Triple E Pond area M-L - Ecological restoration of the Pond area M-L through a close participation of the private and public landowners and a tripple E-approach

LIFE08 NAT/B/000036

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The Vijvergebied Midden-Limburg is located in north-east Belgium, in the region of Limburg. The area forms part of the Demer river basin and is crossed by two main rivers, the Roosterbeek and Laambeek. These are typical lowland, seepage-fed rivers, meandering through a sandy plain. Historically, large parts of the area were drained by a network of ditches, and most watercourses were deepened and straightened. From the 19th century on, large heath surfaces were afforested or transformed into meadows or arable land. Furthermore, fish farming activities, already present, were intensified and commercialised, giving rise to large still-water surfaces fed by a complicated network of in- and out-flow ditches, sluices and artificially fed ponds. The area has by far the highest concentration of fish-rearing ponds in Belgium.


The Triple E Pond area M-L project aimed to conserve or restore the following species and habitats of Community importance in the Natura 2000 network site ‘Vijvergebied Midden-Limburg’ (‘Pond area M-L’): bittern (Botaurus stellaris); tree frog (Hyla arborea); ‘Oligotrophic waters…’ (3120), ‘Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters…’ (3130), ‘Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix’ (4010) and European dry heaths (4030). The project aimed to secure the ongoing participation of private landowners and other stakeholders in habitat management; to establish a sustainable basis for the conservation of species and habitats by enhancing synergies between Ecology, Education and the local Economy (“triple E-approach”); to enhance public awareness of Natura 2000; and to demonstrate best practices for involving private landowners as partners in the management of Natura 2000 sites.


The Triple E Pond area M-L project worked to improve conditions in the Natura 2000 network site ‘Vijvergebied Midden-Limburg’ in Belgium for bittern (Botaurus stellaris) and tree frog (Hyla arborea), and the following Habitats Directive-listed habitats: Oligotrophic waters of type 3110, Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters of type 3130, Wet heaths of type 4010, Dry heaths of type 4030, and Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of type 6430. A core part of this Natura 2000 site is taken up with economically and ecologically valuable fish farming activities, operated by family-run businesses. The project team established the sustainable participation of a number of private landowners (including fish farmers) in conservation activities, and raised public awareness concerning Natura 2000 on a local and regional level.

The project team implemented actions to improve both the aquatic and land habitats of the endangered tree frog. Ponds were restored by removing sludge and by constructing ditches to bring more water to them, while trees were felled and brushwood cleared around the ponds. The project team improved nesting opportunities for the bittern, mainly by establishing 29 reed islands. In total, 14 800 m of ditches were cleared, 1 040 m of new ditches constructed, 92 elements (e.g. weirs and monks) constructed, 13 735 m of dikes cleared, and open ponds created over an area of 187 ha. An area of 7.25 ha of wet grassland was also restored, by cutting trees, reshaping the land profile, restoring an adequate water regime and mowing; while 32.79 ha of dry heaths was restored by removing tree, shrubs and top soil.

Some of the horseshoe-shaped reed islands needed to be replanted (e.g. due to grazing by geese), while regular pond maintenance may be needed to counteract the risk of bridges forming, thus exposing bittern on the islands to predation (e.g. fox). Public access to the most ecologically vulnerable areas was also restricted, by construction fences and gateways.

The project found that it was more difficult to find private landowners to participate in the project than originally thought, partly due to time constraints. Several landowners were already collaborating with project partner Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos and did not feel the need to participate further, for example, while others were willing to participate but did not comply with the prerequisites (e.g. having properties in the Natura 2000 network or owning land that could act as habitat stepping stones). However, the project’s 9 successful land stewardship collaborations with private landowners were considered to be innovative and of real demonstration value.

The core innovative of the project is its triple E concept: Ecology, Education and Economy. Previous projects have taken this approach, by combining nature conservation, education and working closely with municipalities and farmers, but the Triple E Pond area M-L project involves fish farmers directly as beneficiaries. This helps create a "real" economy, with production of goods in a highly competitive market, rather than just focussing on tourism aspects, as most projects do.

The municipality of Zonhoven considers the fisheries as important cultural-historical and economical elements, and organises group visits to the fish farms. The project produced added value for eco-tourism in the region. Several tourist sites are expected to benefit from the recreational value of the project, including the Heidestrand campsite, Domain Kiewit, Domain Bovy and the Abbey of Herkenrode. Mentally handicapped people assisted project partner AB Lila with small-scale field work. The project team trained local guides, and organised conferences and a visitors’ day.

The project helps implement the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. The outcome also has benefits for water quality, and in wider terms for land stewardship in Natura 2000 sites and the multiple uses of protected areas.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Amphibians
Habitats - Freshwater
Species - Birds


endangered species‚  protected area‚  tourism‚  public-private partnership‚  restoration measure

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...

Target species

 Botaurus stellaris   Hyla arborea   

Target Habitat types

  • 3120 - "Oligotrophic waters containing very few minerals generally on sandy soils of the West Mediterranean, with Isoetes spp."
  • 3130 - Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters with vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or of the Isoëto-Nanojuncetea
  • 4010 - Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix
  • 4030 - European dry heaths

Natura 2000 sites

SCI BE2200031 Valleien van de Laambeek, Zonderikbeek, Slangebeek en Roosterbeek met vijvergebieden.
SPA BE2219312 Vijvercomplex van Midden Limburg



Coordinator European Landowners' Organisation asbl
Type of organisation Professional organisation
Description The European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) is a federation of national associations from the 27 EU Member States, which represents the interests of landowners, land managers, rural entrepreneurs and family businesses. The work of ELO focuses on eight main issues of European importance: the environment; sustainable hunting and fishing; agriculture and rural development; forestry; renewable energy; the status of private property and companies; enlargement; and trade.
Partners vzw Ontwikkeling Vijvergebied Midden-Limburg (OVML), Belgium vzw Regionaal Landschap Lage Kempen (RLLK), Belgium vzw Limburgs Landschap (Lila), Belgium Municipality of Hasselt (HAS), Belgium Municipality of Zonhoven (ZON), Belgium Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos (ANB), Belgium


Project reference LIFE08 NAT/B/000036
Duration 01-JAN-2010 to 30-APR -2014
Total budget 2,696,042.00 €
EU contribution 1,348,021.00 €
Project location Vlaams Gewest(België - Belgique)


Read more:

Brochure General Progress of LIFE+ Project 3wat3r (123KB)
Leaflet "3watEr: working together by nature" (1.47 MB)
Leaflet "3watEr : une collaboration naturelle" (1.47 MB)
Leaflet "3watEr: natuurlijk samenwerken" (1.45 MB)
Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Slides Presentation "Getuigenis: 3 revoluties en 6 succesfactoren om e ...


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version