First National Report of Belgium
to the Convention on Biological Diversity


 

4. The Walloon Region

Preface

As our natural heritage is endangered by an unreasonable exploitation of most resources, nature appears more than ever as an essential aspiration, in view to restore the lost harmony with our living environment. This sudden awareness makes us work towards a new kind of development which allows at the long term, economical and social growth and a better preservation of our environment and natural resources. So appeared the concept of sustainable development which the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by the Walloon Region on 6 April 1995, is aiming to promote.

The Environmental Plan for Sustainable Development in the Walloon Region (PEDD), adopted by the Walloon Government on 9 March 1995, constitutes a planning tool aiming to secure the preservation of natural resources in the perspective of sustainable development. This long-term policy requires the co-ordination of the different actions undertaken concerning all the aspects of environment and the integration of environmental considerations into each sectoral policy issue. The Walloon Region pays particular attention to this integration. The revision of the Walloon Code of Town and Country Planning, Urban Development and Heritage is an example of that attention taking into account the interesting natural zones during land management operations.

In the nature conservation sector, the aim of the PEDD is the realisation of a Nature Action Plan which will draw up the frame and objectives for the actions to be undertaken within a time schedule of five years. The global objective will be the establishment of an ecological network which is the central concept of the environmental policy conducted by the European Community. Besides the creation of nature reserves on the sites of high biological interest, the Walloon Region contributes to the set up of an ecological network by adoption of measures involving the whole territory: agri-environmental measures, subsidies for hedge plantations, late cutting roadsides. Nature preservation also requires an active participation of each partner, the Walloon Region therefore promotes the co-operation of local partners involving both public and private actors. In this way several innovative experiences allow an important place to public consertation: municipal nature development plans, river contracts, nature reserves...

If the favourable evolution of mentalities may please us, it is still essential to pursue and amplify the actions and programmes which develop public awareness, information and education. These actions and programmes are among the major objectives of the PEDD.

Finally, as biological diversity ignores borders, international programmes centred on nature conservation become particularly important. The Walloon Region, complementary with the Flemish Region, is therefore satisfied to affirm and demonstrate the active engagement of Belgium in the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity at the European and Paneuropean scale.

Guy Lutgen, Regional Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

 

4.1. Introduction

4.1.1. Administration

In the Walloon Region, the administration of nature conservation is entrusted to the Nature Conservation Department (Office for Nature and Green Space Conservation, Nature and Forestry Division, Directorate-general for Natural Resources and the Environment of the Ministry of the Walloon Region).

The main assignment of the Nature Conservation Department is the implementation of the legislation concerning nature (see also 4.5.1.). Nevertheless, the department further endeavours to establish collaboration with other administrative departments to include biological diversity conservation measures in sector-related policies. This concerns more particularly forestry, town and country planning and agro-environmental policy,... (see also 4.5.2.).

The Nature Conservation Department also initiates innovative projects for nature protection outside protected areas (ecological management of roadsides, municipal nature development plans, hosting wild fauna in attics and belfries,...). It also grants subsidies to encourage biological diversity restoring actions: for instance the planting of hedgerows (see also 4.5.2.).

4.1.2. Scientific support

As far as scientific support is concerned, the Gembloux Scientific Centre, which depends on the Nature and Forestry Division, conducts or co-ordinates various studies. At the biological diversity level, the main lines of research are:

  • the inventory and the monitoring of biological diversity (Observatory of Fauna, Flora and Habitats - OFFH) (see also 4.6.);
  • the monitoring of aquatic organisms (fish, macro-invertebrates) (Hydrobiology section);
  • the monitoring of the management of protected areas (Biological research centre);
  • the permanent inventory of forests that recently includes parameters relating to biological diversity;
  • the genetic improvement of the main forest species grown in the Walloon Region (study of origins, selection of seeding plantation areas, individual selection, locating and protecting plantation areas to be conserved,...).

