- Drawing up of the construction projects
- Production of native plants to be used in the project
- Diagnosis of the presence of non-native and invasive species within the project area, for subsequent eradication.
The drawing up of a construction project is the necessary step between determining the need for a restoration scheme and then implementing the scheme through specific actions. The details required for the success of the restoration plan must be reflected in the construction project: earth movement; plantation sites; the number of plants to be planted; type of species, etc.
A construction project shall be drawn up for each scheme contemplated, and shall include a technical report (explaining the goals and the actions to be conducted in order to achieve these goals, an environmental analysis, the baseline situation with measurable indicators and the total budget for the scheme), the necessary drawings for the correct execution of the work, a health and safety study, an itemisation of the budgets, a monitoring program and the technical specifications required to award the works contracts.
Some projects will require a topographical survey and water modelling to provide information on the land floodability. This will make it possible to take decisions as to the most appropriate solution for restoring the area and will ensure that the actions are environmentally sustainable.
Construction projects are also required for sub-contracting work and to enable the competent authorities (Government of Navarre, Ebro Water Board, and the town and city Councils) to authorise the work execution.
There are plans to draw up all the projects required to carry out the schemes included in actions C1, C2, C3 and C4.
It is essential to ensure that the plants used in the restoration schemes are native species and varieties in order to conserve the ecological values of the area to be restored.
On occasions, this objective may become complicated due to the fact that many of the species can either not be found on the market or else the varieties available are different from those present in the restoration area.
The introduction of different varieties can lead to intrusions and the deterioration of the gene pool of the native species present, thereby having a negative impact on the conservation of biodiversity. For this reason, the use of seeds and propagules collected in the area is vital to conserving the ecological values.
The seeds and propagules are to be grown at the tree nursery facilities run by Gestión Ambiental de Navarra (Navarre Environmental Management) in Pamplona, Funes and Marcilla. These nurseries habitually carry out tasks relating to the germination and growth of native plants, and therefore the facilities are equipped to work with almost all these species. However, this is not the case with regard to aquatic and marsh vegetation and it will therefore be necessary to invest in the construction of pools and the upgrading of the facilities available. Furthermore, the nursery personnel needs to be specifically trained in handling these plant types.
The impact caused by non-native plant species on the river ecosystem is primarily due to competition for resources (light, water, nutrients), for space (even altering the habitat), or due to hybridization with native species. Animal species also create impacts due to predation and the introduction of disease.
One of the goals of the project is to eradicate non-native invasive species, with regard to flora and fauna alike.
As far as the flora is concerned, it is proposed to carry out a cartographic inventory of the areas in which the exotic and invasive flora are located and which are to be eradicated: reed cane (Arundo donax), acacias (Robinia pseudoacacia), ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima) and poplar clones (Populus sp.). It is also necessary to draw up the specific methodology for the eradication of these plants, based on the latest advances being made in other places, with proven effectiveness.
As far as the fauna is concerned, it is proposed to draw up a protocol for the eradication of the Florida slider turtle (Trachemys scripta), thereby avoiding its impact on the populations of European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis).
Purchase or leasing of land and compensatory payments for the right of use
- Compensatory payments for ceasing wood and crop farming in communal land and the subsequent restoration of the natural habitats.
- The purchase of privately owned land for the subsequent restoration of natural habitats.
In order to recover river areas, there is a need to work on common land (council owned) located on the banks of the rivers Aragón and Arga. For this reason, the proposal is to reach agreements with the councils for the lease of the rights to use this common land, which has already been identified as potentially suitable for the restoration of habitats.
86 plots of land have been identified (408 hectares), included in the demarcation of Natura 2000, and whose use is currently not consistent with the conservation of biodiversity (wood or farming crops). The agreements proposed consist in paying the council for the loss of income derived from felling the poplar plantations located on land intended for restoring natural copses or wetlands for the mink. It is also proposed to pay the councils for the loss of income derived from carrying out restoration schemes on farming land that has the potentiality for conversion into copses.
The plots of land identified, in addition to being included in the Natura 2000 Network and having a high potential for restoring habitats of interest for conservation purposes, are also subject to frequent flooding (at least once every five years), leading to a low crop yield and considerable investment by the administrations in the maintenance of flood barriers and irrigation infrastructures.
In other cases, the lands proposed for the recovery of the riverine area are privately owned. The proposal is therefore to purchase these plots of land, as the most feasible solution. Once the purchase has been made, the councils shall be requested to make a commitment to declare these areas to be municipal protected areas so that they can indefinitely be dedicated to the conservation of the restored habitats.
