The Life ECOnet Project (1999-2004) was supported by the Life-Environment Programme of the European Commission to demonstrate in Cheshire and Emilia-Romagna and Abruzzo (Italy) how to expand and connect areas for wildlife, and use these ecological networks both as a tool to help achieve more sustainable land use planning and management, as well as to overcome the problems of habitat loss, fragmentation and species isolation. Partners from the Netherlands who are pioneers in developing ecological networks advised the Project.
The ECOnet model, comprising the five inter-related tasks of: informing land use decision-making, involving local people to gain support, commitment and participation, inspiring people to raise awareness and understanding of the concept of ecological networks, integrating ecological networks into land management practices; and influencing land use policy, proved a useful tool to integrate environmental considerations in sustainable land use planning and management of the main governmental bodies involved, namely Cheshire County Council, Vale Royal Borough Council, Emilia-Romagna Region, Bologna Province, Modena Province and Abruzzo Region, as well as the one private sector, industry partner involved — United Utilities.
The Project, led by Cheshire County Council, was a great success, and resulted in a number of significant outcomes:
The Life ECOnet Project was a unique opportunity for the partners to develop their ideas about ecological networks and land use planning and management. They benefited from European working in many ways, for example, by pooling knowledge, accessing ideas, experience and expertise, and enhancing their skills base.
In Cheshire, the work led to the Sandstone Ridge being identified as the first stage for the creation of an ecological network in the county, and the establishment of the Sandstone Ridge ECOnet Partnership to deliver it on the ground.