The project is situated in the Hageland region in the transition between the sandy lowlands and the hilly loamy area. Characteristic are the parallel steep-sloped southwest-northeast oriented hills that are a result of sandbanks in a shallow iron-rich Miocene sea. After regression 9 mi years ago, iron-rich swamps formed between the sandy ridges. Following continued drop of the sea level, the iron-rich swamps dried out and transformed into erosion-resistant iron-sandstone that comprise the current hills. In between, erosion carved out valleys, with the project area consisting of the valley of the Winge and the Motte. The Pellenberg in the south is the highest point (106m). In this region, sandy tertiary soil formations carry mineral-rich aquifers that form the springs of the Winge. The Motte originates in a large mire area in the center of the project area. In the narrow valley in the upper part of the Winge, the soil consists of loam with local peat deposits. The Motte and more downstream the Winge, the valley is broader and the soil consists of clay or loamy alluvial soil in mosaic with postglacial sandy river dunes. Local peat zones are more extensive in size due to the broad valley. At the bottom of the hills, there is a transition to colluvial sand and/or loam abruptly followed by steep slopes and a plateau consisting of shallow sandy soils on iron-sandstone and tertiary clay deposits. These clay deposits of glauconite cause highly localized aquifers to built up and thus generate temporary springs on the otherwise dry hills. Due to the unique southwest–northeast orientation, there is a distinct microclimate on the southern versus the northern slopes, generating unique contrasts in warm temperate (e.g. Ulex europaeus and Thymus pulegioides) and boreal-(sub)mountainous oriented flora (e.g. Oreopteris limbosperma, Lycopodium clavatum and Sphagnum quinquefarium) within less than 100m.
Owing to these unique geological and hydrological characteristics, the project area shows exceptional combinations of biodiverse habitats. The region was already historically renowned for its biodiversity, reflected in botanical surveys of the late 19th and 20th century and a detailed vegetation map in 1956.
1) The project aims at the ecological restoration and quality improvement of 350 ha qualifying habitats along the entire gradient of the Winge Valley: : aquatic habitats 3140, 3150 and 3150 with Luronium natans; heathland habitats 6230*, 4030, 4010; grassland habitats 6410, 6430, 6510; fen habitats 7140, 7230 and forest habitats 9120, 91E0*, 9160.
2) Science-based restoration of remnant populations of key fauna and flora via translocation and reintroduction using individuals or seeds of local genetic origin. This to tackle the EU-wide, yet still underestimated, threat of species extinction.
3) Identifying best practice regarding habitat restoration and the reintroduction of species via an innovative framework of collaboration between professionals, volunteers and scientists.
4) Contributing to the socio-economic potential of the area by improving opportunities for nature-oriented recreation, engaging volunteers and local residents, encouraging citizen-science monitoring and involving local stakeholders.
5) By restoring habitats and the natural hydrology, the project will contribute to flood and drought resilience to make the Wingevalley climate-proof. In addition, the project will provide carbon sequestration through the restoration of wetlands and forests.