The different universities also play a great part in research on biological diversity conservation, either independently (dissertations, theses,...) or through research agreements with the Walloon Region.

4.1.3. Consultation and opinion

A Walloon Senior Nature Conservation Council (Conseil Supérieur Wallon de la Conservation de la Nature - CSWCN) and State Nature Reserve Management Consultative Commissions (Commissions Consultatives de Gestion des Réserves Naturelles Domaniales - CCGRND) issue opinions and make suggestions.

4.1.4. Non-governmental organisations

Many non-governmental organisations form another pillar of the biological diversity conservation in Wallonia. They are more particularly involved at the level of the control of areas (creation and management of nature reserves), of legislative changes (pressure groups), of the implementation of new ideas (e.g. river contracts). It is also worth emphasizing the important activity of nature societies that produce a large amount of biogeographical data allowing the evolution of biodiversity to be better determined.

4.2. Status

Although covering only 16,844 km², Wallonia occupies a privileged position in Europe. It is at the crossroads of Atlantic and continental biogeographical influences. This special position and the existence of a significant, topographical, climatic and geological gradient are at the origin of a great diversity of habitats and species over a very small territory.

This fundamental diversity combines with the diversity that man himself has produced through his many activities, in particular, the farming, grazing and forestry activities that used to prevail before the mechanization of farming and forestry.

4.2.1. Habitats

In the Walloon Region, the main types of land use (see Fig. 4.1.) are broken down as follows:

  • 924,991 ha (55% of the territory) of farm and market gardening land, pasture land and meadows, gardens and parks, orchards and nurseries including 742,361 ha farmed by professional farmers and horticulturists, most often intensively;
  • 530,600 ha (32% of the territory) of forest including 486,900 ha of productive area (247,653 ha of coniferous trees and 239,236 ha of broad-leaved trees).

Nearly half of the forests belong to public owners (236,306 ha) and are managed by the Nature and Forestry Division;

  • 206,480 ha (12.3% of the territory) of built-up areas.

Fig. 4.1. Main types of land use in the Walloon Region (DGRNE).

A considerable part of biological diversity is however located in much less extended environments, the specificities of which make them biotopes offering favourable conditions for particular fauna and flora. These are a series of natural habitats: waterways, ponds, wet areas, peat bogs, rocks, karstic areas... but also habitats resulting from a number of human activities.

In this way, past farming, forestry and grazing activities (roving pasture land, reaping, grubbing, burning, clearing, charcoal production,...) gave rise to a series of environments termed semi-natural (limestone surfaces, moors, mowing meadows, copses,....). These environments some of which experienced a considerable extension in the past have all receded as the activities which gave rise to them and kept them going were gradually abandoned.

Industrial activities as well have created environments of significant biological interest. Let us mention: dams formed for operating mills, slag heaps, calamine surfaces, stone, sand and clay quarries, settling basins,...

4.2.2. Species

The wealth of biogeographical information in the Walloon Region allows the evolution of biodiversity to be grasped relatively well. A comparison between the situations before and after the period 1950-1960 (a turning point corresponding to the industrialization of farming and to considerable urban development and to the expansion of transport infrastructure) emphasizes a sharp decline in biological diversity. The table below presents the balance sheet for some groups.

Table 4.1. Status of some groups in the Walloon Region.

Mammals Birds Fishes Butterflies Carabids Dragonflies Liverworts Mosses
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.

4.4. Objectives

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:

  1. maintaining, restoring and developing the host potentiality for wildlife over the whole of the territory;
  2. maintaining and restoring the natural constituent elements of our urban and rural landscapes;
  3. generalisation of nature education.

