First National Report of Belgium
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3.3. Activities and threats
As a result of the predominantly urban nature of the Brussels Capital Region and its social-economic context, the threats to the biodiversity are very intense due to the concentration of the population and the high building degree, which translates into a high concentration of threatening activities and a high recreation pressure.
3.3.1. The high population density
The Brussels Capital Region presently has about 950,000 inhabitants. This means an average regional density of 59.2 inhabitants/ha, who are however unevenly distributed. In addition, there is also a real pressure from the commuters, whose number is estimated at least at 250,000 per day.
3.3.2. Occupation of the space
About half (47%) of the Region's surface area (16,138 ha) is built-up. Of this 2,485 ha, equaling 15%, is taken up by traffic infrastructure (2,000 km of canal, roads, railways). Car parks and infrastructure for public transport increase this proportion to 21%. The remainder is taken up by buildings of all kinds: residential, industrial, commercial, for public services, thus totaling 26% of the region's total surface area. Although there is still non built-up land that is being converted into built-up land (1990-95; + 2.7% built-up land, +1.2% traffic infrastructure), this trend is slower than in the 1980s (+ 9 and 11.6%, respectively). Indeed, there is ever less ‘open' space available.
3.3.3. Threatening activities
126.96.36.199. Atmospheric pollution
Traffic and domestic heating have replaced industry as the main source of atmospheric pollution. More than 90% of air pollution is due to energy consumption. The remaining 10% is attributed to certain industrial production procedures. It concerns in particular SO2, NOx, Ozone, CO, heavy metals such as lead, volatile organic substances, dust, black smoke as a result of diesel use,...
188.8.131.52. Water pollution
Water pollution constitutes a main problem in the Brussels area; water treatment installations are just now under construction. The waterways still used for discharge of waste water are therefore of very poor water quality. A number of surface waters nevertheless show excellent water quality.
184.108.40.206. Soil pollution
The soil pollution is mainly of historic origin: old industrial sites, often also old dumps.
220.127.116.11. Noise nuisance
The sources of sound nuisance are mostly situated in transport (the most important source), industrial activities, construction sites, neighbourhood noise.
18.104.22.168. Water catchment
The extraction of natural resources, such as the extraction of sand limestone and sand in the past, is presently restricted to a limited extraction (4% of needs) of groundwater. The effect of the water catchment on the forest ecosystem is not apparent, although it has never really been examined.
3.3.4. The high recreation pressure
A typically urban threat to biodiversity is the growing and changing recreation need of the inhabitants. The population pressure on the remaining open space is high: about 950,000 inhabitants basically rely on 8,563 ha of green space, of which almost half (4,718 ha) is public, although not always accessible. Recreation pressure is a real threat to the biological diversity of the area. In particular, it causes severe degradations reaching alarming levels in larger green areas, on the periphery of the Region, especially the forests.
The urban context can also induce, as a result of a recreation need, an
unexpected threat to semi-natural areas:
- the ‘park transformation' of semi-natural areas
- the taking up of such areas for the creation of private vegetable gardens.
What does the Brussels Capital Region want to do with its biological diversity?
What with the Convention on Biological Diversity?
The guidelines ‘for the development of biological heritage' are incorporated in the Plan of Regional Development (PRD-GEWOP)5, the policy plan of the Brussels Government, of which the finalising was announced in the first Brussels policy declaration (18 October 1989). The PRD-GEWOP pursues a durable management of the urban development, for the protection and improvement of an attractive living area for the population.
This positive attitude is clearly included in the Government declaration of 18 June 1995. In relation to the management of Green Spaces (including Nature conservation) priority is given to:
It clearly reveals two axes:
These two objectives lay a solid foundation allowing the development of an urban biodiversity policy. In this respect, it is particularly important to realise that, in view of the entire urban context, ‘biological diversity' in itself may not be the most important thing, but rather the development of a pleasant environment to live in, a pleasant living area, that is determined in part by the development of ‘biodiversity'in the surrounding environment. In this regard it is essential to raise the public's awareness of this biodiversity ‘on the doorstep', also in their own urban environment.
It must be stressed that the Brussels Capital Region so far has not developed a specific ‘biological diversity plan'. Indeed, in its view, the conservation and the further development of its own typical urban biological diversity is part of its policy aimed at green spaces. Therefore, there is no specific biological diversity budget. This policy has various aspects: planning, active management, adaptation of the instruments, monitoring and study, information.