Regardless of the degree of protection that these areas now have (through the regional legislation on the conservation of wilderness areas) the intention is to get the local authorities to give adequate levels of protection for the conservation of these areas, in accordance with their land use planning powers within their territory.
It is proposed that the various Councils make the necessary modifications in the land-use planning of their territory, so that the plots of land purchased and restored are included as "protected land" or "conservation land". The aim is for the local communities to internalise, conserve and locally manage the conservation of these areas, also in the future.
Navarre has an extensive and long-standing tradition in the use of land-planning legislation for the conservation of wilderness areas of particular importance. This has made it possible, together with the specific environmental legislation on wilderness areas, to conserve these areas for a relatively long period of time. In fact, the first wilderness areas in Navarre, including the Nature Reserves in this section of the river, were initially declared as such by a land planning law, Navarre Law 10/1994, of 4th July, on Town and Country Planning.
During the project execution period, it is expected to purchase approximately 50% of the surface area identified, accounting for some 29 hectares of private land.
Management of the river habitat
This section includes the actions directed at improving the state of conservation of the river ecosystem in order to increase the carrying capacity for the species and habitats targeted by the project: European mink (Mustela lutreola); otter (Lutra lutra); European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis); purple heron (Ardea purpurea); black crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax); Populus nigra and Populus alba riparian woods; Tamarix gallica woodlands; nitrophilous plants colonising gravel banks and annual and perennial nitrophilous grasslands.
- The setting back or removal of earth embankments to increase the River Territory.
- The reconnection and ecological improvement of oxbow lakes.
- The recovery of habitats specific to the European mink (Mustela lutreola)
- The restoration of other river habitats of interest to conservation.
- The eradication of non-native and invasive species.
This action is directed at eliminating or setting back the earth embankments (flood defences) in order to extend the River Territory. There is a need to protect the natural river system dynamics as the key to correct management of the river territory, the improvement of its ecosystems and the minimisation of risks and associated costs, thereby complying with the mandates of the Habitat (1992/43), Water Framework (2000/60) and Floods (2007/60) directives.
As far as the conservation of biodiversity is concerned, the diagnosis made on the problems present in the area of action revealed that the occupation of the riverine area by crops and poplar plantations was one of the most serious problems affecting the conservation of species as important as the European mink (Mustela lutreola). This area, which was formerly occupied by natural flood plains with floodable copses and grazing lands, in which the river was allowed to follow its natural course, to create wetlands and oxbow lakes of great importance for the conservation of many different species, was humanised decades ago in order to create new land for farming and tree plantations. The crops and poplar groves were protected from flooding by building earth embankments, which prevented the natural development of the river and caused flooding problems in downstream areas.
The River Territory is defined as an area which includes a river channel and a riverside corridor, both protected, in addition to human uses which are unprotected, cannot be urbanised, insured or which are compatible with flooding and with the erosion of the river banks, in which the river dynamics make it possible to recover the natural river ecosystems.1
The actions proposed will make it possible to recover the flood plains and to promote the restoration of the important natural ecosystems, and are to be carried out in the low-water months of August and September. The project proposes to eliminate or set back a total of 2,620 linear metres of earth embankments which will allow the water to spread naturally during floods and to recover the natural habitats over 29 hectares of floodplain.
1Ollero, A. (2007). Territorio Fluvial. Diagnóstico y propuesta para la gestión ambiental y de riesgos en el Ebro y los cursos bajos de sus afluentes. Bakeaz. Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua, 255 pp.(River Territory. A diagnosis and proposal for the environmental and risk management of the Ebro river and the lower reaches of its tributaries).
The construction of the river Arga canal in the eighties artificially cut off the meanders coming under this present action plan. Since then, these meanders have undergone a slow process of deterioration. The lack of water has led to the desiccation of the associated riparian woodlands and the infill of the former river bed with fine sediments. The hydrological reconnection of the meanders during flooding will make it possible to remove the fine sediment from the former river bed whilst the target habitats will be flooded, thereby ensuring their natural conservation and regeneration.
The difference in height between the current river bed and the remnant meanders will mean that the flow will only be restored during normal flooding (2 - 3 times a year), however this will be sufficient to revitalise the natural dynamics of these unique areas, which are of tremendous importance to the conservation of the European mink (Mustela lutreola).
