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Ugly fruit, roaming bears, and halting wildfires: meet the EU LIFE Award 2020 winners

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'Beautiful people eat ugly fruit' - that's the catchy slogan of the Fruta Feia cooperative in Portugal, which claims to have already saved almost 2500 tonnes of mis-shapen food from being wasted, and this week claimed two of the EU's LIFE Awards prizes.

Their project, Flaw4Life won both the Environment and public-vote Citizens Awards.

An overjoyed Isabel Soares from the Fruta Feia cooperative told Euronews: "The awards prove that our model works, a sustainable model that is based on consumer commitment".

With the LIFE grant she was able to create eight new jobs, launch eight new delivery points, and is now working with 250 farmers to sell weird-looking fruit and vegetables to around 6,000 consumers.

So, what's the profile of her customers? "There's no typical buyer, they range from 18 to 80 years old, from all social classes, lots of people want to fight food waste," she says. "It's a simple idea that consumers want to support."

Food is wasted for many reasons, but one of the most unjust is perhaps when it's based on appearance, rather than quality or taste. In launching and succeeding in this 'ugly fruit' initiative, Soares has shown that consumers are happy to love a two-legged carrot or pear-shaped apple and embrace the strangely-sized produce that farmers had previously been forced by picky supermarkets to throw away.

Making room for bears to roam

'I'm really happy, we were working hard for 5 years, it somehow got noticed', smiles Rok Černe, after his LIFE DINALP BEAR project scooped the LIFE Awards Nature prize.

The Slovenian forest manager's project aims to coordinate action to help sustain the population of bears across the Dinaric and southern Alps in an important effort to maintain the genetic diversity of a population which is so vital for biodiversity.

The initial project involved actors in Slovenia, Croatia, Austria and Italy working together to agree a new strategy to better manage their bear populations. With the success of their cooperation Černe found he was contacted by colleagues in Switzerland, Germany and France eager to learn more.

The challenges he faced were very diverse, but Černe admitted to Euronews that the biggest issue was navigating government administration: "You have to find the right person in the ministry if you want to decide something," he says.

The bear population in Slovenia is growing, and male bears in particular can roam hundreds of kilometres from their place of birth in a quest for mates. Ensuring landscape connectivity that allows the bears to get from one habitat to another without bothering humans is one of the key challenges.

Černe worked with local farmers, and through the LIFE project he was able to offer fencing to those whose livestock had been threatened by bears. The project also engaged with local people, showing them how to have 'bear-proof' rubbish and compost bins. "You need to explain to people how to coexist," he says.

Fresh tactics against forest fires

"The problem in Hungary increased in the last two decades, and we realised the fires are bigger and bigger, and we didn't have enough resources," says Daniel Nagy, whose FIRELIFE project was given the LIFE Climate Award.

The project funding allowed Nagy to address the emerging fire problem in central Europe, as prolonged droughts become more frequent and the risk of larger fires becomes more widespread.

His strategy followed two key lines of attack: communication and training. The former saw him producing a film about forest fire risk which was shown on Hungarian television, sharing awareness leaflets in outdoor stores, and even buying a bouncy castle to get kids and families engaged with the issue.

The training side of the project was equally challenging. "We can't copy what we see on TV," Nagy tells Euronews. "We have to learn best practice, learn more about prevention, and do so on a lower budget."

He trained incident commanders, field managers, and different stakeholders in forest fire management, with the focus very much on prevention. Hungary has even developed a new English-language checklist for neighbouring countries which may also now find that due to the effects of climate change the risk of forest fire has risen in the past few decades.

The LIFE programme funds environmental and climate-related projects across the European Union, with a budget of 3.4 billion euros across six years.