The working out of a high-quality and durable policy relating to green spaces in the urban environment, which also pursues the development of biodiversity, is not feasible without a concrete collaboration between the various sectors concerned. The principal collaboration exists:
22.214.171.124. Creation of the green network
The concept emphasises the cohesion and the continuity of the green spaces in the urban environment. The intention is to integrate the numerous functions of green spaces in the city, the aesthetic, recreative, urban development as well as the ecological ones. As far as the development of the ecological function is concerned, a great deal of attention is paid to the increase of biological diversity. The accomplishment of this green network amounts to the creation of a strategy in different stages:
126.96.36.199. Creation of the blue network
Simultaneously with the creation of the green network, the Region has also taken the initiative of developing the ‘blue network'. The purpose is an integrated, durable and ecologically justified management of the smaller open waterways in the Region. This is a highly interdisciplinary project requiring active co-operation between the various sectors, in particular between the managers of the green spaces and the services of ‘public works'. At present, the preparatory phase is underway (identification of ecological problems).
188.8.131.52. Integration of the concept of the blue and green network in the drawing up of new urban development and sectoral environment plans
The concept of the green and blue network is only useful within a legal framework. A crucial element in the strategy is that the concept and its proposals should be integrated in the urban development plans, presently being drawn up in the Brussels Capital Region.
In particular the Regional Soil Destination plan (PRAS-GBP)6 and the Municipal Development Plans (PCD-GOP)7 will form the foundation of the legal framework for spatial planning of the Brussels Capital Region in the next few decades.
184.108.40.206. Adapted ecological management in the urban green spaces for the promotion of biological diversity
The concept of ‘ecological park' or ‘semi-natural park' adopted a few years ago in the Brussels Capital Region is a fairly new approach for the urban environment in the laying out of green spaces. In this concept, the starting point for (re)-development is the conservation of the original landscape and vegetation and its optimum development.
The Brussels Capital Region has a number of scenic landscape parks with a high ecological value. The ecological management is here as well implemented and/or further expanded for the promotion of biological diversity, both for flora and fauna, for the conservation and/or development of semi-natural grassland, shrubs and ponds.
The Brussels Capital Region has also a substantial surface area of public forest (1,735 ha, of which the Forest of Soignes alone covers 1,642 ha). It concerns mostly ancient forest that was planted with beech in the 18th century, containing relic alluvial alder and ash forests in the valleys. The management focuses on the gradual transformation into more natural forests, whereby the development of a maximum biological diversity is essential. The main problem resides in the intense recreation pressure. One attempts to solve these problems through adapted regulations (see below).
In these public park and forest areas, the challenge is especially the integration of differentiated management. The basic strategy is to draw up adapted management plans for each area.
Finally, one must not overlook the substantial share of the private green spaces (gardens and large domains), which constitute privileged areas in the city for the conservation and development of biological diversity. Since 1992, the Brussels Capital Region has supported a project whereby owners of private gardens are given advice about a more natural management of their garden.
220.127.116.11. Adapted flora and fauna management
The undesired invasion of aggressive plant and animal species threatening the indigenous biodiversity requires efficient management and good information towards managers and the population. The express purpose is to combine local and specific interventions into a global plan of action for the control of undesired species. In addition, there are initiatives aimed at preserving and promoting the typically urban (Brussels) biological diversity, whereby the raising of awareness of the urban population is of vital importance.
The majority of the nature conservation instruments were inherited from the federal structure. As a result of this, many laws are either outdated and/or not adapted to the urban nature conservation. Within the administration, efforts are being made to adapt these laws to Brussels reality, with regard to the optimum protection of the sites of high biological interest and the indigenous wild flora and fauna.
The federal ‘Nature Conservation Act' (13 July 1973) was supplemented in 1995 by the ‘Regional Law pertaining to the conservation and protection of the environment' (27 April 1995). Further efforts are being made for a better integration of the aspects of nature conservation as part of the general environmental policy.
18.104.22.168. Species-oriented protection
The ‘Regional Law pertaining to wild fauna and hunting' (29 August 1991) protects all vertebrates, except fish, and bans all hunting. A number of amendments are in the works, most particularly as part of the preservation of biological diversity:
Wild flora is only protected by the federal law ‘pertaining to measures aimed at protecting certain plant species growing in the wild' (16 February 1976), which is not adapted to the urban rare flora and its threats. The amendment is in the works.