The reconnection shall be made by excavating the entrance of the former river bed (now blocked off) or by clearing the infrastructures preventing the water circulation: earth embankments, cross pathways, etc. The work is to be carried out on the following remnant meanders:
- Soto de La Muga (Peralta)
- Soto de Santa Eulalia (Peralta)
- Sotosardilla (Funes)
The standardisation which the river ecosystems have been subjected to over the last few decades has led to the disappearance of a series of diversifying habitats which are of vital importance to the survival of the European mink, such as the wetlands adjoining the main water course.
The invasion of the flood plains by farming and woodland crops, and the construction of protective earth embankments and ripraps, has led to the elimination of these wetlands from the river landscape, wetlands which were habitually used by the European mink as a breeding ground, being a peaceful area in which the mink could hunt and raise its offspring.
In addition, the restoration of these wetlands and gulley ends is also of strategic importance to other species such as the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) or the otter (Lutra lutra), which use these same habitats, and also for aquatic birds present in the area (of particular note are the purple heron (Ardea purpurea), the black crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), etc.)
The project proposes to restore the wetlands and gulley mouths, as these are habitats of vital importance to the reproductive cycle of the European mink. Four areas have been identified in which the wetlands adjoining the banks of the rivers Arga and Aragón could be restored, and which have gradually disappeared over the last century. The habitat of two gulley mouths could also be restored, to make the area more favourable to this species. Of these 6 action areas, the proposal is to act in the three priority areas, and leave the other three in reserve.
In the three cases, the proposal is to construct wetlands of similar characteristics: constructed from the irregular excavation of the land, seeking to create diverse wetlands which are as natural as possible, generating shallow areas which can be easily colonised by helophytes, and other deeper areas to ensure that part of the wetlands remains as a sheet of free water. The banks shall be very sloping to permit replanting using bioengineering techniques. The central area shall not be excavated but left as a central island to serve as a shelter for the target fauna. The proposed areas are:
- El Escueral (Murillo el Fruto)
- Rinconar (Santacara)
- Filtro verde de Sotosardilla (Funes)
- Soto de Traibuenas (Murillo el Cuende)
- Molinar (Peralta)
- La Biona (Murillo el Fruto)
These schemes shall be conducted during the months when there is no plant growth (from November to February), in order to make the plantations with a guarantee of success. It is expected to construct at least three wetlands, suitable for use by the European mink and with a total surface area of 7.6 ha.
The objective of this scheme is to restore the river habitats present in the Habitats Directive (and therefore of interest to conservation) and habitually used by the European mink (Mustela lutreola).
These habitats shall be restored in a number of ways, depending on the soil characteristics and the floodability conditions of each area. On occasions, this shall be conducted by planting species native to each target habitat, such as 92AO (Populus nigra and Populus alba riparian woodlands) or 92D0 (Tamarix gallica woodlands). To do so, it will be necessary to eliminate the infrastructures (earth embankments, etc) preventing these areas from being flooded (action C.1), re-profiling the land to return it to its natural state (modified by farming or forestry practices), closing off tracks to prevent access by motor vehicle traffic. In these cases in which active restoration is encouraged, it is important to ensure that the plants to be used are native in origin. This shall be done by growing the seeds collected in the area in nurseries (action A2).
On other occasions, the focus is to be on the spontaneous restoration of certain habitats, such as 3270 (nitrophilous plants colonising gravel banks) or 3280 (annual and perennial nitrophilous grasslands) through the removal of the limiting factor preventing its natural growth (such as grazing).
Most actions shall seek to create new wetlands together with any copses or humid grazing lands. This shall be planned on a case by case basis, thereby creating an interesting mosaic of habitats that are suitable for the target species (European mink -Mustela lutreola-, otter -Lutra lutra- and European pond turtle -Emys orbicularis-).
These schemes shall also be undertaken in the months when there is no plant growth (from November to February), in order to guarantee the success of the plantations. All the plants required for this work shall be grown at the GAVRN nurseries and provided for use by the project at production cost (action A2).
It is expected to restore habitats 92A0, 92D0, 3270 and 3280 in at least 17 action areas, accounting for a total of 230 hectares of restored natural habitats. All the restoration actions carried out in action C.4 (and other habitat restoration actions) shall be based on document "Technical recommendations and guidelines for the conservation of the European mink and its habitats", prepared by GAVRN.
This action is focussed on demonstrating how to eliminate invasive non-native species within the project's scope of action, by carrying out the protocols previously prepared in action A3.
