First National Report of Belgium
to the Convention on Biological Diversity


 

2. The Flemish Region

Preface

by Theo Kelchtermans, Regional Minister for the Environment and Employment

As stated before, the Rio Conference and the signature of the Convention on Biological Diversity were important moments for all parties involved. Due to the particular political framework in Belgium, a great responsibility in fulfilling the obligations of the Convention lies within the different regions and communities. Flanders and the other regions have the almost exclusive responsibility in the fields of environmental management, land zoning and nature conservation; indeed covering essential parts of the Convention.

Being Flemish minister for the environment and nature conservation I realise there is a great deal of work left to be done if we wish to conserve and improve environmental quality and biological diversity. In line with the provisions of the Convention we are endorsing the ideas about international co-operation and about a more systematic policy planning. In recent years Flanders has been very active in concluding co-operation agreements sharing expertise in for example water treatment or regulation of industrial emissions with other countries.

Following AGENDA 21 and the spirit of the two conventions concluded in Rio, Flanders has worked out a system of environmental planning, based on a decree of 1995. Future policy will be based on three cornerstones: an environment report, an environmental policy plan and annual environmental programmes. Recently two reports were published (1994 and 1996), a plan has been drawn up for the period 1997-2001 and a first programme for 1998 is being carried out. This contribution by the Region of Flanders will contain many references to the Flemish Environmental Policy Plan 1997-2001. This is logical since sustainable development has been the basic principle throughout the plan's concept. Furthermore, a lot of attention was directed towards the conservation of biological diversity. The Convention and the decisions in the different COPs served as a basis for this. In accordance with article 6 strategies, plans and programmes are thus developed in Flanders. The plan was adopted and is supported by the entire Government of Flanders, so that by making and implementing these plans the integration into other relevant sectors is insured.

Flanders has taken another important step in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity. In 1997 a new decree on nature conservation was adopted. With this decree a legal basis is created to establish an ecological network with core areas and the necessary stepping stones. The decree also provides instruments to rehabilitate and restore degraded ecosystems as well as to protect threatened species. Mechanisms are introduced to provide a better quality of the environment in areas important for nature conservation. As in the Flemish Environmental Plan 1997-2001 the assessment of biological diversity is encouraged so that Flanders can contribute to the process of identification and monitoring of the relevant components.

The following text is the Flemish contribution to meet the obligations agreed upon during COP-2. It also gives insight in the Flemish environmental policy, in particular with regard to the conservation of biological diversity. I firmly believe that the development of strategies and the exchange of information about these strategies is vital in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity. National (and regional) reports can ensure an active participation by all parties. They also allow us to learn from each other and provide a platform for future co-operation.

 

2.1. Introduction

2.1.1. A Flemish chapter ?

Belgium, as a federal State, has a very distinct and unusual constitutional character. As mentioned before, not only is there a federal government, but there are also Regions (and Communities), which have an own Parliament and Government. The northern part of Belgium is the Flemish Region or Flanders. Its specific features make it necessary to devote a separate part of this report to Flanders.

2.1.2. The Flemish Region's environmental institutional framework

2.1.2.1. Authority

The authority plays an important role in the conservation of biodiversity in Flanders. Not only in outlining strategies, but also in the management on the field and in the scientific research. All services of the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community are concentrated in one ministry, which consists of 7 departments, divided into administrations and sections.

The department of the ministry dealing with environmental matters, is also competent in spatial planning, transport and waterways. Everything that has to do with environmental management and nature conservation has been united in AMINAL (Environment, Nature, Land and Water Management Administration).

 


AMINAL

Nature Division: nature policy preparation and evaluation, management and purchase of natural areas, education, subsidising nature organisations;

Forests and Green Spaces Division: the preparation and evaluation of the policy in forests, green spaces, game management, bird protection and freshwater fishing, the acquisition of forests and the management of public forests, subsidising and advising private forest owners;

Europe and Environment Division: participation to international environmental co-operation and monitoring the implementation of the international conventions;

other Divisions (land, water, inspection, permits, ).

There are three more public agencies, each concentrating on one specific environmental problem. The Flemish Land Agency (VLM) plays an important role in the protection of the environment against eutrophication. It makes a geographical information system for Flanders and it is the driving force behind land use planning. The Flemish Environmental Agency (VMM) sets up and operates the monitoring networks for the surface water quality and the air quality, as well as the investment programmes for the purification of sewage water. The Flemish Public Waste Agency (OVAM) tries to prevent or manage waste.

In addition to AMINAL, there are two more institutions dealing with particular environmental matters: the Institute of Nature Conservation (IN) and the Institute for Forestry and Game Management (IBW). The IN, incorporated in 1986, conducts an applied ecological and ecohydrological research with a view to nature conservation, recovery and management. It also turns the available scientific knowledge about the existence and the functioning of nature into policy. The IBW, incorporated in 1991, has a similar function for forests, game management and freshwater fishery.

2.1.2.2. Others

Some non-governmental organisations (NGO's) are especially active in nature conservation. They buy and manage valuable nature reserves with financial support of the authorities, keep a close eye on nature policy and organise educational activities for a large public. Divisions of Natuurreservaten and De Wielewaal are spread all over Flanders. Update 2002: Natuurreservaten and the Wielewaal have merged into the Natuurpunt. Other associations, such as the Stichting Limburgs Landschap, are more regional. At last, we also mention the Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBL), which is an umbrella organisation and forms the bridge between nature and environment.

