Summary of the Wetlands Green Life Conference

Krótkie podsumowanie Konferencji Wetlands Green Life

On May 9, 2023. A conference was held at the Arche Krakowska Hotel in Warsaw to open a conservation project called “Restoration and conservation of wetlands, peatlands and wetlands in Natura 2000 and Green Infrastructure areas”(Wetlands Green Life, LIFE21). The program itself officially launched on December 1 last year. Its contractors are the Bureau of Forest Management and Geodesy (the consortium leader), the General Directorate of Environmental Protection and the T. G. S. University of Agriculture. Hugo Kołłątaj in Cracow.

Numerous speakers at Wetlands Green Life conference a way to take a comprehensive look at the role of wetlands

The Wetlands Green Life Conference was opened by Chief Nature Conservator Malgorzata Golinska, stressing that the role of wetlands in the policy of preserving biodiversity and combating climate change is obvious to the participants of the meeting, but still needs to be promoted beyond specialists. The speakers were dominated by representatives of the administration and related institutions – GDOŚ, State Forests from BULiGL and the Ministry of Agriculture. The scientific community was represented by Professors Cezary Kabała of the Wrocław University of Life Sciences and Jarosław Lasota of the Cracow University of Agriculture. In addition to the panel of presenters, attendees included. Representatives of non-governmental organizations, universities and research institutes (e.g., the Center for Wetlands Protection, Warsaw University, SGGW), as well as the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, which coordinates the monitoring of species and natural habitats.

EU support key to achieving project goals

Wetlands Green Life is an integrated project funded by the LIFE Fund – the largest of its kind in Poland. Its budget, two-thirds financed by European funds and one-third by the National Environmental Protection and Water Management Fund, is nearly €36 million. The expected period of operation is ten years. The purpose of the project is summarized in its title. It is intended to serve the implementation of the Priority Action Framework for Natura 2000 for 2021 – 2027 adopted by the GDOŚ and accepted by the European Commission. This is important because, to date, some of the planned conservation tasks for areas of the system could not be implemented due to lack of funds.

Proper definition of water-dependent ecosystems the first step to their protection

Natura 2000 areas are not in isolation, actions will be taken outside them as well. For the purposes of the project, the natural habitats of the Natura 2000 system, lying outside the protected areas, but instead within the ecological corridors connecting these areas, were called green infrastructure.

There are more than a dozen types of natural habitats in the Wetlands Green Life project area of interest, which are referred to as water-dependent ecosystems in aquatic nomenclature. They form three groups: bogs, swamp and riparian forests and wet meadows, including salt marshes. The last group also includes fresh meadows, which are not usually considered wetlands, and the penultimate group includes fertile alders, which, despite being swamp forests, are not so classified in the Natura 2000 system.

The project does not include strictly aquatic habitats and riparian portions, which are considered wetlands by at least the Ramsar Convention. Objections, regarding definitional differences and the resulting estimates of the areas occupied by wetlands defined differently, appeared in almost every speech. Nevertheless, there is a consensus that only about a quarter or so of such habitats are protected under the Natura 2000 system in Poland, and it is necessary to extend this protection, or at least to adequately identify them outside the system.

Wetlands Green Life project action plans

Accordingly, plans for project activities were presented at the conference. They are to include restoration activities, increasing water retention of the so-called “water retention”. green, i.e. bound in terrestrial ecosystems before it flows into surface waters, such as blocking drainage ditches or active protection measures to counteract overgrowth of open peatlands. In some cases, this will involve buying up private land and turning it over to conservation institutions for management. Finally, educational activities will be carried out, including the launch of postgraduate programs. The latter task is planned to be carried out by UR in Krakow, one of the project’s consortium members.

Meanwhile, complementary activities, i.e., those that do not stem from the Wetlands Green Life project, are, for example, the work of the Ministry of Agriculture within the framework of agricultural policy. The new subsidies are intended to serve, among other things. improving water retention in fields and “wastelands,” including subsidies for sustaining land flooding. The second group of activities, in turn, is to be undertaken by the State Forests as a continuation of small-scale forest retention development programs outside the project areas.

In this context, there was a distinct lack among the conference participants of representatives of the Polish Waters, whose actions will also have an impact – sometimes positive, but sometimes negative – on the effects of the project. In the discussion, voices were raised about a possible conflict between restoration and maintenance work. On the other hand, the good state of preservation of forests and riparian meadows coincides with the goals enshrined in the European Biodiversity Strategy 2030 to recover 25,000 km of free rivers.

Such a minimum length of watercourses devoid of barriers, not only lateral, but also longitudinal (i.e., strong bank reinforcements, for example), is envisioned by the European Commission, and the achievement of this goal will soon be placed precisely before European offices and quasi-offices such as Wody Polskie.

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