prairies marecageuses - Protection of the habitats of a number of priority species of wet grasslands in Belgium

LIFE97 NAT/B/004206

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Joost DEWYSPELAERE
Tel: 32 2 245 43 00
Fax: 32 2 245 39 33
Email: joost.dewyspelaere@sec.natureservaten.be

Project description:


Humid grasslands are threatened by agricultural intensification throughout Europe but in spite of its high-yield farming and the fragmentation of its landscapes, Belgium still has humid grasslands of great biological value. This is due to the geographic location of the country at the transition from the north European lowlands to the hilly country of central Europe and because a number of farms have, at least until recently, stubbornly clung to traditional ways rather than 'improving' production methods. Belgium's remaining oligotrophic lowland hay meadows, tall grass meadows and Molinia grasslands on clay subsoil constitute an essential biotope for several bird species, notably the corncrake, of which a population, fluctuating wildly from year to year, occurs in Wallonia. However, these meadows were threatened in the 1990s by farmers using them to grow grass for silage rather than for hay, by transformation to arable land or poplar/spruce plantations, or by drainage affecting also the adjacent wet alder woods.


The central purpose of the project was to continue building up reserves of humid grassland habitat, for the benefit of birds requiring such habitat, at 8 subsites. In Wallonia: la Vallee de l'Eau Blanche,la Fagne orientale,la Famenne, vallees du Vachau et du Biron, and Wavreille. In Flanders: Ijzerbroeken, Kalkense Meersen and Demervallei. It followed on from a previous LIFE-Nature project (Conservation of the corncrake, Crex crex, in Belgium, 1994). The new LIFE-Nature project intended to purchase land to further expand the grassland reserves already acquired by its predecessor, or start new ones. Gaining coherent blocks of land would make it easier to carry out works to rehumidify these grasslands. Acquisition would also give a greater voice in the "Wateringen", the autonomous drainage boards run by local landowners, which so far had systematically lowered water levels wherever they could. \ LIFE-Nature funds would also be used to clear grassland of trees, fence it for grazing and to buy tools to carry out recurring management of the reserves afterwards. As well as for carrying on publication of a newsletter for farmers about adjusting agriculture practice to spare corncrakes. The project would also examine if such practices (late mowing etc.) really led to inferior hay, as is often claimed.


The two NGOs running the project (Réserves Naturelles Ornithologiques de Belgique RNOB and Natuurreservaten vzw) divided work in the 8 subsites between them: vallée de l’eau Blanche, la Fagne Orientale, la Famenne, vallées du Vachau et du Biran and Wavreilles (all in Wallonia) for RNOB and Ijzerbroeken (Blankaart), Kalkense Meersen and Demervallei-Zwarte Beek (all in Flanders) for Natuurreservaten. The focus was on land acquisition to obtain larger and better manageable areas within the subsites, in most of which the two NGOs had already been active before LIFE and had acquired more or less fragmented areas, on the preparation of management plans to obtain a status of ‘acknowledged nature reserve’ from the competent authorities and on habitat restoration or initial one-off management. In detail, the following was done: • Management plans were prepared for 244 ha in all. The beneficiaries prepared plans for the areas they had bought; after their validation by the competent authorities this land became ‘acknowledged nature reserve’ and qualified for co-financing from the government for the recurring management. • 201 ha were purchased, well in excess of the 167 ha targeted. The most successful subsite was Demervallei-Zwarte Beek (97 ha bought). • Removal of poplar plantations in Demervallei and Zwarte Beek to restore grasslands, on which mowing and grazing management then began. Parts of the land were fenced. • In Wallonia, 10 ha were fenced at Lombitch (Fagne Orientale) as well as smaller sections in Comogne, Tournailles and Vivy le Bois. • Removal of trees and scrub from 10 ha in Comogne, Ruisseau de Biran, Vivy le Bois and Tournailles. • Restoration of 3 ha reedland in the Blankaart by scraping off topsoil and cutting willows. Before the start of the project, the eutrophic silt in the Blankaart lake itself had already been dredged with ERDF support. • Excavating pools (several in Blankaart and Kalkense Meersen, 14 pools in Famenne and 2 in the Fagne). • Management contracts were concluded with farmers to mow or graze. Results were variable: In Flanders not all farmers were interested (citing poor quality of vegetation, wet soil) but in Wallonia uptake was better. RNOB has been promoting agri-environment schemes based on Regulation 2078/92 among farmers. • Consequently, both NGOs rely on volunteers to ensure management where farmers are not participating, while at project end Natuurreservaten was setting up teams of unskilled workers under the aegis of public programmes for the re-integration of people marginalised from the labour market. LIFE cofinanced the purchase of equipment for volunteers and workmen. It also funded a shelter for Galloway cattle owned by RNOB which were deployed in the Fagne Orientale subsite for grazing management. • Several meetings were held with landowners affected; a site visit for farmers to the Comagne subsite to see recurring management in action was a success • A nature education workbook “Au pays du roi des cailles” on corncrakes was issued for use in local schools. • Publication of 9 newsletters “Courrier du râle” • Publication of articles in the membership magazines of Natuurreservaten and RNOB • Information panels were installed at several subsites and little folders with maps and descriptions of hiking routes were produced for several Wallonian sites. The project attended an international workshop on Crex crex in Sept. 1998 and collaborated with the Libramont Agricultural Polytechnic in a project to research the quality of fodder from grasslands managed according to nature conservation prescriptions. An important target to be addressed after the end of the project was the establishment of a higher groundwater level in the Ijzerbroeken and Kalkense Meersen. This will not only depend on acquiring any sections of private land still left between what is already owned by Natuurreservaten, but also on resolving the differences with the local water boards and farmers over water levels.


