LIFE + Nature project FLANDRE (English)

Progress of the implementation of the project program

A. Preparatory measures and management plans

  • A. 1 & 2. Directive nature management plan ("masterplan") and legal basis for cross-border cooperation and protection as a transnational natural park of the dunes between Dunkerque (France) and Westende (Belgium)
    • The study command was assigned to:
      – as regards the part “masterplan”:  A consortium consisting of the West-Flemish Intercommunale (Wvi), the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO) and the Centre Permanent d'Initiatives pour l'Environnement de Flandre Maritime;

      – as regards the part “legal basis”: A consortium consisting of the University of Ghent-Department of European, Public and International Law, LDR lawyers in environmental law and the Université de Bretagne Occidentale - UMR -Amure.

      This study assignment started on 1 October 2015. The methodologies, interim reports and final reports were presented to the advisory committee at its meetings of 11 December 2015, 9 November 2016, 12 December 2018 and 29 January 2020. The final reports were delivered on 14 February 2020 and were crowned on the same day by the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding which perpetuated the cooperation between the Agency for Nature and Forest of the Flemish Government, the DREAL of the French State, the Conservatoire du Littoral and the Département du Nord with the final objective of recognition as a cross-border nature park of the dunes between Dunkerque and Westende.

  • A.3. Management plans for several recently acquired dune sites along the Flemish West Coast (Belgium).
    • The study command was assigned to a consortium consisting of the West-Vlaamse Intercommunale and Natuurpunt Studie NPA and runs from the 12th October 2015 until the autumn 2017. The study covers a total superficies of dune sites of  295 ha that recently have been acquired or taken into management by the Agency for Nature and Forests and that lay scattered over the territories of the municipalities of Koksijde (221 ha), Nieuwpoort (29 ha) and Middelkerke (Westende, 45 ha). The exploratory note and interim report were discussed on the 14 April 2016 and 27 January 2017 by an ad hoc working group consisting of representatives of the 3 concerned municipalities, the drinking water company IWVA, the province West-Vlaanderen, the concerned regional agencies and NGO’s as well as several scientific experts. The reworking of the interim report on the basis of the discussions in the ad hoc working group resulted in the draft of management plan. The draft of management plan proposed measures to strongly improve the quality of nature in several dune sites that are managed by the Agency for Nature and Forests (ANB) and to ensure a sustainable accessibility for hikers, mountainbikers and equestrians. During the information sessions, the public received the opportunity to ask questions to the designers of the management plan and the site managers of ANB. The information session on the 25 April 2017 at the cultural centre ‘Casino’ at Koksijde about the proposed measures for several dune sites on the territory of Koksijde was attended by at least 50 persons. The information visits to the dune sites ‘Belvedereduinen’, ‘Schipgatduinen’ and ‘Oostvoorduinen’, all located on Coxydian territory, on the 13 May and 21 May 2017 were attended each time by 15 to 30 persons.

      Information visit about the management plan for the Oostvoorduinen (21 May 2017)

      The information days about the management plan for the Simliduinen at Nieuwpoort on Saturday 11 March and for the Sint-Laureinsduinen at Westende on Saturday 18 March 2017 got a good attendance of respectively 30 and 25 persons, each time essentially residents of the residential areas adjacent to the concerned dune sites.

      Pictures: The participants to the information visits listen attentively to the explanations about the management plan given on the field by biologist Eric Cosyns (Wvi).

      The draft of management plan and of accessibility rules was also submitted to a public consultation that took place from the 28 April until the 29 May 2017. During this period the documents could be consulted at the technical services of the municipalities of Koksijde, Nieuwpoort and Middelkerke. The revised report, based on the opinions, objections and comments received and found relevant during the public consultation, was discussed at a third and final meeting of the ad hoc working group on 14 September 2017. The final version of the final report was delivered on 12 July 2018 and submitted to the Cabinet of the then Flemish Minister for the Environment, Nature and Agriculture in the autumn of 2018. The management plan and the accessibility rules were approved on the 23rd April 2019 by decree of the Flemish minister of the Environment, Nature and Agriculture Koen Van den Heuvel.

      Download the summary in English (pdf - 129 KB)

B. Acquisition of land

  • B.1. Acquisition of 30 ha dunes in the European Habitat area 'Dune area including the Yser Estuary and Zwin ' (Belgium)
    • Since the start of the FLANDRE LIFE+ Nature project on the 2nd September 2013, the Agency for Nature and Forests has already purchased63 hectare 36 are 27 centiare, consisting of:
      -  3 ha 47 a 49 ca at De Panne;
      - 36 ha 74 a 80 ca at Koksijde;
      - 23 ha 13 a 98 ca at Nieuwpoort;
      - 9 a 23 ca at Middelkerke (Westende-Bad.

      All these plots of dunes were purchased from private owners, of whom several joint ownerships, between the 1st January 2014 and 30th September 2020 through 64 purchase deeds. Although the superficies objective of the LIFE+ FLANDRE action B.1 has been reached, the Agency continues to purchase dune ground along the Belgian western coast.

  • B.2. Acquisition of 58.3 ha of dunes in and around the European ‘Habitat’ Directive sites 'Dunes of the Flemish Maritime Plain' and 'Decalcified Flandrian Dunes of Ghyvelde' (France)
    • Since the start of the project to 30th September 2020, the Conservatoire du Littoral has acquired through 10 purchase deeds and 8 judgments 34 hectare 60 are 38 centiare of dunes on the territories of the municipalities of Leffrinckoucke, Bray-dunes, Zuydcoote and Ghyvelde. Those parts of the "Dune du Perroquet" site not yet owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral at the start of the project, with an area of 58 ha 24 a 97 ca, were subject to a public utility declaration procedure followed by expropriation. This procedure was started in 2016 and the expropriation order was signed on 27 February 2020, acquiring 17 ha 68 a 94 ca known as "Dune du Calvaire".