This action contemplates the eradication of the non-native invasive species coming within the scope of the project, such as cane (Arundo donax), acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia), ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima), poplar clones (Populus sp.) and the Florida slider turtle (Trachemys scripta).
The plant eradication procedure will vary from one plant species to another, however, in general terms, the plan is to use methods successfully tried out in other areas such as Catalonia (Agencia Catalana de l’Aigua). Chemical methods shall not be used, in order to avoid water contamination whilst mechanical methods shall be used, consisting in the use of a backhoe excavator (in the case of cane, which generally grows in easily accessible areas) and girdling (in the case of tree species).
In the case of the Florida slider turtle, traps shall be laid in the habitats potentially frequented by this species (marshes, irrigation reservoirs, etc) coming within the project area, in order to identify the points at which this species is distributed. Based on the protocol prepared in action A.3, the trapping protocol shall be defined. The specimens caught shall be taken to the Ilundáin Wildlife Recovery Centre owned by the Government of Navarre, to include them in the adoption program (which exchanges Florida turtles for European turtles, in order to release the latter).
Public awareness campaigns and the dissemination of results
- Communication Plan
- Specific campaign directed at schools and youth associations
- Knowledge management
- Social participation process
The combination of new technologies (imaging, internet, forums, electronic newsletters, etc) and other means (field visits, leaflets, articles and press releases, etc) will make it possible to provide the general public with full details about the project: the underlying problems; the objectives set; and the expected results.
- Audiovisual production
- Preparation and distribution of educational and promotional material:
- Weekly electronic newsletter
- Promotional items
- Information boards
- Layman´s report
- Media campaigns
- Campaign on exotic species
- Awareness raising campaigns
- Information point
This environmental education campaign is directed at schools and youth groups in the municipalities coming within the scope of the project:
- Educational program for the 2nd and 3rd cycles of primary school and the 1st and 2nd cycles of secondary school: educational material is to be prepared (teaching guide, field book, field visits, support materials …). The program is annual and offers schoolchildren and teachers a classroom work session and field visits (to a section of the river in the corresponding locality).
- Leisure program directed at youth groups: this is a more recreational variant of the educational program , directed at the formal education sector, which aims to make young people aware of the project objectives and actions, in their leisure time.
The two programs are to be complemented with the organisation of an "Annual photo contest" and an "Annual painting contest" on the project themes. These events are open to all the local actors involved in LIFE (organisation, exhibition in each municipality, jury, material, prizes …)
The project objectives are novel and represent an important change with regard to the way all river-related matters have been managed over the last few decades. For this reason, it is essential that all sections of society should take part in the project execution and outcomes (those people managing it now and those who will do so in the future). Furthermore, the raising the awareness of schoolchildren (particularly in environmental matters) is then extended to the family environment, and it therefore serves to reinforce the communication objectives of the project itself.
During this campaign, there is an expected participation of more than 1000 schoolchildren from the local schools in each school year, and 200 from youth groups.
The aim is to achieve the most efficient management of the knowledge that is to be acquired, created, stored, shared and used during the project, through the following actions:
Seminars, informative scientific manuscripts and other training activities.
- Organisation of an international seminar on river dynamics and the habitats of the European mink (Mustela lutreola), with the presence of the most eminent regional, Spanish and European scientists and experts, in each of the specialist areas.
- A publication is to be prepared for the seminar, which will be a compilation of the papers presented and the debate outcomes. In addition to the digital version, which is to be posted on the project website, 1000 copies of this publication are to be made in Spanish and English.
Support program for job trainingD.3.2. Support program for job training
All the experience and knowledge that this project will unquestionably generate, will be used to complement the education and training of educational degrees relating to the monitoring and surveillance of the environment and to the development of public activities. These students will be able to participate in the following activities:
- Work experience in the implementation of the educational program directed at Primary and Secondary students and youth groups.
- Assistance and support for field visits, workshops and other participatory actions.
- Work experience in the implementation of the other specific awareness-raising campaigns.
- Attending to the permanent Information Point for the project.
The LIFE - MINK TERRITORY project plans to establish an active dialogue with some stakeholders, in order to involve them in the planning, implementation and assessment of the actions to be undertaken in the project.
- The technical team will implement the projects, which may be modified depending on the input derived from social participation.
- The social partners are the focus groups, persons from the municipalities involved, contributing to the project and supervising and supporting the project implementation.