The priority actions selected are:

  • to continue the inventory and the charting of areas of biological interest and provide them with legal protection;
  • to acquire further areas of biological interest and ensure the management of them;
  • to make good use of the host potentiality for wildlife over the whole of the space;
  • to provide for the setting up of the ecological network;
  • to restore, manage and develop landscapes by integrating elements of the natural setting;
  • to limit the use of fertilizers and pesticides in the natural environment;
  • to encourage research into biological diversity;
  • to establish connections between nature conservation law and other legislation;
  • to strengthen the role of municipalities;
  • to strengthen the authorities;
  • to generalize nature education.

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:

  • Core areas
    These are areas of great biological interest; they are hosts to many species or particular species (rare species adapted to special living conditions, on the limit of the distribution area,...). These are ‘biological diversity reservoir' areas. An inventory and a monitoring of these areas are co-ordinated by the OFFH (see § 4.6.). The protection of these areas is a priority objective.
  • Development and linkup areas
    These are ‘hull' or ‘buffer' areas for the core areas, i.e. where measures have to be taken so that the core areas are not endangered and where the species from the core areas may possibly extend, if they have a positive impetus. Land surveys have already been carried out more particularly with a view to integrating these ecological network elements into space planning (see § 4.5.2.).
  • Everywhere, elsewhere, over the whole of the territory
    At this level, the aim is to develop the host potential for wildlife by working with the administrators of the economic activities that occupy the land (farming/agri-environment; forestry/forestry development; waterway management/hydraulic development,...).

The action plan for nature will also comprise a chapter devoted to raising awareness, education and training.

4.5. Management

4.5.1. Protective statuses

4.5.1.1. Protection of habitats

The protection of habitats must be ensured through several statuses:

  • the government nature reserve
    This is a protected area, laid out on lands belonging to the Walloon Region, leased by the Region or made available to it for that purpose.
    On the date of 30 September 1997, there were 61 government nature reserves, including underground cavities (caves, quarries, cellars). The 53 government nature reserves on the surface totalize 5,204 ha (see Fig. 4.2.).
  • the chartered nature reserve
    This is a protected area, managed by a natural or artificial person other than the Region and recognized by the Ministry, at the request of the owner of the lands and with the agreement of the occupier. In practice, nature protection associations may apply for the status of chartered nature reserve for the areas that they manage (more than 5,000 ha of purchased or leased areas). The status of these sites is therefore strengthened and subsidies are granted for the purchase and the management of lands.
    On the date of 30 September 1997, there were 89 chartered nature reserves for a total of 732 ha (see Fig. 4.2.).
  • the forestry reserve
    This is a forest or a part of a forest, protected with the aim of safeguarding characteristic or remarkable facies of plantations of indigenous species and protecting the integrity of the surrounding soil and environment.
    On the date of 30 September 1997, there were eight forestry reserves totalling 244 ha (see Fig. 4.2.).

    Fig. 4.2. Location of the nature reserves identified in Southern Belgium (DGRNE).
  • the wet area of biological interest
    This status allows the protection of wet areas of biological interest to be ensured.
    On the date of 30 September 1997, there were 17 recognized wet areas of biological interest, totalling 728 ha.
  • the underground cavity of scientific interest
    This status allows underground cavities of scientific (biological, geological, petrographical, mineralogical or prehistoric) interest to be protected.
    On the date of 30 September 1997, one site was officially recognized.
  • the special protection area
    In pursuance of the directive 97/43/EC concerning the conservation of wild birds, special protection areas were named by the Walloon Regional Executive. These are rather vast framework-perimeters in which the habitats that must be the subject of special protection and the most sensitive areas (core areas) are determined.
    Thirteen special protection areas covering 3,295 km2 have been named; as for core areas, they represent 6,850 ha (see Fig. 4.3.)

    Fig. 4.3. Special protection areas in the Walloon Region (DGRNE).
  • 'special conservation areas' / 'Natura 2000' network
    In pursuance of the directive 92/43/EEC concerning the conservation of natural habitats as well as wild fauna and flora, the Walloon Region has filed a first list of 57 areas (1,443 ha) likely to be integrated into the European network.

4.5.1.2. 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.

