and historical human settlements, mainly concentrated on the major plains. The regional Natura 2000 network is made up of 102 sites (5 special protection areas and 97 special areas of conservation), accounting for 16% of the regional territory which translates into a total area of about 140 000 ha. The regions Natura 2000 sites host 41 habitats of community interest (including 11 priority habitat types), as well as 143 animal species (4 priority) and 8 plant species of community interest. In order to meet the conservation objectives, ensure the networks ecological coherence and contribute to regional development objectives, Regione Umbria drafted an integrated, unified and participative management strategy. This was achieved through the SUNLIFE project (LIFE13 NAT/IT/000371, which ended in 2018), coordinated by the regional authority. SUNLIFE formed the basis for this integrated project as it identified the critical elements and potential actions to be taken in terms of nature conservation and integration of conservation measures into various regional policies.
LIFE IMAGINE UMBRIAs main objective is to create an integrated management system to achieve the conservation objectives of the EUs Habitats and Birds directives in an economically and technically sustainable way. Management policies and actions will be developed, aiming at: i) the proactive management of habitats and species; ii) the coherence of the Natura 2000 network and areas in between (ecological and landscape connectivity); iii) the training of professionals for the management of the Natura 2000 network; and iv) the involvement of citizens.
A prioritised action framework (PAF) designed within the SUNLIFE project already defines the type of measures to be implemented through LIFE IMAGINE UMBRIA to achieve the regions priorities. These priorities are: i) improving governance, integration and harmonisation of regional plans and regulations for proper management of the Natura 2000 network; ii) maintaining and improving the conservation status of habitats and species, including climate change mitigation and adaptation measures; iii) increasing awareness of and information about Natura 2000 areas; and iv) monitoring the conservation status of habitats and species protected by the Habitats and Birds directives. LIFE IMAGINE UMBRIA will therefore help meet the obligations of the Habitats Directive including the PAF, a strategic planning tool for detailing the measures needed to implement the Natura 2000 network and its associated green infrastructure. The project will also contribute to the implementation of the EUs Birds Directive and Invasive Alien Species Regulation as well as to the regional strategy for the management of the Natura 2000 network (for the period 2015-2020).
In addition to the project budget, LIFE IMAGINE UMBRIA will facilitate the coordinated use of an estimated 26 million in complementary funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).