22.214.171.124. Sites-oriented protection: purchase of areas and granting of nature reserve status
Under the ‘Nature Conservation Act' (1973) as early as 1989, and subsequently in 1992, a number of biologically valuable areas received the status of nature reserve, providing an optimum management according to biological diversity. It concerns mostly a few forest areas and one diverse relic farming area with forest and marsh.
Of course, the assigning of the status of regional nature reserve requires that it concerns areas which are owned by the Region. In the years 1988-91, some budgetary space was available allowing the purchase of a few strategic areas, subsequently given the status of nature reserve. As huge amounts were involved, this budgetary space is no more available and purchase of areas is currently out of question.
A strategy that can be adopted in this respect is the ‘ordering of areas', on the basis of the ‘Regional Law pertaining to the conservation of immovable patrimony' (4 March 1993). This strategy has already been used on several occasions to protect a number of large threatened semi-natural areas. This status however does not always allow the necessary management.
The initiatives taken recently which will grant the status of nature reserve to a few important areas relate therefore to areas of public property, that are not threatened in a direct way.
Areas which are not the property of the Region qualify for the status of ‘recognised nature reserve'. So far however, due to the high cost price of land, there is not a single application for the recognition of a private area as nature reserve, by virtue of the ‘Regional Law pertaining to the recognition and subsidising of nature reserves' (25 October 1990).
126.96.36.199. A few specific preservation measures
The Brussels Capital Region has a ban on the use of pesticides by public institutions on public properties. Only a handful of exceptions are admitted (‘Regional Law pertaining to the use of pesticides', 2 May 1991).
Visiting of the forests
In order to counter the increasing threats by recreational pressure on Brussels forests, regulations were defined, which are reflected in the ‘Regional Law pertaining to the visiting of Forests in the Brussels Capital Region' (30 March 1995). Based on this, ‘special protection zones' can be defined, where access is strictly regulated. The reglementation, however, does not appear stringent enough.
188.8.131.52. Conservation and application of the EEC directives relating to nature conservation
As regards the application of the Bird Directive (97/43), the Regional Law of 29 August 1992, pertaining wild fauna and hunting, protects all wild birds and their environment. This allows an easy follow-up of the guideline, as no bird guideline areas were defined (criteria not satisfied). As regards the application of the Habitat Directive (92/43), in May 1996 a number of areas were suggested to become a part of the Natura 2000 network. Although the Habitat-directive criteria are not adapted to the urban situation, an effort was made to incorporate the key areas in the network; notably the Brussels Forest of Soignes and three complexes of valley and forest zones. In total, it concerns 1,871 ha.
3.5.4. Study & monitoring
Continuity in the research of the biological diversity in the Brussels Region
Since 1991, there has been co-ordinated research in the field of the biological diversity in the Brussels Capital Region, notably in the context of the establishment of a bioindicator-information-network. The principal goal of this research is to achieve concrete recommendations in terms of the urban environment, and to be able to meet the legal obligation of drawing up the two-yearly statement of the environment (‘Regional Law pertaining to the drawing up of a report on the state of the Brussels Environment', 4 June 1992). The idea is to draw up a periodical statement on the condition and the quality of the biological environment. For this, the most representative groups of organisms that can be studied and monitored easily are the following: birds, herpetofauna, mammals, higher plants, fungi. The data of this convention makes it possible to draw important conclusions about the biodiversity, such as:
that allow recommendations to be formulated relating to the management, conservation or protection of biological diversity, either by taking direct action on the species, or via the areas where the species exist. The current monitoring programme is carried out with a very limited annual budget of 3.3 million BEF. At present, there continues to be a shortage of budgetary resources in the environmental sector.
3.5.5. Information and education
A precondition for the success of a policy aimed at promoting biodiversity is good information and education of the population, especially to raise awareness of the presence of biodiversity ‘close at home'. In relation to nature conservation, the Brussels Capital Region spends about 30 million BEF a year on the development of environment-educational programmes, directed at school children and adolescents as well as adults, by granting subsidies to universities, institutes, education centres, nature conservation organisations, etc.
At present, the foundation for intense co-operation with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is being laid as part of an exhibition programme on urban biodiversity (fauna in the city).
Brussels Institute for Management of the Environment
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