European Natura 2000 Award
“We went from a time when the situation between private landowners, the administration and nature organisations was very uneasy – or sometimes even hostile – to one of mutual respect and cooperation,” says Robert de Graeff of the European Landowners Organisation (ELO). He believes the way the partners in the EU LIFE+-funded ‘3Water’ project got together to resolve these problems earned them the Natura 2000 Award.
“We achieved it with the help of people on the ground and in the Flemish administration who were tired of being divisive and instead looked towards working together,” explains Mr de Graeff. The project motto is ‘working together by nature’.
The 3Water project is based in the Vijvercomplex van Midden Limburg, in the north-east of Belgium: a Natura 2000 site that aims to maintain a viable environment for nature, business and tourism.
The ‘3E’ approach was key to reconciling different goals and interests. All the partners pledged to respect a balance between Economy, Ecology and Education, under Natura 2000 guidelines.
The project focused on preserving local species such as the bittern (a member of the heron family) and the tree frog, through renovating ponds and wetlands, building new reed islands for the bittern and restoring traditional wet and dry heather.
The results are impressive. The number of breeding pairs of bitterns has more than doubled, and the population of tree frogs is estimated to be the largest in the Benelux countries.
“We are very proud of our project and the way we have worked together,” says Mr de Graeff. Nonetheless, given the high quality of candidates, he said, he was surprised to secure the Natura 2000 Award. “It makes us even more aware of the honour. We are exceedingly grateful to the European Commission and its LIFE+ and Nature units.”
The partners will use the prize money to develop a communication programme that demonstrate the benefits of the 3E approach, in order to disseminate it throughout the EU. “Not enough people know about Natura 2000,” believes Mr de Graeff. “The challenge is to make the general public more aware of this extremely worthwhile initiative.” Apart from organising guided walks and publishing education packs, 3Water has recently completed a documentary film for widespread distribution. “The award has been very positive for all of us who have worked so hard to realise this project,” he concludes. “We already know that its long-term effects will be great for biodiversity and for the people who live and work in this area.”