LIFE Grote Netewoud: wilderness on a human scale


Wet and dry heath vegetation, bogs, mires and lowland river systems covered much of the Campine region in north-eastern Belgium, until the early 20th century, when industrialisation, urbanisation and intensification of agricultural practices largely destroyed this natural landscape mosaic. The project area lies within the southern limit of the sandy Campine region, and is part of the ‘Grote Nete’ proposed ecological site for protection under the EU’s Natura 2000 network. The soil is very varied, with a rich microtopography and iron-rich seepage water. Alluvial woods are still present, in spite of the human intervention on the hydrology of the area. Current threats are: habitat fragmentation; existing plantations and spread of invasive alien plant species; habitat loss caused by lack of suitable management; eutrophication as a result of nitrogen deposition and agricultural practices; unnatural hydrology; and a lack of social support.

alluvial alder forest - Stein Temmerman


The lowland river system ‘Grote Nete’ is well-suited to the development of a vast woodland with new habitat for very critical species such as otter (Lutra lutra), black stork (Ciconia nigra) and beaver (Castor fiber). The main focus of this project – encompassing a surface area of 1.700 ha - is the large-scale restoration, development and sustainable management of alluvial forest (90%), mainly by means of natural forestation, and of small pockets of the most valuable open habitats (10%). This increase of habitats will be sustainable, because of the acquisition of at least 120 ha, which is the best way to protect these habitats in the long term.

Based on studies of the abiotic (non-living) environment, the top layer of the phosphate-enriched soil will be excavated, to ensure the right conditions for the development of valuable habitats. Furthermore, the project aims to restore the habitat of Annex II fish species by improving the structure of the river or smaller streams and by facilitating the migration of these species. The sites of former weekend houses will be reintegrated in the natural river valley. The beneficiary and partners also aim to offer unique adventurous nature experiences and create public awareness that will remain in people’s minds. Stakeholders will be involved and win-win situations are sought by combining the strengths of different partners. The support of local authorities for the project is also expected because of the ecological and financial benefits it brings to their communities (e.g. biodiversity, ecosystem services, catering to visitors, lower cost for water management, higher property prices).

integrated artificial pond - Frans Emmerechts

Expected results

  • The large-scale restoration and sustainable management of at least 108 ha of the priority habitat 91E0* (alluvial forests). After the LIFE-project, the valley of the ‘Grote Nete’ will be one of the core areas in lowland Europe for this habitat. In the long term, the restored area will be large enough to potentially host vulnerable species such as the otter (Lutra lutra), beaver (Castor fiber) and black stork (Ciconia nigra);
  • An increase of the populations of the Annex II fish species European brook Lamprey (Lampetra planeri), spined loach (Cobitis taenia), bullhead (Cottus perifretum) and European bitterling (Rhodeus sericeus amarus) through unique partnerships as an example of good conservation practice;
  • A sustainable increase of populations of Annex II species of the habitats directive pond bat (Myotis dasycneme) and of Annex I species of the Birds Directive such as bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) and black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax);
  • Raised awareness through an improved visitor experience (e.g. the existing walking trails will feature special elements that encourage people to experience nature. Examples will include a ‘Tarzan trail’ where children can swing through the branches, a dangling bench (a higher bench that allows people to dangle their legs), a small boat that people can use to ferry themselves over a small river, a ‘private’ island where it is possible to camp; and
  • The creation of a platform for stakeholders. The steering committee will consist of volunteers and professionals from the organisations involved in the project.

common kingfisher - Rik Verborgt

Target habitats

More information about the habitats can be found here

2310 Dry sand heaths with Calluna and Genista

2330 Inland dunes with open Corynephorus and Agrostis grasslands

3130 Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters with vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or of the Isoeto-Nanojuncetea

3150 Natural euthrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition-type vegetation

3260 Water courses of plain to montane levels with the. Ranunculion fluitantis and. Callitricho-Batrachion vegetation

4010 Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix

4030 European dry heaths

6230 Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe)

6410 Molinia meadows on calcareous, peaty or clayey-silt-laden soils (Molinion caeruleae)

6430 Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of plains and of the montane to alpine levels

7140 Transition mires and quaking bogs

9190 Old acidophilous oak woods with Quercus robur on sandy plains 

91E0 Alluvial forests with. Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)

pond water crowfoot - Manu Büscher