First National Report of Belgium
|Total number of known species||68||339||53||114||338||66||161||522|
|Number of extinct species||2||0||8||14||39||5||12||32|
|Number of endangered species||5||20||7||15||34||8||7||64|
|Number of vulnerable species||11||45||14||45||65||14||31||58|
A more detailed analysis of trends for each biogeographical region shows that the Hainaut-Brabant plateau and the Sambre and Meuse river valleys (northern part of the Walloon Region) are the biogeographical regions most affected by disappearing or declining populations.
Species which have disappeared or are presently declining have a very specialized way of life and are very demanding as far as the quality of their habitats is concerned. We therefore witness a real retraction of the areas of distribution of these ‘specialist' species, which are often the most remarkable or wonderful representatives of flora and fauna. Some of them play a major part in the ecosystems, and it is to be feared that this decline will continue because of the disappearance of essential links and of spiral effects.
Species which show a very clear relative expansion are generally less demanding, less specialized and more widespread. The relative character of this expansion is important since the sampling pattern is often more intense and geographically better spread than in the past.
The relative decline of a large number of rare species and the relative expansion of a small number of widespread species are at the origin of a significant homogenization and standardization of plant and animal communities. The biological wealth and the natural heritage of Wallonia have suffered such extensive damage in less than 40 years that the restoring potentiality may be jeopardized.
The most recent data seem to indicate that the phenomenon of geographical decline further affects many species. These are most often ‘specialist' species living on the fringe of their area of distribution, with continual deterioration of the conditions necessary for their survival. For other groups, the area of distribution remains unchanged but a disturbing decrease in population levels is noticed (e.g. Hirundo rustica, Delichon urbica, Streptopelia turtur).
Some species are clearly expanding either because they adapt to human activities (ubiquitous and anthropophile species: e.g.: Vulpes vulpes, Sturnus vulgaris, Laridae) due to the habitat increase resulting from the development of human activities (e.g. species connected with conifers: Parus cristatus, Parus ater, Regulus regulus, Regulus ignicapillus, Nucifraga caryocatactes,...).
A particular and unequivocal case of clear extension is that of species introduced accidentally or intentionally. When they succeed in settling in, some of these introduced species show an explosive extension which may cause problems for native species.
The overall situation is rather alarming. It is however encouraging that some species which have heavily declined, have their populations restored as a result of the measures taken to counter the causes of decline (e.g. protection of piscivorous birds (Podiceps cristatus, Ardea cinerea, Phalacrocorax carbo,...), protection and anti-rabies vaccination (Meles meles), control of environments favourable to some species of butterflies,...).
4.3. Pressures and threats
The analysis of changing trends compared with the information available on the ecology of species allows to determine the main causes of the decline of biological diversity. This forms the basis of an effective conservation policy.
Many indicators linked to the ecology of species reveal that the main cause of decline is the change, the fragmentation and the disappearance of natural and semi-natural habitats, or in a broader sense, of all wildlife spaces.
Some particular environments of great biological interest disappear because farming, grazing and forestry activities which created and maintained them do no longer exist. This is the case for moors, limestone surfaces, mowing meadows and, to a lesser extent, copses and clearings. Mechanization and economic progress have led to the reduction or even the disappearance of these environments together with the species depending on it.
Other environments have almost been systematically destroyed to give them an added economic value. As an example, hydraulic development works (draining, straightening of waterways, filling, ...) were undertaken to speed up waterflow or to recover land to allow the urban development of it or more profitable farming or forestry operations. Such works led to a heavy reduction of wetlands (peat bogs, pools, marshes, wet meadows,...), stream and river environments (specific large plant habitats), flooding areas.
Urban development has strongly progressed over the last decades (average growth estimated at ± 1,950 ha/year) both for accommodation and infrastructure (main arteries 3.95 km of roadway per km² of territory), buildings for economic activities, buildings for services to the community, ...).
On the whole, the new means of production and ground occupation lead to a homogenization of environments. From a biological point of view, this involves a reduction of the number and the diversity of ecological niches and consequently of the host potential for wildlife.
This problem is obviously connected with the nature of human activities. In Wallonia due to the high impact factor of these activities populations of wild species are prevented from surviving, even on a very local base.
As a matter of fact, the systematic development of available space for farm production, forestry work, the expansion of urban and industrial areas and transport infrastructure, are such that it leads to the exclusion of many forms of wildlife in Wallonia. The consequences of the destruction of natural and semi-natural spaces are accentuated by fragmentation. Exchanges of individuals between isolated populations are becoming increasingly rare, preventing the recolonization and the restoring of populations and causing a loss of biological diversity.
Pollution, in all its forms, is an additional cause of the banalisation of flora and fauna because the most sensitive species are affected first.
