LIFE22-NAT-ES-LIFE Phoenix

The Project

Restoration and improvement of Priority Habitat 9370* “Palm groves of Phoenix

The LIFE Phoenix project brings together different public and private entities, scientific institutions and non-governmental organisations from Spain and Greece with the aim of advancing knowledge, methodologies and procedures aimed at improving the conservation status of the endemic palm groves of Europe, formed by the Canarian palm tree in the Canary Islands and the Cretan palm tree in Greece. These plant formations are included among the priority habitats to be conserved by the European Union, under the habitat designation 9370* "Palm groves of Phoenix".

These formations are threatened by the increase in forest fires, allochthonous pests, exotic plant species, hybridisation problems with other palm trees, habitat degradation, etc. This LIFE project aims to become an opportunity to implement different methodologies to minimise these threats to European natural palm groves and ensure their good conservation status.

This initiative is led by the Council of Gran Canaria and supported by the LIFE funds of the European Commission, bringing together a total of 9 entities from the Canary Islands and Greece. The project will invest €3,901,577.38 between 2023 and 2027, with 75% of the investment coming from LIFE funds.

Endemic palm groves in Europe of genus Phoenix create important natural and semi-natural ecosystems with an outstanding ecological and socio-economical value that are only present in Spain (with Phoenix canariensis in the Canary Islands) and Greece (with P. theophrasti in Crete). Their uniqueness justify the inclusion in Annex I of the EU Directive 92/43 and the designation as Priority Habitat 9370* “Palm groves of Phoenix”, with a total of only 53 Natura 2000 (N2K) sites designated for its conservation at the EU level.

Both species, and the habitat they configure, face similar conservation problems in both regions. The main shared threats are related to climate change effects, pests and invasive plant species. Other important issues are more directly linked to human activities, with different level of importance depending on the region: in Gran Canaria, hybridization with P. dactylifera due to past bad practices; in Crete, overgrazing and tourist visitor pressure.

In order to achieve these goals, it is necessary to involve all competent authorities (public administrations, local governments, scientific institutions), the main stakeholders (ornamental plant sector, private and public gardens, farmers and stock-breeders, tourism associations and hotels, environmental NGOs, volunteers), as well as the local communities from Gran Canaria and Crete, working together and looking for effective solutions to shared problems.

The project contemplates a first set of preparatory activities (preliminary studies, as well as specific plans and protocols) to subsequently develop a complete block of concrete conservation actions, habitat improvement and environmental governance. In parallel, and until the end of the project, three other work packages will be executed, focused on the monitoring and continuous assessment of the project's impacts; the sustainability, replication and exploitation of the actions and results; as well as communication, dissemination and awareness-raising tasks.

The project's areas of intervention are included within Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) of the Natura 2000 Network, which were designated with the aim of protecting habitat 9370*. In Gran Canaria, two natural palm groves have been selected in the SAC ES7010008 "Güigüí" (considered among the most important from a genetic point of view due to their isolation) and another two in the SAC ES7010025 "Fataga" (more affected by hybridisation and pests as they are integrated in the rural matrix). In Crete the areas of action include the 6 remaining natural palm groves on the island, protected by the following SACs: GR4310004 "Martsalos", GR4310005 "Agios Nikitas", GR4320006 "Vai", GR4330003 "Preveli", GR4340012 "Souda-Plakias" and GR4340015 "Chrisoskalitissa". The project covers a total surface of 72.3 ha, with an inter-island distribution of 45 ha on Gran Canaria and 27.3 ha on Crete.

The LIFE Phoenix project will run for 60 months, between July 2023 and June 2028. Its total budget amounts to €3,901,577.38 and is 75% funded by the European Commission. The Council of Gran Canaria is the partner with the largest budget (8%), while the specific distribution between the different partners is shown in the following graph.

Objectives

  1. Improvement of the overall conservation status of Priority Habitat 9370* and its associated biodiversity through in situ conservation techniques, reduction of hybridisation risk, reforestation and mitigation of climate change effects (droughts, forest fires) in the areas of intervention.
  2. Development of a strategy for the prevention, early detection and control/eradication of pests and invasive alien species (IAS) affecting habitat 9370* in priority areas of intervention.
  3. Implementation of an ex situ conservation strategy including the maintenance of specific seed banks and the production of endemic palms of the Phoenix genus.
  1. Reduction of direct anthropogenic impacts (overgrazing and visitor pressure) on natural palm groves of Phoenix in Crete.
  2. Implementation of a roadmap on environmental governance for habitat 9370* with the participation of public administrations, key stakeholders and local population.
  3. Raising public awareness (stakeholders, students, visitors and local population) of the socio-ecological importance of endemic palm grove habitats and their associated ecosystem services.
Phoenix