Finally, diverse social groups dispose of official platforms to raise their voices. In 1991, the MiNa-Council (MINA-Raad) was established. In this council we find representatives of i.e. the environmental associations, the farming organisations, the industry and the universities. The MiNa-Council gives advice on all matters relating to the environment and nature conservation, either on its own initiative or on demand of the Flemish Government. The other advisory councils, the so-called Supreme Councils, are rather sectoral. There are four Supreme Councils: the Supreme Forest Council, the Supreme Council for River Fishing, the Supreme Hunting Council and the Supreme Council for Nature Conservation.

2.1.3. Budget

To finance the environmental policy, a special fund was created in 1991. This so-called MINA-fund collects all environmental taxes, mainly levies for water pollution and for the prevention and management of wastes. Many expenses of the administration of the public institutions and the environmental management derive from this MINA-fund.

For the time being, the total expenses for the environment in Flanders fluctuate around 25 billion BEF/year. Approx. 2 billion BEF is destined for nature and forest policy. This amount can roughly be divided as following: 400 million BEF for the implementation of the first Nature Development Plan; 250 million BEF for managing wildlife and forest areas; 850 million BEF for the acquisition of nature and forest areas; 200 million BEF for supporting local administrations; 100 million BEF for supporting associations; 100 million BEF for auxiliary policy research; 150 million BEF for the two scientific institutions.

2.1.4. Project Environmental (and Nature) Planning

In former years, there was no systematic environmental planning in Flanders (and in Belgium). In 1989, the minister of environment presented the MINA-2000 plan as a first step towards a valuable environmental policy planning. Initiatives and other aspects of the environmental and nature policy were bundled in this document. Within the year, the Environmental Policy and Nature Development Plan, simply MINA-plan, was published. These texts still have a descriptive character.

These and other initiatives (for instance the Waste plan) clearly show the need for a legally embedded and integral environmental policy planning. Its foundation was laid by a decree of 1995. Every fifth year, a strategic plan, including an action programme, will be created. As to their contents, these plans are supported by environmental and nature reports (MIRA), which are published every two years. Up till now, two reports (MIRA 1 and MIRA 2) have already appeared.

The first Environmental Policy Plan, drawn up for the period 1997-2001, was adopted on 8 July 1997. The plan tries to improve effectiveness and efficiency and to enhance integration within the Flemish environmental policy. It also tries to build a bridge between the nature policy in the strict sense, and the environmental policy. Thus an environmental problem, such as ‘the loss of biodiversity', can be treated width ways. It is one of the thirteen themes which are treated. The strategic options and the concrete actions of the plan are further developed in annual Programmes. These Environmental Annual Programmes make it also possible to report on the implementation of the plan and to adjust it when necessary.

2.2. Status

Certain species in Flanders are threatened with extinction. Not only the species are running out, the decrease of biodiversity also occurs within ecosystems. Lime swamps, infertile but non-acid meres, moors, dry lime grasslands, spontaneous communities of calcareous fields, and other have almost disappeared in Flanders. The protected areas are small and the valuable areas are shattered. Semi-natural landscapes, such as flowery meadowlands, cove and vale grasslands, old coppice forests, etc. are under great pressure of a quickly changing and increasing intensive land use, increasing dehydration, euthrophication, etc..

2.2.1. Natural structures and ecosystems

The coast and the coastal dunes are very rich in species. For instance, 862 species of higher plants (67% of the Flemish totality) are found on a surface of 7,500 ha (0.55% from the Flemish area). About 75% of the summer birds of the region are also regular sitting birds on the coast. The highly specified environment and the many area-specific species and biotic communities make the area very important. It is however increasingly disturbed by recreation, building-on and infrastructure. The part of the river Scheldt which is influenced by the tide is an exceptionally dynamic ecosystem. This zone is under pressure by loss of area, the modified use of the salt marshes, the disturbance of the water balance and pollution. River forelands are not very common in Flanders. The forelands of the Grensmaas are deteriorating by intensified agriculture, rigid river management and exploitation.

Grasslands have a wide variety of closely related biotic communities. Of the total area of Flanders, 30% to 40% is taken up by grasslands. Due to the agricultural practice, only 2% is rich in species. The state of grasslands gives a good picture of the relation between agriculture and nature; in particular of the impact of agriculture on nature. The estimated area of heathlands (including meres and drifting dunes) in Flanders measures between 10,300 ha and 13,000 ha (almost 1% of the total area); 3,500 ha of that area is protected. Thus lowland heaths enclose about 1/3 of the total surface of protected nature in Flanders.

The forests in Flanders are strongly fragmentized. Over 50% of the forests are smaller than 100 ha. The proportion of forested areas in Flanders is estimated at 8-10%, which is low compared to other areas of Europe. Approximately 70% of this is private property. The Flemish Region or the Federal State owns 15%. Approximately 75% of the soils in the forests are affected by acidification.

Much attention is given to water quality of brooks and rivers. Despite of these efforts, site-specific species disappear while common ones gain the upper hand. This is explained by the fact that 67% of the brooks have a uniform profile. 47% of the Flemish watercourses are of poor or very poor biological quality (situation in 1995). Only 2% are of extremely good quality.

Fig. 2.1. Natural structures and ecosystems in Flanders (Institute of Nature Conservation).

2.2.2. Species

2.2.2.1. General

For a number of animal and plant species in Flanders surveys are available. Fig. 2.2. reflects a limited part of the available data.

Fig. 2.2. Total number and situation of some important species in Flanders
(Institute of Nature Conservation).

2.2.2.2. Plants

The distribution and status of higher plants are well known in Flanders. The standard list of Flemish staff plants comprises 1,279 species, of which 363 have declined after 1972. The status of other species looks the same or is even improving after this date.

