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Protection of the forests of Basse Lauter and Vosges moyennes (Lauter-Donon)
Start date: Sep 1, 2006, End date: Dec 31, 2012 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background In Alsace, actions concerned with Natura 2000 have generally focused on the Rhine valley, the “Hautes Vosges” and the large state forests of the plains. Other places have been relatively neglected: either they were already nature reserves, and/or forestry management has taken account of the natural environment. Nonetheless, these area contain priority habitats and require actions in order to be well protected over the long term. This project dealt with two large forest areas: (1) the Lauter valley (2 000 ha - habitat codes: 91E0 and 6230); and (2) the ridges of the “Vosges moyennes” [(Donon and Champ de Feu) c. 7 000 ha - habitat codes: 9180, 7110, 91D0, 91E0, and 6230]. Objectives The main project objectives were to carry out preliminary studies, including writing the “documents d’objectifs” (documents defining the project aims); to carry out land acquisition; and start restoration works favouring the conservation of important Community habitats and species in the two project sites. These actions would also involve local communities. The Natura 2000 network would provide support and the means to start to publicise the project and work on the sites. Thus, another hoped for consequence would be to alter the way local people, including the forest rangers, regard the forest areas concerned i.e., the idea was that perceptions would change from that of big timber production forests belonging to the state or commons, to forests that would have a great natural interest, and whose protection is of interest to all. Land acquisitions and upkeep or restoration of sites would be useful for the target habitats and species. Thanks to management plans, the planned actions would be taken into account in other local projects. This would help to ensure the continuous smooth operation of the Natura 2000 network. Specific actions involved/project approach 1. Lauter valley This area provides an example of the way good forest management can improve the quality of river- and wetland areas. An initial aim, therefore, would be to gain a good knowledge of the habitats and of the relationships between the forests and the water table hydrology. A second goal was the acquisition by local communities, of fallow lands and their afforestation. This would enable the coherent management of the water table and forested lands. Restoration work would also be planned for: improving the riparian forests, replacement of non-native trees and construction of small water retention structures/mechanisms. Finally, communication tools such as education trails would be created. 2. “Vosges moyennes”/ Donon & Champ de Feu This site, characterised by degraded peat bogs (Tilio-Acerion forests of slopes, screes and ravines (9180), active raised bogs (7110) and bog woodland (91D0) also supports valuable species, identified for protection under the EU nature directives and including certain, important indicator species of biodiversity e.g the western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus). The site is part of a large forest massif and provides an example of the strong links between species and habitats and thus, of the importance of a linked and global management policy. The actions for these areas would include: cutting trees on the peat bogs and diverting of forest tracks and trails to ensure the priority bird species, western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) remains undisturbed. A key objective would be to show that targeted (cost-effective) actions can be carried out to protect habitats and species. Results Most project actions were completed and the majority of objectives were met. There are separate results for the two project sites: 1. Lauter valley Here, the LIFE project worked to increase knowledge of the wetland habitats and the species behaviour in order to adapt the management toward a better conservation of alluvial forests and humid meadows. Inventories were carried out (on 2 000 ha) covering the mapping of the forest habitats, open areas (meadows, marshes, etc.) and river morphology. With the assistance of the German Natura 2000 site coordinator, this provided sufficient data to identify: another habitat of European interest (alluvial forests (91E0) and species rich grasslands (6230); as well as the habitats of two butterfly species of European interest (Lycaena dispar and Maculinea nausithous). The hydromorphological study has enabled the LIFE team to better understand the groundwater table structure and behaviour and to prepare actions to increase the groundwater level. Following these studies, the beneficiary and partners purchased c. 13 ha of uncultivated lands (mainly forests) in the Lauter valley and adapted their management strategy in order to prioritise the restoration and conservation of habitats. Note, however, only 2.6 ha were purchased through the LIFE project. Some restoration work was also undertaken on humid meadows (15.2 ha), alluvial forests (24.4 ha) and rivers’ (3 900 m and five ponds). These works provided positive results – e.g. there have already been new sightings of some species of amphibians, fish and birds. Finally, the resulting management plans for the valley have been used to improve the Natura 2000 objectives’ documents that are now partially approved. 2. “Vosges moyennes”/ Donon Thanks to the project, an inventory was drawn up of the natural habitats’ of Tetrao urogallus in the project area, following the required "STORCH" protocol. This sets out the mapping of the birds' habitat potential on 1 394 ha. In addition, the project has finalised new management plans for five peat bogs. Restoration works were also carried out on c. 90 ha. The goal was to restore the peatbogs’ and the habitats of Tetrao urogallus. But, as these works were only finished towards the end of the project, it is too early to assess their effectiveness. On both sites (i.e. Lauter and Donon) the LIFE team carried out visitor studies to assess the impacts on the habitats/ species and to provide a basis for education and communication campaigns. Following these findings, some equipment has been constructed and installed on the sites to better-channel visitors, and education panels and leaflets have been created and posted/distributed to increase people’s awareness. On the Lauter site, public events were successfully held to inform people about the importance of these sites. Finally, due to the relatively short time-period, it is too early yet, to draw firm conclusions as to the effectiveness of all the project actions. Further monitoring studies are required to fully assess their effectiveness. Nevertheless, the project has undoubtedly contributed to improving the future prospect for the conservation of these peatbogs, alluvial forest and humid meadows. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).
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