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SaveGREEN - A closure to a chapter. SaveGREEN holds its final conference on ecological connectivity in Vienna

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Dec. 23, 2022
Petko Tzvetkov from BBF and representatives of the associated partner from South-West State Enterprise (SWSE) took part in the final conference for ecological connectivity, which presented the outcomes of SaveGREEN project activities. It was held in a prestigious venue, the building of the Ministry of Climate Action in Veinna between 6 and 7th of December. The Conference was officially launched with a welcome speech held by Mag.a Sabine  Kühschelm, Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action. Ms. Kühschelm highlighted the importance of maintaining and preserving ecological corridors and expressed her gratitude on behalf of the Ministry to be part of SaveGREEN as an Associated Strategic Partner. The cross-sectoral collaboration endeavours of SaveGREEN were also appreciated, while the standardised monitoring method was highlighted as one of the most important results of the project. 
The second welcome speech was made by Andreas Beckmann, Regional CEO of WWF-CEE, the SaveGREEN Lead Partner and the main host of the event. In his speech, Mr. Beckmann expressed his gratitude for all actors making SaveGREEN and its antecedent projects a reality, highlighting the enthusiastic and professional work WWF CEE’s employees, project partners, ASPs and expressed his gratitude for Interreg for the funding. The speech also reflected on the ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis,  Mr. Beckmann emphasized the importance of ecological connectivity. It’s critical to ensure the functionality of ecological corridors between protected areas. SaveGREEN’s work was also acknowledged as it contributes to tackling the biodiversity crisis and making sure that ecological connectivity is taken into account in the participating countries.  
The second thematic block on day 1 was dedicated to the results of the SaveGREEN project.

The lead manager of the project, Hildegard Meyer, WWF-CEE, set the stage with a recap of the past 2,5 years. Ms. Meyer briefly introduced the role of SaveGREEN in fostering cross-sectoral, transnational and local cooperation, while highlighting the main aims and objectives of the project in improving, restoring and preserving the functionality of key ecological corridors of the Danube basin. Along the presentation, the pilot areas and pilot partners were introduced and the main results, such as the standardised monitoring methodology, the basics of the local cross-sectoral plans and capacity building were summarised, which provided the background for the Joint Declaration on ecological connectivity in the Danube-Carpathian region. The main takeaway message of the presentation was how collaboration is key in ensuring ecological connectivity in the region. 

The following presentation of the second panel was presented by Florian Danzinger, Environment Agency Austria on the  “Standardized Methodology for Assessing Functionality of Ecological Corridors & the Application Toolbox”.  The presentation introduced the differences between structural and functional connectivity and explained the monitoring process concept through the Pöttsching pilot area, explained the preparation of monitoring plans and the monitoring approach. Finally, Mr. Danzinger highlighted that it’s nice to have green bridges, but we always have to look on the surrounding landscape and the need for targeted restoration of degraded landscapes over the entire bottleneck area situation. 

The next presentation was on the Cross Sectoral Operational Plans and SaveGREEN's work in its 8 pilot areas and, presented by Radu Mot, Zarand Association. The presentation started with the importance of the landscape approach and by explaining the definition of the landscape. Mr. Mot highlighted the need for understanding the implication of our actions and how interests should be set to achieve greater goals while explaining the impact of the transport industry’s impact on biodiversity. In the following, the pilot area actions were explained. The 3-step mitigation hierarchy ( 1) avoid – 2) mitigate, +) compensate) was also discussed which underlined the importance of planning at the landscape scale. The presentation underlined the necessity of the harmonization of the grey and green infrastructure. 

Sivlia Borlea, EPC Consulting, then presented the newly developed Capacity Building Programme and related training events. The presentation explained the elements of the Capacity building programme thoroughly, namely: the report on gaps analysis of existing methodologies, the toolkit for SEA and EIA processes, the handbook for planning and implementing mitigation measures, and the capacity building materials. Ms. Borlea concluded her presentation on the remaining tasks of the Methodologies and Tools work package. 

Ioana Ismail, WWF Romania on the policy aspects of mainstreaming ecological connectivity into EU and global policies. The presentation introduced SaveGREEN’s policy and capacity-building efforts to enhance regional strategic cooperation and explained the events and interventions aiming to integrate the project’s recommendations of integrating green infrastructure into relevant policies and national standards. Ms. Ismail highlighted the need for a holistic approach in national and EU-level legislations, the importance of identification and designation of ecological connectivity, issues of GI funding, and the endeavours for enhancing dialogue between relevant stakeholders. 

The final presentation of the first day was given by Eszter Sebestyén, CEEweb for Biodiversity, on the overview of the project's communication activities and the number of stakeholders engaged. After highlighting the need use of the communication endeavours of the project, Ms. Sebestyén showed the elements of the communication toolkit, summarised the outreach numbers of the different dissemination activities, and happily announced that one of the final activities, the Twitter adventure reached over 320.000 people aiming to introduce all pilot areas both in local and English language. 

The first day of the final conference was closed by a moderated panel discussion on success stories and lessons learnt. Associated strategic partners and experts were invited to this panel. The moderated discussion was led by Mr. Mezei with the participation of Harald Egerer, Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention; Elke Hahn, Austrian Ministry for Climate Change; Lazaros Georgiadis, IENE; Jana Culaková, State Nature Conservancy Slovakia, and Svitlana Matus, Policy expert Ukraine. Over the last panel, the value of the joint declaration, methodology and its possible applicability, the importance of the cross-sectoral operational plans and the outline of the capacity development programme were discussed. Participants were also offered to raise questions and add remarks at the end of the panel discussion. 

The final agenda item of the second day was a brainstorming exercise in which the participants were divided into groups to discuss gaps and opportunities related to research, policy, and implementation relating to ecological connectivity. 

The biggest findings in how to improve the research pillar of projects:

  • Common terminology is extremely important
  • Harmonise datasets
  • Break borders between scientific fields (e.g. aquatic and terrestrial)
  • Field actions should feature more prominently in projects

The biggest findings in how to improve the policy and funding pillar of projects:

  • No national fund for connectivity projects - further scoping needed of potential sources
  • Top-down policy from the EU- level: competing agendas within EU DGs
  • Make connectivity more attractive to private-sector donors
  • A follow-up project in LIFE or within new models of financing (blanket financing)

The biggest findings on how to improve the implementation pillar of projects are presented:

  • Highlight where positive action within one sector is blocked by other sectors
  • Include policymakers in the implementation of large-scale projects to ensure better uptake of results
  • Define implementation - clear directions for individual sectors
  • Better define the target groups - who are the implementing actors?

After the fruitful and forward-looking brainstorming, Mr Csaba Mezei gave the floor to Ms Hildegard Meyer to give her final words as a closure to the event. She addressed her gratitude to the whole consortium, the partners and all attendees to join this journey and hopes for a great future for ecological connectivity.

The GREEN-trilogy project now ends, but the legacy is carried for future experts to further develop. 

For more information and materials from the final conference click here.