2.2.2.3. Animals

Mammals are important for the description of the state of nature. 30 species of the total of 68, once present in Flanders, are nowadays on the Red List. In the meantime, 11 species have disappeared completely, of which 4 in the last decade (large horseshoe-nose bat, pug bat, otter, bottle-nose dolphin).

Recent data from the Flemish Avifauna Commission show that of the current 161 summer bird species in Flanders, 20 are seriously threatened, 18 are vulnerable and 53 have declined. Since 1960, a minimum of 14 bird species have completely disappeared as summer birds in Flanders. 47 summer bird species (28%) have increased in population since 1945.

Only 5 species of amphibians are widely distributed in Flanders (Alpine water salamander, small water salamander, ordinary toad, brown frog and green frog). These are not threatened. Of the other 14 species, two are vulnerable (fire salamander and slippery salamander), two are threatened (nurse frog an garlic frog), two are threatened with extinction (adder and tree frog), and two are extinct (yellow-bellied fire toad and ring snake).

Among the invertebrates, insects are relatively well-studied. Of the 352 indigenous sand and ground beetles, 201 are considered threatened. The Red List of the day butterflies mentions 46 species as threatened. This represents 66% of the 70 indigenous species.

2.3. Activities and threats

The high population density (430 inhabitants/km²) and economical and industrial activities, put pressure on the available area and the environment. Other human activities, such as motorised movements, intensive agriculture and recreation, contribute to the decline of natural resources and biodiversity. The threats can be divided into three categories: the use of the area itself, the use of natural resources and pollution.

2.3.1. Use of the area

Because of the high population density, the available space is very limited in Flanders (almost 6 million people for 13,522 km2). The total build-over area represents more than 14% of the total territory, while 62.4% is occupied by agriculture. The remaining open area is more and more covered by gardens, parks, buffer zones, verges, etc. This all leads to a severe reduction of the available area for natural ecosystems. Moreover, the agricultural practices changed and the natural elements were removed for reasons of economical efficiency. Examples are the straightening out of rivers and the extinction of wood sides and tree row plantations. 70% to 95% of the marginal overgrowths of the parcel disappeared in the last century.

An important additional characteristic of land use in Flanders is the high level of fragmentation. Industrial areas are dispersed. The building-on is strongly unfolded; 40% of this building-on is located outside urban areas. A part of this consists of the typical Flemish row of houses along roads (the so-called ribbon development) with a total length of 2,000 km. For Flanders, the average fragmentation index was calculated at 44.3/km². This index gives the number of transects per km by highways and railways, channels and high-voltage wiring.

The large fragmentation, together with the intensive use of the soil has led to the fact that nature and forest areas are generally small and isolated in the landscape. The average surface of a forest complex encounts 19 ha.

2.3.2. The use of natural resources

Recreation and the use of natural resources, such as water, soil, trees and other living organisms, have obvious consequences for the natural ecosystems.

2.3.2.1. Water

The needs for water are complied with groundwater (56%), surface water (32%), input (11%), and precipitation (1%). The household consumption amounts to about 29% and the non-household consumption to about 61%. The rest can't be assigned. The average water use of the population fluctuates around 120 liter per person per day. These amounts and the ways of delivering cause even more problems. Not only does the exploitation of groundwater increase, the recharge of rain water to the groundwaterreservoir is declining. In time, this phenomenon leads to dehydration.

2.3.2.2. Forests

In Flanders, more and more social groups claim the limited areas of forests for specific functions (economical, scientific, ecological, social-educational, ). At many places, the pressure on forests is far too strong. Nevertheless, the own timber production covers only 11% of the needs. Contrary to the large consumption (6 million m³/year), there is a limited standing volume (estimated at 10 million m³).

2.3.2.3. Soil

Reclaimed areas amount to more than 12,360 ha in Flanders. Of these, approximately 8,000 ha are still qualified for exploitation. The removing of earth and the extraction of gravel, sand, clay and loam exceeds 11 million m³ a year. Such level of extractions causes changes in relief and ecological disruptions, which makes the soil unsuitable for other purposes.

2.3.3. Polluting activities

A lot of human activities cause undesired effects. The quality of the natural environment is always affected, with consequences on all biodiversity levels. A part of these effects can be described as eutrophication, acidification and dispersion.

2.3.3.1. Eutrophication

Eutrophication is the disruption of ecological processes and cycles by an inordinate supply of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in the environment. In the period of 1991-1994, the total supply of fertilisers in the environment has declined, especially due to a reduced use of chemical fertilisers. More than 60% of the pollutants that cause eutrophication are originating from agriculture.

2.3.3.2. Acidification

Acidification is the process in which acidifying substances from agriculture, industry and traffic influence the ecosystems. Because of this, the vitality of plants deteriorates and the groundwater is contaminated. Approximately 75% of the Flemish forest soils are somewhat acidified.
The total acidifying emission in Flanders declined between 1980 and 1994 with 46% to an amount of approximately 13,000 million acid equivalents. The decline in the relative share of SO2-, NOx- and NH3-emissions (mostly from animal manure) from respectively 70%, 19% and 11% to 47%, 31% and 22%, is very important. The share of traffic and cattle breeding in the acidifying emissions has doubled since 1980.

2.3.3.3. Dispersion

Dispersion of environmental dangerous substances deteriorate the environmental quality and is mainly caused by heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOS), pesticides and other poisonous substances. In Flanders, 96% of the VOS-emissions is caused by human activities, to a large degree by traffic. In addition, various heavy metals enter the environment from many different sources. In the period of 1985-1995, there has been a considerable decrease of emissions of heavy metals.

