Restoration of the "Grote Nete" lowland river ecosystem

Laatste update: 31/03/2014

In the south of the Campine region, there is a unique natural area for the Low Lands: the lowland river system 'Grote Nete'.

This area is characterised by high geomorphological diversity, which has led to several types of endangered habitats. Among them, the most important are sand dune and dune-heath vegetations on land dunes (2310, 2330), dry heath (4030) on valley sides, a diversity of species-rich grasslands (6510), aquatic plant communities (3130, 3150, 3260) and last - but not least - forests on wet soils with an extremely high epiphyte flora (91E0).

Especially for sand dune and dune-heath vegetations on land dunes (2310, 2330), diverse subtypes of alluvial forests (91E0) and lowland hay meadows (6510), the project area is of European importance. These habitats are rare and threatened in the whole of the European Union. The river system 'Grote Nete' itself is without doubt one of the strongholds for two Annex I fish species in Flanders and even Western-Europe, namely Lampetra planeri and Cobitis taenia.

An important part of the Flemish population (> 15%) of both fishes lives in the project area! The wide variety of habitats is also reflected in the presence of several rare bird species from Annex I of the Bird Directive. Luscinia svecica, Alcedo atthis, Pernis apivorus and Dryocopus martius are breeding birds in the area. Caprimulgus europaeus and Lullula arborea are former breeders, and can return after habitat restoration. Botaurus stellaris, Ixobrychus minutus, Nycticorax nycticorax and egretta alba are wintering in the project area. Unfortunately, the presence of the unique habitats and species is decreasing in the pSCI.

The biggest threats for this project area are the fragmentation of the Annex I habitats and the consequent isolation of target species populations, the disappearance of valuable habitats by large-scale afforestation and intensively worked agricultural fields, the lack of adequate management, an unnatural hydrology, eutrophication of the Annex I habitats, the destruction of suitable habitat for the Annex II fish species and the lack of social support.

Objectives

  • Large-scale restoration and sustainable management of the special Annex I habitats, especially Corynephorus and Agrostis dune grasslands (2330), psammofillous heathlands with Calluna and Genista species (2310), dry heathlands (4030), alluvial forests (Saliceto-Franguletum and Alnion glutinosa incanae (91E0) and lowland hay meadows (6510) with fragments of Molinion- and Nardetalia-vegetations. After finishing the Life-project, the pSCI wille be one of the key areas in lowland Europe for all these habitats.
  • Restoration of the valuable Annex I habitats Nanocypertalia fen vegetations (3130), Magnopotamion (3150) and water course of plain levels (3260), tall herb fringe communities (6430) and Querco-Betuletum forests (9190). Development on a small scale of quaking bogs (7140), a habitat which disappeared from the present-day pSCI.
  • Starting a long term partnership with the provincial government 'Provincie Antwerpen' (partner in the Life-project) to preserve and enlarge the populations of the Annex II fish species Lampetra planeri and Cobitis taenia. This will be the first partnership of its kind in Flanders!
  • To establish a sustainable long-term management for the very important land dune vegetations (2310, 2330), the hay meadows (6510) and long term management on species rich top locations, all in co-operation with volunteers of our NGO.
  • Habitat restoration, which will have an important beneficial effect on a wide range of endangered Annex I bird species, especially Luscinia svecica, Alcedo atthis, Dryocopus martius, Caprimulgus europaeus, Lullula arborea and Ixobrychus minutus.
  • Large increase of the socio-economic potential of this Natura 2000 area, through optimally using the possibilities for nature-oriented recreation, integrating volunteers into nature management and informing local people, visitors and authorities about the project and building new partnerships as an example of good practice.

Actions

  • Development of an integrated conservation plan, based on a detailed vegetation map and field research and at the end of the project an 'after LIFE conversation plan' which highlights the long term perspectives.
  • Development of proper planning and monitoring processes for the first results.
  • Acquisition of 100 ha in the project area for habitat restoration, to start a long-term management of the project area directed towards the favourable conservation status of the Annex I habitats, to protect and connect the special habitats and to preserve sustainable populations of the target species.
  • Large-scale restoration of the Annex I habitats in the project area, - especially on the newly acquired land - which, in turn, also form good habitats for several species of the Bird and Habitat Directive, by removing pine and poplar plantations, spontaneous development of new alluvial forests, integrating sites with buildings, and restoration of the natural hydrology and ancient peat extraction ponds.
  • Starting up a daily management scheme to retain the high quality of the Annex I habitats in the future.
  • Restoration and creation of new habitat for the Annex II fish species on 5 sites.
  • Development and realisation of a wide range of measures to promote the tourist and socio-economical potential of the area, through the publication of several leaflets, information on tracks, the development of new tracks and information signs, designing the observation tower, the publication of articles, the writing of a layman's report and yearly public activities.
  • Organisation of several activities to exchange knowledge and experience with the local people, other LIFE projects and several authorities.

Results

  • Large-scale restoration and sustainable management of the higher mentioned Annex I habitats in the project area. After the LIFE-project, the valley of the Grote Nete will be one of the core areas in lowland Europe for several Annex I habitats, especially for the priority habitat 91E0 (alluvial forests).
  • Sustainable restoration and increase of populations of Annex I species such as Luscinia svecica, Alcedo atthis, Dryocopus martius, Caprimulgus europaeus, Lullula arborea and Ixobrychus minutus.
  • Increase of the populations of the Annex II fish species Lampetra planeri and Cobitis taenia through a unique partnerships as an example of good conservation practice.
  • Better visitor facilities and more information (brochures, leaflets, flyers) about the area and a better socio-economic support of the Natura 2000 area and the LIFE project.
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