- The team to promote participation has specialists in group dynamics, with proven experience in participation processes relating to strategic planning processes.
The actions included in the participation process are:
- Information sessions on the project "in general”.
- Specific sessions to debate the various actions (works).
- Field visits to get to know and debate the proposed actions in situ.
As a complement to the participation process, environmental volunteer actions are to be implemented and which directly affect the natural assets. The LIFE project must make full use of the potential of the volunteers present in the area by establishing a collaboration program, which may contemplate the following actions, amongst others:
- Monitoring of the indicators established for the works.
- Monitoring of the species of interest studied and relating to the project.
- Involvement in the sessions and activities of the actual participation process.
The aim is to get all the sectors of the population involved in the project, to take part in the process and to adopt it as their own.
Project management and monitoring
- Project management by Gestión Ambiental de Navarra (Environmental Management of Navarre)
- Work network with other projects
- Conservation Plan once the LIFE project has ended.
GAVRN shall be responsible for the technical administration and management of the LIFE+ project, and also for the projectco-ordination.
A project monitoring committee shall be created, with representatives from both beneficiaries (GAVRN and TRAGSA) and from the administrations which both public companies work for: The Government of Navarre, the Ebro Water Board and the Ministry of the Environment. This committee shall meet at least once every six months.
Technical officers from GAVRN shall be responsible for monitoring the actions programmed in the project, and for preparing inspection reports and any other reports required to inform the Commission, the press and local entities.
Furthermore, an external assessment is to be subcontracted in order to determine the progress of each action and carry out a fair and adequate supervision of the project implementation. The external assessment shall be made by independent teams with proven experience in each of the areas. The assessors shall prepare a report which shall serve as a source to determine the degree of compliance with the objectives.
This external assessment shall include a public opinion poll at the beginning and end of the LIFE project. This will make it possible to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the change in the extent of knowledge and in the awareness and attitude as a result of the implementation of the various communication actions.
The final outcome is the strict and meticulous monitoring of the project based on the reports required to assess the evolution of the measurable indicators defined in each of the actions.
A work network shall be established with other projects on river restoration and the conservation of species and habitats relating to river ecosystems. This is directed at exchanging information and learning from the experiences of others.
There are plans to visit other projects in order to exchange information on the actions undertaken and the results obtained, and also to receive visits from these projects.
This action is necessary in order to improve the quality of the results obtained in the project, by correcting errors and learning from the experiences of others.
This pooling and exchange of information and experience on each particular project will be highly beneficial to all parties. Over the last few years, visits to the GAVRN facilities have included the following entities:
- University of Saragossa
- University of the Basque Country
- Polytechnic University of Barcelona
- Polytechnic University of Madrid
- Polytechnic University of Valencia
- University of Navarre
- University of Valladolid
- Ministry of the Rural and Marine Environment
- Iberian Centre for River Restoration
- CERM, Centre for the Study of Mediterranean Rivers, Ter Industrial Museum
- Catalonia Water Board
- Duero Water Board
- Ebro Water Board
- European Centre for River Restoration
- European Mink working party, Ministry of the Environment
- Biological Treatment Plant of Doñana, CSIC
- LIFE Canal of Castile
- Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa. Department of the Environment
- SECEM (Spanish Society for the Conservation and Study of Mammals)
- Joint Association of Studies and Organisation of the Garonne, France (SMEAG)
- Participants in project Interreg III C FLAPP (Flood Awareness and Prevention Policy).
GAVRN shall contract an independent audit to be made by a company that is compliant with the necessary quality requirements. The audit report shall be sent to the Commission.
The management of any project financed with public funds must be based on transparency whilst also complying with at least the minimum levels of efficiency. It is therefore necessary to inform the Commission, the Administration and Society about the financial management of the funds and the extent to which the project goals were met, so that the project can be accurately and strictly assessed.
The outcome of this action shall be a report by the independent auditors. A full copy of this report shall be sent to the Commission to facilitate the project management assessment.
An action plan subsequent to this LIFE project shall be established and shall be submitted as a separate document together with the final report. The plan shall determine the planning to be followed in order to carry on with and advance the actions initiated with the project, in the years following the project completion. This Plan shall contain a detailed list of pluri-annual measures and proposals, to ensure the execution and achievement of the objectives proposed. In short, the document shall provide a detailed specification as to what actions are to be implemented, when, by whom and the means of financing.
The importance of the action plan subsequent to the LIFE project lies in the need to ensure the durability of the investments made during the project execution.