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Natura 2000 Award - Evaluate the dark side with the CaveLife app

About the project

Main applicant

Verband der deutschen Höhlen- und Karstforscher e.V. VdHK / German Speleological Federation


Cross-border cooperation

Countries involved


Main N2000 site

Werra- und Wehretal  (DE4825302) 


Monitoring caves and underground habitats and species is a challenging task. There are only a few professional experts in this field, which severely limits what is known about cave ecosystems. Across the EU, very few official assessments of underground habitats exist, and little information is available through official agencies.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of volunteer speleologists (cave experts or enthusiasts) in Europe with access to data and knowledge about caves that could be very useful for the agencies officially tasked with their conservation.

To enable speleologists to contribute to the assessment of protected cave habitats (known as “Caves not open to the public” in the EU Habitats Directive and Natura 2000) and cave-dwelling species (such as bats), the German Association of Cave and Karst Researchers has developed CaveLife – a  smartphone app that allows amateur cavers to contribute to the assessment of underground habitats and species by uploading data to a centralised database. This data is then made available to nature conservation authorities across Europe.

"It is an incredible honour for our voluntary project, which was launched without financial support and is now spreading across Europe to evaluate the dark side of Natura 2000 sites under our feet," said Christian Zaenker, who is the developer and coordinator of the CaveLife app.

The CaveLife app has become an important tool for data collection. It is currently used by several hundred speleologists from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland who have been trained in using the app in national and Europe-wide workshops.

To date, the central database contains 230 000 records for over 12 000 sites. The data is made available to nature conservation authorities including those responsible for the management of Natura 2000 habitats. Currently, the app is available in German and French, and English and Czech versions will be made available soon.