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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article27 June 2024European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency3 min read

LIFE Awards 2024 Winners: spotlight on the Citizens’ Prize

The LIFE Awards Citizens’ Prize is always keenly contested. Any EU citizen can vote, with the winner announced at the finale of the ceremony. Against stiff competition, LIFE Nature Guardians was the citizens’ clear favourite.

Nature Guardians LIFE Awards 2024
© Julie de Bellaing / European Union, 2024.

The 2024 LIFE Citizens’ Prize went to LIFE Nature Guardians, which was also shortlisted in the Nature Protection category and was a runner-up in the 2024 Natura 2000 AwardsLIFE Nature Guardians brings together citizens, wildlife and environmental campaigners, law enforcement agencies and local authorities to combat crimes against the environment and protected species. 

The project has scored some notable successes, including a 110 percent increase in environmental crime detection rates in Spain and 87 percent in Portugal, and a 35 percent rise in successful prosecutions across both countries. More than 1 500 environmental crime detection agents were trained in both countries, using a specially-produced, multi-lingual investigation manual for biodiversity crimes. As the manual’s introduction explains, “It makes no sense to address these crimes in an isolated and closed manner, simply because it would not work…in today’s world, if criminals join together in international networks, those who fight crime are forced to do the same. Today the fight against crime is not a singular, but a collective effort.”

LIFE Nature Guardians also distinguished itself for its role in combating wildlife and environmental crimes, as well as its innovative research into the psychology of wildlife offenders. Its 2023 Study on the Origin and Motivation of Environmental Crime notes that simply investigating and prosecuting crimes is not enough and “needs to be accompanied by awareness-raising and communication measures to promote understanding and detailed knowledge of the causes and circumstances that give rise to it”. As a result, psychology and art were combined in a wildlife crime prevention campaign using murals in different crime black spots.

The project also had a significant impact in court. More than 30 cases have been prosecuted for various offences including illegal hunting, poisoning, corrupt administrative practices, destruction of wildlife habitats such as nests, erecting electricity pylons in protected areas, illegal change of land use and construction work on protected Natura 2000 sites.

special website was set up to enable members of the public to report crimes against the environment and biodiversity, resulting in more than 1 200 citizen enquiries and 681 written complaints. As a result, the Spanish police carried out nine operations against environmental crimes ranging from the use of poisonous bait, illegal trafficking in species and waste, and unlawful  water extraction. Nearly 50 000 violation reports were issued in relation to illegal waste dumping, 22 541 environmental crimes detected (with 18 365 solved), and nearly 14 000 individuals arrested or investigated.

“In Spain, seven out of ten people consider environmental crimes to be as important as other crimes - that’s up more than six per cent (…) [in comparison to] 2018 when Life Nature Guardians launched,” says David de la Bodega Zugasti, Head of the Legal at lead project partner SEO Birdlife. “That’s down to our joint campaign with the National Museum of Natural Sciences, the Spanish military and businesses.”

The LIFE Awards - an annual celebration of the most successful projects implemented under the EU LIFE Programme - were announced at a live-streamed ceremony held in Brussels in front of a live audience during the finale of European Green Week. Finalists and winners were judged on their contribution to immediate and long-term environmental, economic and social improvements; degree of innovation and transferability; relevance to policy; and cost-effectiveness. 

The LIFE Programme is the EU's funding instrument for the environment and climate action. Since 1992 it has co-financed more than 6 000 projects across the EU and other countries. Applications are now open for €571 million worth of funding for LIFE projects in 2024.


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