2.4. Objectives

2.4.1. Global objectives

In the past, vague policy objectives were promoted from different angles at different moments. Recently, the environmental and nature policy aims at a clear and uniform way of formulating its objectives. Since it has been established that the underlying causes of loss of biodiversity and of other environmental problems are the same, a co-ordinating vision has been preferred. For the Flemish environmental and nature policy, the three following objectives were explicitly and unambiguously stipulated by law:

  • the management of the environment by the sustainable application of raw materials and nature;
  • the protection of man and environment against contamination and extraction, and especially the protection of the ecosystems which influence the functioning of the biosphere and are related to food supply, health and the other aspects of human life;
  • the nature conservation and the promotion of the biological and scenic diversity, in particular by the conservation, restoration and development of the natural habitats, ecosystems and landscapes with ecological value; and the preservation of wild species, especially those who are threatened, vulnerable, rare or endemic.

In pursuing these objectives, much attention is paid to integration, involvement of target groups, the steering authority, prevention and healthy finances.

In the Flemish Environmental Policy Plan 1997-2001 these objectives and principles are translated into a strategy and an action plan with no less than 179 actions. Environmental problems are addressed in thirteen themes: Depletion of the ozone layer, Changes of the atmosphere by the greenhouse effect, Pollution by photochemical substances, Acidification, Eutrophication, Dispersion of environmental dangerous substances, Pollution by wastes, Contamination of the surface water, Dehydration, Noise nuisance, Odour, Fragmentation and Biodiversity loss.

Furthermore there are specific chapters on Target groups, Area-oriented approach, Instruments, Costs and Financing, Co-operation with other authorities and the Process of Environmental Planning itself.

2.4.2. Specific objectives

The Flemish general and, certainly, environmental policy has been evolving for a long time following the direction indicated by the Convention on Biological Diversity. After evaluation of the current bottlenecks and problems the strategy adopted in the Flemish Environmental Policy Plan 1997-2001 provides a number of initiatives which will continue this course. Theme 13 of the Flemish Environmental Policy Plan (Biodiversity loss) joins immediately in the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Despite the uncertainties regarding the appropriate level of biodiversity, the following long term objective is put forward:

the improvement of the biodiversity, taking into account the individuality of the spatial and non-biotic environment.

In short terms this means: Conservation, protection, restoration, development and management of nature and the natural environment; Promotion of the sustainable use of biological diversity components; Integration of European and international initiatives for the conservation and development of the global biodiversity.

An important aspect of this strategy is the creation of ecological networks. In Flanders, a network of 125,000 ha will be created within a period of 5 year. This network will be completed and supported in the same period by 150,000 ha of so-called nature interweaving areas. These areas feature combined land use, where nature enjoys a protected status. The planned initiatives are specialised in answering three crucial questions: where?, what? and how?

For specific areas, this will lead to:

  • a demarcation, indicating the possibilities of conservation, restoration and development of nature values;
  • the forming of a vision determining what is possible in a specific area;
  • implementing measures, indicating how possibilities of nature can be realised in the field by incl. rehabilitation and management.

For these three objectives, 20 actions are drawn up. These have to be completed at the end of the year 2001. These actions can only be successful when the following conditions are met:

  • Explanation and acceptation of the relation 'nature - environment';
  • Appreciation of ‘nature' as a valuable element in other policy sectors (spatial planning, economics, ...);
  • Enhancement of the social commitment and acceptation;
  • Optimisation of the co-operation with the nature associations;
  • A guaranteed effective juridical infrastructure;
  • Sufficient resources and capable staff;
  • Contribution and tuning of the local initiatives;
  • Possibility of measuring ‘nature' on a permanent base;
  • Improved participation on international level;
  • Continuation of a more systematic and projectwise approach of the area-orientated policy;
  • Acquisition and availability of the knowledge about the causes of the biodiversity loss.

 


Flemish Impulse Programme Nature Development

In 1996 a research programme was started up under the name: Flemish Impulse Programme Nature Development (VLINA). This impulse programme means a stimulation for the ecological and sociological research on nature conservation in Flanders. By emphasising policy support and improved co-ordination, the scientific research can form a solid base for nature conservation. Within a period of five year, 500 million BEF will be released. Five themes are treated:

  • Indicators for biodiversity and nature-orientated quality standards;
  • Ecological aspects of nature development;
  • Social aspects of nature development;
  • Ecohydrological aspects;
  • Habitat fragmentation.

Biodiversity in forests

One of the first ascribed research assignments is: "The selection and the evaluation of indicators, and the work out of a practical methodology for the assessment of the biodiversity in forests".
From political as well as scientific point of view, there was a clear need for a well-defined, practical and scientifically correct methodology for the evaluation of the biodiversity in the Flemish forests.
In the first phase, the existing techniques for biomonitoring in forests will be investigated. In order to obtain a concrete survey of proposed species and groups of species, a list of selection criteria will be made and a selection procedure will be developed.
In a second phase the existing inventory techniques will be examined, as well as the practical realisation of these techniques in experimental inventories. Therefor assessment criteria will be formulated and the diverse techniques will be evaluated.
In a last phase, a standardised methodology for the examination of forests by means of biodiversity indicators will be set up. It should serve as a manual for the quantitative and the qualitative evaluation of biodiversity in forests.
The final results of this research will be used in a nature-orientated policy for forests. The comparison between treated and untreated forests will be valuable in evaluating the influence of a specific action on biodiversity.

 

2.5. Strategy and Action plan

In the text below, some actions are printed in bold type. These are copied from the Flemish Environmental Policy Plan 1997-2001, which was determined by the Flemish government on 8 July 1997.