Since the end of the Second World War, fertilizers and herbicides have been used on a large scale and in large amounts (nearly 10,000 t of active matter sold on the Belgian market in 1993). Lack of accurate studies makes the role of these products difficult to assess. It is however certain that they have had (and still have) a significant role in the decline of many species particularly those connected with cultivated land (e.g. annuals that grow among cereals).
The massive use of fertilizers has also altered the chemical characteristics of soils and has resulted in the decline of species connected with poor soils.
Waterways and ornamental lakes are polluted by the discharged water and by the widespread pollution linked to human activities. The extent of pollution of waterways varies. Waterways situated to the north of the Sambre and Meuse river valleys are mostly of mediocre to bad quality. In the south, a good to average quality is generally maintained. Generally speaking, toxic waste connected with industry has declined over the last few years whereas eutrophication is increasing.
Atmospheric pollution, especially acid rain, has consequences which are still not well known.
In the Walloon Region, leisure and tourism also exert significant pressure on environments. There are an increasing number of ‘nature' activities and more and more people are involved in them. This causes serious problems to fragile or/and overused environments: suburban forests, underground cavities, waterways (trampled vegetation, disturbing fauna). New regulations are needed to control this phenomenon.
Direct removal by man of specimens from populations during harvesting, hunting and, until 1994, birdcatching, still limit the population size of some species. Special attention was focused on this problem and successive legislative measures, over the last 3 decades, have reduced harvesting pressure on these species.
Ideas concerning nature conservation have progressed. In short, three stages can be distinguished.
First a number of precious plots of land were selected for special protection. This materialized in the implementation of integral protection measures (creation of nature reserves, legal protection of species).
Secondly, measures were taken to maintain a number of these protected areas at a particular stage in their evolution, in order to conserve their biological interest. The implementation of these measures gave rise to the concept of ‘managed nature', which materialized in the development of management plans for nature reserves.
As far as the species are concerned, the consciousness arose that legal habitat protection was also necessary. The concept of ‘biological diversity', which appeared more recently, further broadened the scope of reflection.
From now on, the aim is to integrate concern for the preservation of ecosystems, environments, species, populations, ... into all human activities having an impact on the territory and to take this into account over the whole of the Region.
The tools to be implemented are more complex, they require a multifunctional approach to the territory, a multidisciplinary view of problems and they have to call on a many-sided partnership.
The Environmental Plan for Sustainable Development adopted on 9 March 1995 by the Walloon Government sets the following objectives:
The priority actions selected are:
In order to plan these objectives, a first, 5-year action plan is being drawn up. It will be based on the ecological network notion taking shape in three concrete forms:
The action plan for nature will also comprise a chapter devoted to raising awareness, education and training.
4.5.1. Protective statuses
220.127.116.11. Protection of habitats
The protection of habitats must be ensured through several statuses:
18.104.22.168. Protection of the species
As far as protection of species is concerned, a large number of them are legally protected, either totally (protection decrees) or by regulations on specimens (laws on hunting, fishing). Legal protection however is not enough to safeguard the conservation of species for which the main problem lies in the disappearance of habitats. This explains why the measures taken are increasingly tending towards the protection of habitats.
4.5.2. Taking nature into account outside protected areas
Town and country planning policy
In the Walloon Region, land use is planned: 23 sector plans cover the whole of the territory and define the potential occupation of the territory. Some statuses have been specified in order to maintain environments considered of biological interest. These are green areas "intended for maintaining, protecting and regenerating the natural environment" and among these, more particularly, nature areas and nature areas of scientific interest or nature reserves.
Farming and forestry areas are dedicated to their specific activities and may in theory not be subject to urban development.
The Walloon code of town and country planning, urban development and
heritage has just been revised. It redefines more particularly area
divisions with a view to a future revision of sector plans.
As far as nature preservation is concerned, the code plans another specific nature area where the priority will be given to nature conservation and, superimposed on that, protection areas affected by the legislation concerning nature protection.
The decree of 1985 concerning natural parks, stipulates that the "natural park is a rural territory of high biological and geographical interest, subject to measures intended to protect its environment in harmony with the aspirations of the population and the economic and social development of the territory concerned".
It therefore involves searching for a harmonious integration of human activities and the protection of the natural heritage.
At present, there are five, officially recognized, natural parks (see Fig. 4.4.):
The river contract is a voluntary agreement, between the whole of public and private actors, on objectives aimed at reconciling the many functions and uses of waterways, of their approaches and of catchment basin water resources. It therefore also deals with biological diversity.
The approach is based on a twofold principle: a necessary integrated approach of the waterway management on the one hand, involvement and consultation of all parties concerned on the other hand. This is basically a process where decisions are reached by consensus among the political, associative, scientific bodies about various objectives and proposing actions.