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Grasslands


grassland ecosystem‚  nature reserve‚  renaturation‚  land purchase‚  management plan

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 ...
  • Decision 93/626 - Conclusion of the Convention on Biological Diversity (25.10.1993)
  • COM(95) 189 - "Communication on the judicious use and conservation of wetlands" (12.12.1995)
  • COM(98)42 -"Communication on a European Community Biodiversity Strategy" (05.02.1998)
  • COM(2001)162 -"Biodiversity Action Plan for the conservation of natural resources (vol. I & II)" ...
  • Land & Soil
  • Regulation 2078/92 - Agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the prot ...

Target species

 Crex crex     

Target Habitat types

  • 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
  • 6510 - "Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)"
  • 7140 - Transition mires and quaking bogs
  • 91D0 - Bog woodland
  • 91E0 - "Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)"
  • 3130 - Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters with vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or of the Isoëto-Nanojuncetea
  • 3150 - Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition - type vegetation
  • 3260 - Water courses of plain to montane levels with the Ranunculion fluitantis and Callitricho-Batrachion vegetation
  • 4030 - European dry heaths

Natura 2000 sites

SCI BE2400014 Demervallei
SPA BE2500831 Ijzervallei
SPA BE35027A0 Vallée de l'Eau Blanche entre Aublain et Mariembourg (Couvin)
SPA BE35028A0 Bassin fagnard de l'Eau Blanche en aval de Mariembourg (Couvin; Doische; Philippeville)
SPA BE35029A0 Bassin fagnard de l'Eau Noire (Doische; Philippeville)
SPA BE35038A0 Bassin de la Lesse entre Villers-sur-Lesse et Chanly (Nassogne; Rochefort; Tellin; Wellin)
SCI BE35028B0 Bassin fagnard de l'Eau Blanche en aval de Mariembourg (Couvin; Doische; Philippeville)
SCI BE35029B0 Bassin fagnard de l'Eau Noire (Doische; Hastière; Philippeville)
SPA BE2301235 Durme en Middenloop van de Schelde
SCI BE35027B0 Vallée de l'Eau Blanche entre Aublain et Mariembourg (Chimay; Couvin)
SCI BE35038B0 Bassin de la Lesse entre Villers-sur-Lesse et Chanly (Nassogne; Rochefort; Tellin; Wellin)



Coordinator Les Réserves Naturelles en Ornithologie de Belgique a.s.b.l.
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description The beneficiary of this project, the "RNOB/BNVR", was the national body that encompassed two regionally active nature conservation NGOs in Belgium: the "Réserves Naturelles et Ornithologiques de Belgique RNOB" During the project, the name of the latter beneficiary changed from "Belgische Natuur- en Vogelreservaten vzw" to "Natuurpunt Beheer vzw". In Wallonia, "Réserves Naturelles" has now merged with the NGO AVES into a new structure named "Natagora", to combine their communication, education and lobbying efforts. Both regional bodies have the same mission: the purchase, restoration and management of areas of natural interest. Site designation as "voluntary nature reserve", site restoration and site management are initiated and done by volunteers of the local units and these conservation measures are supported by professionals at the organizations' headquarters.


Project reference LIFE97 NAT/B/004206
Duration 01-JUL-1997 to 01-OCT -2001
Total budget 1,445,106.53 €
EU contribution 722,553.27 €
Project location Région Wallonne(België - Belgique) Bruxelles-Brussel(België - Belgique)


Read more:

Brochure Title: Le Courrier du Râle (9 issues from 1996 to 2001) Author: various Editor: RNOB
Brochure Title: Le Journal du Râle (several issues from 1995 onwards) Author: various Editor: RNOB
Leaflet Title: Donnez des Prairies au Roi des Cailles Author: Deschuyteneer, G.; Herremans, J.-P. Year: 1996 Editor: RNOB No of pages: 5
Publication: Article-Paper Title: Reconcilier Agriculture et Nature (in: Réserves Naturelles Magazine, 23e année, n° 5) Author: Smits, Q.; Leprince, E.; Van Roy, C. Year: 2001 Editor: RNOB No of pages: 12
Publication: Article-Paper Title: Le Râle des Genêts en Sursis (in Réserves Naturelles Magazine, 18e année, n° 6) Author: Vassen, F.; Ryelandt, P;. Gathoye, J-L; Percsy, C Year: 1996 Editor: RNOB No of pages: 14
Publication: Article-Paper Title: Er op uit: De Blankaart (in: NatuurReservaten 23e jaargang nr 2) Author: Boes, P. Year: 2001 Editor: Natuurreservaten vzw No of pages: 3


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