2.5.1. Nature conservation

2.5.1.1. Old legislation

In the past Flemish nature policy was mainly based on the Belgian Nature Conservation Act of 1973. This law focused on the conservation of the own constitution, the diversity and the undamaged character of the natural environment. It offered diverse possibilities to protect not only valuable areas, but also individual animals and plants.

Additional measures were taken to protect a number of listed plant and animal species. Legislation also created the possibility to designate areas of considerable natural value as national nature reserves or to recognise them as nature reserves. For all these areas, which are exclusively in function of nature, management plans are being drawn up.

In Flanders, there are 29 national nature reserves with a collective area of 3,556 ha. These areas are owned by the Flemish Region and managed by its personnel. The ‘Kalmthoutse Heide' is with its 914 ha the largest and probably the most well-known among these. We are talking about a varied heath landscape with dunes, dry and wet heath, meres and forests. Also nature organisations are, with financial support of the Flemish Region, active in the acquisition and the management of valuable areas. Additionally, they manage around 8,000 ha of natural area, of which 3,229 ha was recognised as nature reserve at the end of 1997. The average surface area of these recognised nature reserves, of only 29 ha, reveals how extreme fragmentation is.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Optimise the instrument 'recognition/indication of nature reserves' and refine the acquisition of nature and forest areas.
A testable and top-quality management is pursued. The current activities of diverse persons concerned must be geared to one another. In the long term, 50,000 ha nature reserve should be built out. For this purpose, the rhythm and the volume of acquisition of natural areas is increased. In the next 5 years, approx. 1 billion BEF will be set aside extra for this action.

In Flanders, regulation of the management of the verges was elaborated on a legal basis. Measures were provided with regard to the mowing policy (mowing time, frequency, ). Moreover, a licence duty to change ecologically valuable vegetation and linear and pointed landscape elements was introduced.

The coastal dunes set a specific problem. The natural values are suffering strongly under the recreation pressure and the corresponding building activities. Very recently, parts of the coastal dunes were legally protected. For approx. 1,000 ha of dunes, a total building ban was imposed in view of the protection, the development and the management of the marine dune area.

2.5.1.2. Special projects

Since long, Flanders is aware of the fact that the deterioration of the biodiversity cannot be stopped by solely protecting areas and/or species. The problem needs an integral approach (ecosystem level, with the target groups, thematic, ). In the year 1990, a lot of new initiatives showed up. Thus, the idea of systematic environmental policy planning was launched, as well as the idea to build out an ecological network. Furthermore ecological impulse areas and regional landscapes were started up and protection plans for species were worked out.

The ‘ecological impulse areas' are pilot projects bundling means and people of the authorities and the private sector. The aim is to obtain concrete results on short term of works on the field. For all the impulse areas, a policy vision as well as an operational programme was created with special attention to the acquisition and management of representative natural areas, and to education and public sensibilisation. All the existing impulse areas have a relatively large surface.

The ‘regional landscape' is a form of collaboration to promote the specific character of an extensive area. It is aimed at the consultation of and the co-operation with the target groups involved. For the promotion of nature conservation, natural education and natural recreation, the local social, economic, cultural and historical conditions are taken into account.

To protect an animal or a plant species, it obviously isn't sufficient to enter it in a protection list. At least as important is the attention given to the living conditions and the habitat. Therefore integral species protecting plans must be used. These plans concentrate on specific species in a specific area. Such plans have already been worked out for the badger, the toad, the partridge and the nurse-frog. A study on bats is being applied. For the implementation of these plans a strong instrument to organise the habitats and the forage areas is being worked out.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Support projects for the promotion of general nature quality; promote co-operation between the local authorities, the environmental and nature societies and the other partners.

2.5.1.3. Local administrations

Co-operation between the Flemish Region and the municipalities was defined by the end of 1991. 294 of the 308 municipalities signed a Municipal Environmental Covenant, valid for a period of 5 year. An important part of this covenant was the obligation, for the municipalities, to draw up a nature development plan (GNOP), containing an inventory of the natural elements, an analysis of pressure points, a list of objectives and an action programme. In return the Region gives financial support. The Nature Division of AMINAL takes care of the co-ordination and the evaluation.

In the beginning of 1997, a new covenant with the municipalities was concluded, based on the previous one. During the next period, the municipalities will have the opportunity to apply projects which fit in with their action plans. Therefor they will receive a subsidy of 50% of the total cost price for the application of these projects. Additional employment in implementing plans will also be subsidised.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Draw up an additional stimulation programme for the local environmental policy.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Finance and guide actions in GNOP-focus areas.
Interesting projects, which apply to the strategy developed in the Flemish Environmental Policy Plan, receive additional support.

2.5.1.4. International aspects

Initiatives concerning the conservation of the biodiversity were also taken on European level. The EU Bird-Directive 97/43/EC obliges the member states to take special protection measures for a number of bird species. In Flanders, 23 special protection zones with a total surface of 102,000 ha were demarcated. In 1992, a new directive (92/43/EEC) regulated the conservation of the natural habitats and the wild flora and fauna. For Flanders, 40 protection zones totaling up to 57,400 ha were presented. Some of these zones overlap the bird protection zones.

Flanders closely watches the outcome of the Ramsar Convention. In the Flemish Region, 5 wetlands of international importance were indicated, with a total area of 7,500 ha. Some of these are of the most famous nature reserves (e.g. ‘Het Zwin' and ‘De Blankaart').

Fig. 2.3. Designated Areas of International Importance (Institute of Nature Conservation).