Natural parks

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 national natural park of Hautes-Fagnes Eifel;
  • the natural park of the valleys of the Burdinale and of the Mehaigne;
  • the natural park of the valley of Attert;
  • the natural park of the plains of the Escaut;
  • the natural park of the Hill country (pays des Collines).

Fig. 4.4. Natural parks in the Walloon Region (DGRNE).

River contracts

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:

  • the stream of Fosses;
  • the Dendre;
  • the Haute-Meuse;
  • the Munos Bassin;
  • the Semois;
  • the Hoëgne and the Wayai;
  • the Dyle;
  • the Sambre (being drawn up);
  • the Ton (being drawn up).

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:

  • the municipality undertakes to draw up a management plan defining areas where roadside cutting will be intensive, and others where it will be extensive while taking a number of provisions into account (cutting height above or equal to 10 cm, cutting dates,...);
  • the Walloon Region provides the municipalities with the roadsigns ‘late cutting-refuge area', leaflets for distributing information in all letterboxes and topographical maps to 1/10,000 covering the whole of municipal territory.

Agro-environmental measures

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:

  • late cutting;
  • conservation transition strips (edges of fields sown with grass or farmed extensively (without inflows) and extensive meadow strips (located along waterways, farmed without inflows and mowed late in the season);
  • keeping and maintaining hedges and wooded strips;
  • keeping livestock populations low;
  • rearing local endangered breeds.

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,...).

Forestry policy

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:

  1. choice of tree species adapted to stations;
  2. adoption of a stable and balanced plantation structure. Forests with trees of many ages are preferred without excluding regular forests. Priority is given to natural regeneration;
  3. mixture of tree species;
  4. dynamic forestry (wider spacing, large clearings).

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.

Thematic operations

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:

  • the attics and belfries operation: launched as part of European Nature Conservation Year among municipalities, its aim is to develop the access of wild fauna (bats and chouette effraie) to the attics and belfries of public buildings;
  • the operations ‘Ciconia nigra', ‘Crex crex', ‘Chiroptera' (jointly funded by the LIFE programmes) aim at purchasing natural areas favourable to these species;
  • the ‘Wild Gardens' operation aims at encouraging management more favourable to biodiversity in the gardens of private citizens (choice of plant species, upkeep, development of ponds,...);
  • the ‘Underground cavities' operation aims at listing and protecting underground cavities of great biological interest, in particular of chiropteran interest.

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 roads(*)

Waiver

pedestrians

(art. 192)

no yes yes no -legitimate reasons

-on signposted areas

cyclists, skiers, horseriders

(art. 193)

no no yes yes -on signposted paths

-on paths, other areas

-for listed reasons

motor-driven vehicles

(art. 194)

no no no yes -on signposted paths and tracks only as a temporary measure

-on tracks, paths, other areas

-for listed reasons

(*) open to public traffic.

4.6. Monitoring

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:

  • organizing and co-ordinating the collection and the analysis of biological data in order to gather information about the state of biodiversity in Wallonia and to define the main lines of a strategy for its conservation and to assess the effectiveness of it;
  • standardizing, recording and managing biological data collected within the scope of agreements or subsidies by the Walloon Region;
  • disseminating information, encouraging interaction and organizing exchanges between specialists, nature lovers, authorities, universities and the general public.

The aim for the years to come is to continue to develop four work programmes (see Fig. 4.5.):

Fig. 4.5. Information system structure presenting the main levels and the information flow from the field works to the diffusion (DGRNE).

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.

Environment websites

The Walloon Region widely distributes her information on the following sites:

 

Catherine Hallet
Directorate General for Natural
Resources and Environment
Avenue Prince de Liège 15
5100 Jambes-Namur

M. Dufrêne
Observatory of Fauna, Flora and Habitats (OFFH)
Scientific Centre of Gembloux
Avenue Maréchal Juin 23
5030 Gembloux

 

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Last updated  20-12-2004


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