Introduction

LIFE Vochtig haspengouw is situated in pSCI areas near Hasselt and Tongeren in Limburg, Belgium.

With this proposal of LIFE project, Natuurpunt Beheer vzw wishes to tackle on a integrated way the threats influencing in a negative way the unique habitats and species of the Habitats Directive which are characteristic for the valley of the Mombeek and the Demer in the region Vochtig Haspengouw. We wish to realise this objective in such way that it can act as best practice en demonstration for other valley ecosystems with similar habitats and threats within the EU. Moreover, after finishing the LIFE project, the pSCI will be one of the key areas in lowland Europe for the target habitats and target species.

Objectives

The concrete objectives of this LIFE proposal are as follows:

Large-scale restoration of a complex of ground- and seepage water dependent Annex I-habitats for which the project area is of national and international importance.

Due to its location in the densely populated Flemish region, the project area has a very important role to play for the people. A significant increase of the social basis and 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 best practice, is therefore another very important objective of this LIFE project proposal. We wish to realise a LIFE project which demonstrates the participation of local people into large scale habitat restoration.

Actions and means involved,

  • Development of management plans, based on a detailed vegetation map and field research and at the end of the project an ‘after Life conservation plan’ which highlights the long term perspectives for the pSCI area.
  • Writing of detailed plans for efficient and effective habitat restoration.
  • Monitoring of the results.
  • Acquisition of 50 ha in the project area in order to start a large-scale restoration of the target Annex I habitats and their associated species towards the favourable conservation status of the habitats, and populations. Without acquisition, the restoration of the Annex I habitats in the pSCI is not possible, due to the high fragmentation of properties and habitats.
  • Large-scale restoration of the Annex I habitats in the project area, in the first place on the newly acquired land, which, in turn form good habitats for several species of Habitat Directive as well.
  • The restoration is carried out by removing wood and sod-cutting on cleared up spruce and pine plantations, development of new alluvial forests, removing spontaneous trees/vegetation on abandoned land, restoration of the natural hydrology, removing of exotic invasive species in woodland and heathland habitats, and fencing to start grazing management on a total area of approximately 50 ha.
  • Acquisition of specialised equipment to carry out habitat restoration in extremely difficult situations (e.g. restoration of alluvial forests (91E0+)hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities (6430), lowland hay meadows (6510), and dry heathlands (4030)).
  • Development and realisation of a wide range of measures to promote the tourist and socio-economical potential of the area, through the development of an information film explaining the value of the area, its habitats and the importance of its European protection (Natura 2000) and the LIFE project, publication of several leaflets, new information panels, the development of new tracks and information signs, putting information on the internet, the publication of articles, the writing of a layman’s report and yearly public activities.
  • Networking with other LIFE projects in Belgium and in Europe.
  • Organisation of several activities to exchange knowledge and experience with the local people, other Life projects and several authorities, for instance by organising a workshop …

Expected results

Large-scale restoration and sustainable development of the higher mentioned Annex I habitats in the project area, especially:

  • 25 ha forests on extremely wet soils (priority habitat Alnion glutinoso-incanae 91E0+) with a large diversity of subtypes (Carici elongatae-Alnetum, Marcophorbio-Alnetum, Pruno-Fraxinetum, Carici-Remotae fraxinetum)
  • 15 ha lowland hay meadows (6510) in combination with hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities (6430) with species as Pimpinella major, Trisetum favexcens and Crepis biennis.
  • Restoration of 10 ha drier habitat types typical for a semi-dry, poor sandy soil and that are of great importance as a stepping stone between the Campine region and the Haspengouw region: old oak forests (9190) and dry heathland (4030).

After the LIFE project, the valley ecosystem of Mombeek and Demer will be one of the core areas in lowland Europe for several Annex I habitats, especially for alluvial forests (Carici elongatae-Alnetum, Marcophorbio-Alnetum, Pruno-Fraxinetum, Carici-Remotae fraxinetum 91E0+), Arrhenatherion (6510) and Filipendulion vegetations (6430), old oak forests (9190), dry heathland systems (4030).

Better visitor facilities and more information (brochures, film, leaflets, flyers) about the area and a better socio-economic support of the Natura 2000 area and the LIFE project. More visitors visiting the nature reserve with respect for the natural values.

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