Finally, Flanders wants closer co-operation with other regions or countries. This co-operation has materialised in a number of cross-border natural areas (e.g. consultation with The Netherlands with respect to the Kalmthoutse Heide). Co-operation agreements have been concluded with different countries in the field of environment and the nature.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Indicate additional strategic regional cross-border nature projects.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Work out policy visions with regard to international institutions and processes and make up a financing plan for the international environmental policy.

2.5.1.5. New legislation

After almost 25 years, the existing legislature was no longer able to anticipate new challenges (incl. in international and European context) and ideas (large organisation projects, ecological networks, nature policy planning and reporting, ...). Since 21 October 1997, there is a new decree on Nature Conservation and the Natural Environment.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Implement the decree on nature conservation; start up projects for integral management of the Flemish Ecological Network and for the realisation of natural interweaving areas.
Along with the first decisions of the Government of Flanders, implementing the decree, some of the new instruments become operational. The first projects for nature rehabilitation will be started in 1998. At the same time the first phase of demarcation will be completed, including e.g. 60,000 to 80,000 ha of Flemish Ecological Network. All this will be underpinned by the first Nature Report and by an updated Biological Valuation Map for the Flemish Region. For this action too, an extra amount of 1 billion BEF will be provided for the period 1997-2001.

 


A new decree

The Decree on nature conservation and the natural environment' replaces almost completely the former legislation on nature conservation and sets a number of clear new outlines.

Objectives

This decree lays down the objectives of nature conservation unambiguously. The policy will focus on 'the protection, development, management and restoration of nature and the natural environments', but also on 'the preservation or the restoration of the required environmental quality'. Furthermore, 'the creation of a wide-ranging social basis' is pursued. Moreover Flanders will participate in the larger international nature policy, in which the conservation and promotion of the biodiversity take priority.

Outlines

The new decree provides for a programmatic and methodical development. Nature policy will further be inserted in environmental policy. Every two years a Nature Report will be drawn up and enclosed in the Environmental Report (MIRA). Every fifth year, a Nature Policy Plan will be integrated in the Environmental Policy Plan.

An other important novelty is the elaboration of a legal framework that gives shape to area-orientated policy. With this, Flanders gives in to international regulations enforcing the indication of a coherent whole of protected areas. In 2002 a Flemish Ecological Network (VEN) with a total area of 125,000 ha will be demarcated. This is a coherent and organised whole of open spaces in which a specific policy with regard to nature conservation is pursued. This network is supported by an Integral Interweaving and Supporting Network (IVON). It will have a total area of 150,000 ha and is composed by natural interweaving areas, which will also be marked out in 2002, and natural connecting areas, necessary for the migration of plants and animals. The Flemish Land Agency can assert the right of pre-emption in order to quicken the acquisition of valuable natural areas in the Flemish Ecological Network and in some other, well-defined zones. For the management of all these areas nature orientation plans will be made. The policy on nature reserves will be continued. The provisions already stipulated in the old law remain practically unchanged. To take the interests of the farmers into maximum consideration, a few conditions are build in for the recognition of nature reserves in the agricultural area.

Next to the attention paid to valuable areas, there are general measures for the conservation of the existing nature. First of all the decree introduces the overall duty to maintain nature. This means that every citizen is obliged to take all measures within his power to prevent, restrict or restore damage to nature. A Code of good nature practice will make this principle more tangible. In addition to this a ban on changing some valuable vegetation types is imposed. For other types and in some specific zones permits are made necessary. If the government grants a permit or imposes conditions, she has to take care that no avoidable damage to nature can originate. In some cases compensatory measures can be enforced. Based on the stand-still-principle, the conservation of the environmental quality is taken into account too. The voluntary management agreements are of considerable importance within the whole range of stimulating measures. The decree provides for a framework in which special efforts of individuals can be rewarded. At last, a new instrument was created: nature rehabilitation management. This instrument makes it possible to start up concrete action plans to safeguard the present natural values, to repair nature and to implement redevelopment programmes.

 

2.5.2. Sectoral integration

2.5.2.1. Environment

Safeguarding environmental quality (air, water, soil) requires other instruments than those used for taking care of nature and forests. Moreover the policy in these sectors might concentrate exclusively on public health. Still, the relationship between the environmental quality and the conservation of the biological diversity is crucial. A survey of all the different threats shows that a bad environmental quality is often, directly or not, the cause of deterioration.

In the definition of the environment, as it has recently been noted by law, the dichotomy between nature and environment no longer exists. From now on, the environment is described as "the atmosphere, soil, water, flora, fauna and other organisms except man, the ecosystems, landscapes and climate". In the Environmental Policy Plan 1997-2001, nature occupies an essential and a valuable place. In the treated themes, the relationship between the environment (in the strict meaning of the word air, soil, water) and nature is a starting point.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Make up and implement specific action plans for a particular environmental quality.
Signal maps indicate in each theme (dehydration, contamination of the surface water, eutrophication, acidification and dispersion of environmental dangerous substances) where vulnerable and/or harmed ecosystems are situated. In 2002, specific action plans must be implemented for 10% of the indicated areas.

Action for the period 1997-2001: The development of a policy plan with regard to the scientific support of environmental quality standards.

2.5.2.2. Forests

Though the forest policy takes into account the altering needs of society, it considered that forest use is inferior in importance to the conservation and the protection of the forest.