Seven river contracts exist in Wallonia, two are being drawn up, they concern:
Municipal Nature Development Plans (Plans Communaux de Développement de la Nature - PCDN)
PCDNs were launched from the point of view of sustainable development. It involves safeguarding or developing nature diversity at municipal level, in co-operation with all parties concerned and by taking the economic and social development of the community into account.
The means implemented on a local scale were the establishing of partnerships bringing together persons and associations, the drawing up of an inventory of the nature and landscape heritage and the drawing up of a long-term biological diversity development plan.
At present, more than twenty municipalities have launched their PCDNs. They are the municipalities of Anthisnes, Beaumont, Beauvechain, Bertrix, Braine-le-Comte, Chastre, Chaudfontaine, Comblain-au-Pont, Couvin, Eupen, Flémalle, Gerpinnes, Grez-Doiceau, Liège, Ottignies-Louvain-La-Neuve, Pont-à-Celles, Rebecq, Saint-Hubert, Seneffe, Sivry-Rance, Stoumont, Viroinval, Virton, Welkenraedt.
Management of roadsides and public spaces
Since 1984, the use of herbicides on public property has been regulated. In particular the use of herbicides is banned in the Walloon Region on verges, embankments, berms and other land of state property and are part of the road system or adjacent to it, including motorways; in public parks; on waterways, ponds, lakes and their banks when they are public property.
The use of herbicides is however still authorized for weeding paved areas, or areas covered with gravel, areas situated less than a metre from a railway track and graveyard paths.
The ban on using herbicides to maintain roadsides led to roadside cutting. The idea of cutting roadside vegetation late in the season, a practice more favourable to biological diversity, gradually gained ground. After an experimental phase and its application to regional roads, the Nature Conservation Department provided a new impetus by launching a campaign ‘Late cutting- Refuge area' among municipalities. Several dozens of them signed an agreement with the Walloon Region.
By signing the ‘Roadside' agreement:
Agro-environmental measures are specific grants intended to remunerate farmers for their contribution to the quality of the environment. The specified subsidies include an incentive share but are especially intended to compensate the income that the farmer agrees to lose compared to a more intensive use of the soil.
The following measures have been adopted by the Walloon Region and are applicable everywhere on a voluntary basis:
In areas defined as being sensitive or priority areas, farming operations may be further assisted technically and subsidized to improve the overall environmental impact of farming (reduction of inflows, traditional cultivation and old varieties, late cutting,...).
Nearly half the area of Walloon forests (236,306 ha) belongs to public owners and is administered by the Nature and Forestry Division. These woods are managed on the basis of management plans called ‘forestry developments'. These firstly consist of drawing up an inventory by collecting a maximum of information about the forest. They then fix objectives to fulfill the different functions. They lastly determine means by defining the future forest, by choosing the methods of development and by drawing up the operating regulations and the work programmes.
The new developments must take into account priority forestry conservation vocations, water and soil protection and production. These vocations do not exclude each other but indicate a priority objective.
The conservation vocation comprises biological, genetic, climatic and forestry subvocations. It tries more particularly to safeguard the conservation of rare forestry formations, seeding plantations, para-natural formations and plantations with scientific, educational or historic value.
The water protection vocation concerns the areas bordering on waterways, spring areas, catchment wells and dam lakes. It aims at preserving a quantitative and qualitative water supply. Restrictions involve the limitation of clearings, the banning of draining or inflows and the type of treatment.
As for the soil protection vocation, it concerns hydromorphous soils with temporary or permanent groundwater, peaty or peat-like soils and sloping soils. Restrictions involve the absence of forestry (where peaty soils are concerned), the limitation of clearings, the banning of draining in some cases, the method of regeneration, the density of plantations and the choice of species.
As far as general forestry measures are concerned, the main measures recommended are:
Specific measures connected with nature conservation are taken: conservation of dead trees, old trees and epiphytes, management of areas of reproduction of endangered animal species, work timetable in relation to nesting periods, ... Forest edges are taken into account, glades are maintained and some forest areas are assigned a ‘non-management' status.
Measures are provided in connection with cultivation care, the choice of tree species and treatment in order to favour the habitat of wild ungulates.
Lastly, the circular includes measures of landscape types to make the forest more attractive to its users. The opening of the forest to the general public aims at encouraging slow traffic, respectful of the forest ecosystem. Areas accessible to youth movements are not overlooked.
Subsidies are granted to private owners to encourage the implementation of these measures in private forests.
A number of nature conservation actions initiated by the Nature Conservation Department or by non-governmental organisations are structured around a particular objective. Let us mention as examples:
Subsidies for the planting of hedges and wooded strips
Subsidies are granted to encourage the replanting of hedges, subject to compliance with conditions that guarantee its biological interest and a life expectancy of at least 20 years.
Production of seeds of wild plants and indigenous trees
Seeds of indigenous wild plants are used increasingly for sowing after work has been done, when farmland is let to lie fallow or even for laying out wild gardens.
