The islands of the Atlantic Ocean (spread across the Atlantic and Macaronesian biogeographical regions) were identified as one of the most biodiverse areas in the EU. Thanks to the combination of climatic conditions, edaphic and coastal dynamics, they are home to a very high diversity of habitat types and species included in Directives 92/43/CEE and 2009/147/CE, many of which are considered for priority conservation. These insular ecosystems generally present shared environmental problems, which is why they are extremely threatened and, consequently, the habitats present in them, which form complex mosaics that present joint patterns of fragmentation and vulnerability, today aggravated by global change.
It was recognized that the most threatened habitats of the islands of the Atlantic Ocean are the dune ecosystems. Thus, LIFE INSULAR is a project that aims to achieve a favourable conservation status of the habitat made of grey dunes (2130*) and their contact habitat (4030) on the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, scattered throughout the Atlantic and Macaronesian biogeographical regions. The project has a transnational scope, for which 8 Spanish and Irish Natura 2000 SACs were selected to develop conservation actions, addressing common conservation problems and threats to increase the area and improve the structure and future prospects of the target island habitats in 5 different islands from both member states:
- Spanish Atlantic region: Cíes Islands, Ons Island, Sálvora Island.
-Irish Atlantic region: Island of Éire.
- Spanish Macaronesian region: Island of La Graciosa.
The project focuses on the four main threats (T) that were identified for the target island habitats (2130*, 4030) in the EU Biogeographic Assessments 2013-2018 according to article 17 of the Habitats Directive (threat codes in brackets [ ]), causing an unfavourable conservation status (CS) for them. The targeted threats are in line with those identified in the "2130* Natura 2000 Report" and the "Natura 2000 Atlantic Brochure", both published by the EC's Directorate General for the Environment, as well as with the ZEC's management plans:
T1 Senescent forest plantations and tree invasion [B01, B02, B03]. Commercial forest plantations were carried out prior to the implementation of Directive 92/43/EEC, from the 1930s to the 1970s on Atlantic insular habitats (2130*, 4030), causing a reduction in their occupied area. In the end, these plantations were never considered for forestry, so they are currently senescent formations of little naturalness (very old and tall trees that come to fall, low levels of natural plant diversity, allelopathic effects) very difficult and expensive to eliminate. Today they occupy 111.1 ha in the Spanish SACs (54% of target habitats) and 253.57 ha in the Irish SACs (27% of dune systems), on land that should otherwise be occupied by habitats natural. As these plantations used fast-growing exotic species with high invasive potential (Eucalyptus spp., Pinus spp., Acacia spp.), they are also problematic because they provide a source of invasive trees in adjacent habitats, negatively affecting their structure by 4%, so they constitute a high risk for the state of conservation of the environment.
T2 Invasive Alien Species [IAS] (I02). The situation of the Spanish Atlantic islands is critical in terms of IAS, and urgent measures are necessary. Documentary studies show that 100% of the target Atlantic island habitat areas are seriously affected by IAS due to their structure and functionality, since they represent between 10% and 26% of the total plant diversity and multiply between 4 and 24 times the number of protected species. The surveys carried out show that 100% of the 2130* island areas of Macaronesia are also highly affected by IAS, as they represent 7% of the total plant diversity and twice the number of protected plant species. The main IAS identified are: Arctotheca calendula, Carpobrotus edulis, Zantedeschia aethiopica, Agave spp., Nicotiana spp., Yucca gloriosa, among many others.
T3 Effects of recreational/tourist activities [Y01, F07]. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the tourism boom in the island systems generated an uncontrolled traffic of visitors through the dune ecosystems of the project, causing an impact on the structure, functionality and future prospects of habitat 2130*. This loss is still evident, and was estimated at 5% in the dune ecosystems located in the ZECs of the project.
T4 Climate change [N04]. The impact of global change is expected to be high, as island habitats are under greater risk than other continental ecosystems. According to future scenarios, it is estimated at 8% of habitat loss, also affecting the conservation status of its characteristic species. Although it is not considered a particular threat, it affects the future prospects of all island habitats, enhancing the effects of all the aforementioned threats.
To fight against these threats, LIFE INSULAR aims for a favourable conservation status of island habitats in 276.6 ha: 165.6 ha corresponding to 2130* habitat (23.5%) and another 117.0 ha to 4030 habitat (42.5%), within 8 Spanish and Irish SACs located on 5 islands of the Atlantic Ocean.