With the Decree on Forestry, Flanders has its own forestry legislation since 1990. In Europe it is considered as pioneering, because of its juridical base for forest functions, its clear ecological foundation and its focus on nature. The ecological function also includes the management of the flora and fauna. On the base of this forest decree, the management of the public forests increasingly stresses the promotion of the forests natural fauna and flora; including indigenous and habitat-appropriate trees, mixed uneven-aged, well developed and structured forests, natural forest-regeneration and a durable ecological balance. In managing the domanial forests (state owned), the policy guidelines are the principles of a close-to-nature forest management, such as the one established by the NGO ‘Pro Silva Vlaanderen':

  • trees should grow old;
  • indigenous tree species are the base of the forest ecosystem;
  • forests must have a varied structure;
  • selfregulating processes are basic;
  • timber harvesting must harm as little as possible;
  • adjusted management for small elements with a high natural value;
  • clearcutting should be avoided;
  • a close-to-nature managed forest contains dead wood;
  • undesirable vegetation should be controlled by mechanical or biological means.

In Flanders , the forest areas are not only small; but there is also fragmentation in property. A multitude of private owners owns about 75% of the Flemish forests. The forest decree gave managers and owners of private forests more scope in defining the ecological forest function. Still, in using different instruments, the authorities try to direct them towards a forest practice with ecological boundary conditions aimed at sustainability. A more extensive forestry, which uses the spontaneous natural processes in a sensible way, can yield quality timber relatively cheaply.

According to the Decree on Forestry, the Flemish forest policy is based on a long-term planning. Action plans give implementation to the long-term vision of planning.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Make and implement an action plan ‘forestry'.
The planning starts from a profound analysis of the initial situation. Then a strategic policy plan for forestry in the medium-long and in the long term is elaborated. The plan should cover 20 years. Finally concrete actions are formulated in order to realise the objectives. The guidelines in the policy document are 'quality' and 'quantity'. Throughout the plan, attention is paid to forest expansion, to the realisation of forest reserves and to the linking of true-to-nature forestry and livable productivity.

2.5.2.3. Spatial planning

In Belgium, spatial planning is one of the oldest area protection methods. Rules on this subject were imposed in 1962, when soil destinations were established by law. Several categories of destination relate to natural areas. Reserves and Natural areas (112,000 ha) were distinguished as well as Forest areas (43,000 ha) and other Green areas such as parks (34,000 ha). These destinations have direct consequences. Building permits for green spaces are for example not granted. They also have indirect consequences. There are for example rules regarding the minimal distances to the green destinations when dealing with exploitation licenses for companies.

Despite this legislation, problems were frequently treated ‘ad hoc'. The Spatial Structure Plan Flanders has recently changed this. All future decisions related to spatial planning will be examined for their compatibility with this plan. It works towards an ‘open and urban' Flanders. Over the years all functions and activities were spread in space. The open and the urban spaces were therefore not clearly separated. The typical ribbon development (stretches of houses along the roads) emphasises this phenomenon. Inevitable consequences are larger flows of traffic and a severe pressure on the Open Space. For the outside area, conservation and reinforcement are pursued as well as a bundling of life and work in the centres.

Space will be redistributed by the year 2007 on the base of the needs of the different sectors. To this end the plan unconditionally supports the formation of an ecological network. In order to provide sufficient space for this, the Reserve areas and the Natural areas will be extended with 38,000 ha and the Forest areas with 10,000 ha.

2.5.2.4. Landscapes

Flanders' specific policy regarding valuable landscapes is based on a law of 1931, which enabled protection for historical, aesthetic or scientific reasons. It was quite a novelty that natural areas or ‘scenic beauty' could be protected. While in former years protection was exclusively passive (by prohibitory measures), it now can be active. Since 1996 the Flemish Region applies a new legislation which strongly emphasises the management of protected landscapes. For each protected area management commissions are to be established and management plans worked out. Moreover, the Flemish Region grants subsidies for maintenance, restoration and for research and education.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Make an inventory of important Flemish landscape elements and work out a vision on these elements.

2.5.2.5. Infrastructure

In 1990, an interdisciplinary Ecological Engineering Working Group was officially set up in Flanders in order to achieve close communication and enforced co-operation between the different administrations of the Environment and Infrastructure Department. The agreement involved the integration of ecology into infrastructure. The main purpose of ecological engineering is always to optimise the changes or the potential of nature. If nature can be used in the realisation of infrastructure works, then it is good to do so.

In order to be able to realise the objectives within an acceptable period of time, it was decided to immediately divide up the Ecological Engineering Working Group into five steering committees: navigable watercourses, roads, unnavigable watercourses and local roads, management, and wastewater treatment. It was also decided to produce one or more manuals. Different nature-friendly techniques are presented in these manuals in order to realise the integration of ecology into infrastructure in practice.

It is not always a simple task to convince the infrastructure sector to integrate ecology into infrastructure. Pilot projects are therefore extremely important for spreading the ideas of the Ecological Engineering Working Group. A number of pilot projects have been selected in order to clarify the possibilities and problems of ecological engineering in practice. In these pilot projects the development of more nature was a precondition in the planning and implementation of the infrastructure works.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Expand and implement the pilot projects ecological engineering for watercourses and roads; implement projects for the recovery of the river, ameliorate the fish migration and construct mate places.

An other instrument that we use is the EIA. EIA stands for Environmental Impact Assessment and tries to lessen the impact of i.a. works of infrastructure. For some works of infrastructure in specific areas (bird directive areas, nature reserves, ) and for civil building works an EIA is required before a building permit or environmental license can be obtained. These assessments always include a chapter on fauna and flora.