A programme aimed at the production of seeds of indigenous origin has been launched, so as to avoid the introduction of exotic species and preserve local ecotypes.
At forestry level, research into genetic matters is carried out at the Gembloux Scientific Research Centre. A Forestry Seed Centre (Forest counter of Marche-en-Famenne) has been recently set up. It takes part in maintaining the genetic diversity of Walloon forests through the collection of seeds over a maximum of species, a maximum of origins and a maximum of trees.
Regulation of leisure activities
The strong pressure exerted by leisure activities on the natural environment led to various regulations. The use of motor-driven vehicles outside public thoroughfares is limited to authorized circuits.
The Walloon Government decree (AGW) of 30 June 1994 regulates the movement of boats and divers on and in waterways. It limits activities to certain times, to certain seasons and to certain sections of waterways as long as the flow reaches a minimum level.
The decree of 7 February 1995 regulates forest traffic. The provisions are summarized in the table 4.2.
Table 4.2. Concise presentation of the regulations concerning forest traffic (Source DNF).
|Outside paths (*)||On paths (*)||On tracks(*)||
-on signposted areas
cyclists, skiers, horseriders
|no||no||yes||yes||-on signposted paths
-on paths, other areas
-for listed reasons
|no||no||no||yes||-on signposted paths and tracks only as a
-on tracks, paths, other areas
-for listed reasons
(*) open to public traffic.
An Observatory of Fauna, Flora and Habitats (OFFH) has been set up. It takes care of collecting and analyzing data relating to biological diversity, and this is done through the collaboration of a wide network of naturalists, scientists and officials of the Nature and Forestry Division.
The programmes define a set of biodiversity state indicators as well as indicators of the state of the Walloon environment (bioindicators), and meet the requirements of the Office for Nature and Green Space Conservation, those of the Walloon Senior Nature Conservation Council or of international bodies such as the European Union or the Council of Europe.
The basic assignments of the OFFH are:
The aim for the years to come is to continue to develop four work programmes (see Fig. 4.5.):
The ‘Inventory and Monitoring of Biodiversity-Monitoring of the state of the environment through bioindicators' (ISB-SURWAL) Programme: the general aim is to describe and monitor the distribution of species belonging to various major biological groups. The regularly monitored biological groups are birds, dragonflies, butterflies, orchids, reptiles, amphibians and bats. Monitoring is organized in collaboration with naturalist associations. This choice allows a wide range of expertise to be maintained (many collaborators, diversity of monitored taxons and widespread coverage of the territory) and enables naturalist associations to be helped in developing their activities. The network of collaborators formed in this way is also regularly questioned by authorities (requests for opinions, expert appraisal of areas, lists of species,...).
The ‘Inventory and Monitoring of Habitats' (ISH) Programme: the general aim is to make an inventory and monitor the distribution of habitats. This programme is in the process of being developed; it will lead, on the one hand, to standardizing the way in which habitats are described and mapped out and, on the other hand, to monitoring the evolution of landscapes. An ambitious project for the inventory and monitoring of habitats combining ground plotting and satellite data is being prepared.
The ‘Inventory of Sites of Great Biological Interest' (SGIB) Programme: the general objective is to gather information concerning areas that harbour species and habitats of great biological interest and integrate it into a standardized system. After having gathered existing information together, a second phase will be implemented to assess priorities as far as initiatives for the conservation and management of the natural heritage are concerned.
The ‘System of information about Biodiversity in Wallonia' (SIBW) Programme: the aim is to disseminate information collected within the scope of the first three programmes and all available, pertinent ‘nonsensitive' information. Information is filed in order to provide a real tool for helping authorities in decision-making and an information tool for the general public, by disseminating raw information or by indicating the sources where detailed information can be obtained (bibliography, experts, associations, ...). The objective is to continue to integrate the whole of available information into a standardized information processing system and above all to structure information flow to ensure that it is updated.
4.7. Awareness, education and information
Local and regional centres of initiation to environment
A network of local and regional centres of initiation to environment is being set up. These centres will raise awareness of and disseminate information to the educational system and the general public.
‘Green week', ‘Wood's week'
Each year these operations are centred on a particular topic. The green week aims at promoting awareness and educational actions while the aim of the wood's week is to promote ecological planning of sites. Young trees are distributed during the wood's week. Subsidies enable to sustain projects coming from schools, municipalities and non-governmental organisations.
‘Nature documentation department' of the Directorate General for Natural Resources and Environment
The Ministry of Environment disposes of a service in charge of the distribution of all publications coming from the department of the Directorate General for Natural Resources.
The Walloon Region widely distributes her information on the following sites:
Directorate General for Natural
Resources and Environment
Avenue Prince de Liège 15
Observatory of Fauna, Flora and Habitats (OFFH)
Scientific Centre of Gembloux
Avenue Maréchal Juin 23
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