2.5.2.6. Agriculture

In Flanders like anywhere else, agriculture has considerable repercussions on nature; not only because of the struggle for space, but also because some agricultural methods are harmful to nature. On European level, it was tried to reduce these repercussions by equipping the Communal Agricultural Policy with an ecological section, which resulted in 1992 in two regulations: one on the integration of forestry in agriculture and the other on the introduction of agricultural production methods which are compatible with the demands of environmental protection and nature management.

Flanders took additional measures. It has been applying since quite a time the principle of land consolidation to the organisation of areas with a mainly agricultural destination. In the past, the agricultural-economical objective has often be privileged. Today more attention is given to other interests, such as nature conservation, environmental protection and passive recreation forms. The general planning and the adapted environmental-effect-report in research procedures support these broader and integral objectives of land consolidation.

An instrument with general objectives is the land use, tuning the different claims on open space at the development level. An overall vision, worked out in a ‘steering plan', should create chances for development for all the different functions in the open space (nature, agriculture, forest, landscape, infrastructure, recreation, ). The projects will be realised through consultation and co-operation with all persons concerned. The realisation of four projects involves some 100,000 ha.

In Flanders, the idea of interweaving (of for example agriculture and nature) is very new. Interweaving is possible when places where agriculture and nature management are being practised, converge or influence one another. This instrument is further elaborated in the Spatial Structure Plan Flanders as well as in the new legislation on nature conservation. Within five years, a surface of 150,000 ha will be assigned as nature interweaving area. For each area, nature orientation plans will be made within a period of ten years. These plans should indicate how nature and agriculture can strengthen each other. In many cases management agreements will be useful.

Flanders furthermore launched an investigation on how and to what extent environmental-friendly measures can be worked out in agriculture. Possible measures are alternative weed combating, ground covering measures, application of manure which is poor in emission and conservation of the genetic diversity of agricultural pets. These measures should take concrete shape in provincial recognition points where farmers and horticulturists can obtain information on the integration of the issue of biodiversity agricultural management.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Formulate a Code of good agricultural practice.
The code creates a management instrument, which fully inserts environmental aspects (minerals, pesticides, water-use).

Action for the period 1997-2001: Work out a legal and organisational framework for voluntary management agreements.

2.5.2.7. Hunting and river fishing

The hunting season, the hunting ground, the animals that can be hunted, and the hunt equipment are subject to legislation. Each hunter must have a hunting license, obtained after an official hunting examination. The law also sets the base for the integral management of hunting grounds. Flanders has a great number of game management units. These are collaborations of hunters which can be subsidised by the authorities for working out the management plans which contribute to the creation of an ecologically justified game population.

The river fishing is still regulated by the Belgian law of 1954. Similar to the Game Law, this law on freshwater fishing prescribes when, where, how and what can be fished. The number of fish species for which a total fishing ban is declared, has considerably been increased. Furthermore a Fishery Fund was set up, of which the revenues are used to repopulate rivers and strengthen supervision on fishery.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Evaluate and adjust the game management units in view of nature conservation and the ecological fitting-in of the river fishery.

2.5.2.8. Biosafety

In Flanders, the extensive regulation on the environmental licenses treats an important aspect of biosafety. According to a European directive, a license obligation was elaborated for the limited use of genetically modified organisms. The Scientific Institute of Public Health takes part in the evaluation of the notifications. It tests the applications for activities against the existing rules and represents Flanders on international meetings.

In 1997, the Flemish Region, the other regions and the federal state concluded an agreement on the administrative and scientific co-ordination in the field of biosafety. The agreement involves the realisation of a common evaluation system with regard to biosafety, the so-called Biosafety Council. This council will, among other things, give advice on the commercialisation of products with GMO's.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Make a framework of considerations for the introduction of exotic or changed biota.

2.6. Monitoring and evaluation

2.6.1. Collection of data

There has been a lot of biodiversity-related research in the past. Until today several actors have collected and are collecting data (Institute of Nature Conservation, Institute for Forestry and Game Management, universities, nature organisations, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, National Botanic Garden, ). The status of a few groups of species has been monitored and certain biotic communities and areas have been described in detail. In spite of this, there was no systematic description of nature in relation to the environment and the land use. At this moment there is a strong need for the development of a specific ecological monitoring system. A more systematic collection of data and the use of well-chosen indicators should make it possible to create time series. The objective is not only to describe the biodiversity, but also to explain and evaluate the assessed changes.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Build out an integrated ecological monitoring system.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Improve and complete the existing monitoring networks and statistics.

2.6.2. Policy planning and evaluation

The process of environmental and nature planning, evaluating and adjusting is even more important than the policy plans themselves. In Flanders a serious effort is being made to make this process possible. A network of co-ordinators is established for the follow-up of the first Environmental Policy Plan. Within the network the co-ordinators will keep an eye on the implementation of the various actions of this plan. This monitoring is totally different from the collecting of field data, but equally important. A report on the progress and the obstacles will be presented in the yearly Environmental Programme. This programme creates the possibility to adjust the planned actions. At the same time within the framework of the Environmental and Nature Report, a global environmental policy evaluation will be held. Furthermore, when measuring the progress in the environmental policy, it is necessary to check other policy sectors on sustainability. This can only be done by means of holistic indicators. Such indicators will allow conclusions on a more global level (for example a society).

Action for the period 1997-2001: Build out a permanent structure for planning.
This structure will prepare, support and implement the process of environmental planning. Ways of involving other sectors, institutes and policy levels will be worked out.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Refine and draw up the Environmental Programmes.

Action for the period 1997-2001: Develop relevant indicators for sustainability.

 

J. Cockx
Environment, Nature, Land and Water Management Administration
E. Jacqmainlaan 156 b8
1000 Brussels

 

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Last updated  29-11-2004


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