C. Concrete nature restoration and management measures

  • C.1. Restoration of a humid dune slack and excavation of pools in the Oostvoorduinen at Koksijde (Belgium)
    • In this more than a thousand years old dune site, low dunes and dune slacks have been levelled into arable fields during the 19th Century. These fields were then fertilized for several decades. In order to obtain an environment that is suitable for the restauration of the nutrient avoiding natural habitats ‘humid dune slacks’ and ‘grey dunes’ (dry dune grasslands) and of the biotope of the Natterjack Toad, the too nutrient-rich superior layers of soil had to be removed over a surface area of approximately 2 ha. The earthworks started on the 1st September 2015 and were finalized in the middle of November 2015. Then the poplar trees, that by shedding leaves and throwing shadows would make the restauration of the natural habitats less optimal, were removed. Finally, fences were placed to allow the restored area to be managed by grazing by cattle. The state of flora and vegetation 4 years after the implementation of the development works was studied and described in the report provided by the INBO within the framework of the monitoring action D1&2.

  • C.2. Clearing of scrub to restore habitats that are associated with open dune landscape in the ‘Dune du Perroquet', 'Dune Marchand' and 'Dune  Dewulf’ (France)
    • From September 2013 to 28 February 2020, the Département du Nord cleared a total of 61.06 hectares of thicket, including 26.32 hectares in the Dune du Perroquet, 9.37 hectares in the Dune Marchand and 25.38 hectares in the Dune Dewulf. The situation in 2019 of the areas cleared from thickets and the future maintenance management for the creation of the target habitats "2130* Grey dunes" (moss dunes and dune grassland) and "2190 Moist dune valleys" (dune tiles) were evaluated in the framework of the monitoring action D.5.

      Photo: zone IA10-1 before the works: dense thickets in the « Dune Dewulf » (November 2017)

      Photo: zone IA10-1 after the works, the sand was laid bare in January 2018

      Photo: dune slack in the “Dune Dewulf” that is completely encroached by Sea-buckthorn and willows

      Photo: the same dune slack in the “Dune Dewulf” after the removal of scrub (winter 2016-2017). Take notice of the pool

  • C.3. Establishment of grazing units in ' Dune du Perroquet' and 'Dune Dewulf' (France)
    • The program of the project planned the establishment of new grazing units with a superficies of 29,9 ha for the management of the areas cleared in the frame of action C.2. This action is completed. Indeed, at the beginning of the year 2018, in the “Dune Dewulf” 3 new fences with a total surface area of 23  ha and 2 fences in the “Dune du Perroquet” with a total superficies of 6,6 ha were placed. Later during the spring of 2018 sheep, goats and ponies were introduced in those grazing areas.

      Photo : the placing of the fences in the ‘Dune du Perroquet’ (February 2018)

      Photo : grazing unit of the ‘Dune Dewulf’ (March 2018)

      Photos: the release of a flock of sheep in “Dune Dewulf” and grazing goats

  • C.4. Restoration and management of tall herb fringes in the ‘Dune du Perroquet’, the ‘Dune Marchand’ and the ‘Dune Dewulf’ (France)
    • The Département du Nord has executed during the winters from 2016 until 2020 the necessary works in the “Dune Dewulf”, “Dune Marchand” and “Dune Dewulf” to 2,51 hectare of tall herb fringes as habitat of the Narrow mouthed whorl snail (Vertigo angustior).

      Photo: a social employment company clears the clippings in the future tall herbs fringe (November 2017)
  • C.5. Digging of 10 ponds in the ' Dune du Perroquet' and the 'Dune Dewulf’ (France)
    • During the winter season 2016-2017 5 ponds were excavated by the Département du Nord in the “Dune Dewulf” to restore the aquatic habitat of Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) and Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita). During the winter 2017-2018 an additional pond was dug in the ‘Dune Dewulf’ and 5 new ponds were dug in the ‘Dune du Perroquet’. In total 11 new ponds were dug between 2016 and 2018 in those 2 dune sites. In 2019, the presence of Crested Newt and of Natterjack Toad was detected in respectively 3 and 8 of the 11 pools dug under LIFE+ FLANDRE.

      Photo: New pond in the ‘Dune du Perroquet’ (february 2018)  Photo : additional pond (11/10) in the Dune Dewulf (february 2018)

      Photo: larva and juvenile of Natterjack toad in the ponds that were dug out in the frame of LIFE+FLANDRE in 2017 in the ‘Dune Dewulf’

      Photo: new pool in the “Dune Dewulf” (February 2017)
  • C.6. Creation of a walking path and placing of fences to control the recreational access of a part of the ' Dune Dewulf' that has been acquired by the Conservatoire du Littoral during the project (France) and thus reduce the recreational pressure on vulnerable dune habitats. The dune land was acquired in 2015 and the planned 2.2 km long footpath was laid out in 2019.
  • C. 7 & 8. Management of the dunes that were purchased under the actions B. 1 (Belgium) and B. 2 (France): removal of alien species, mowing, clearing of scrub and tall grasses etc.
    • A total of 1287 man-hours were spent by the Agency for Nature and Forest and 1976 man-hours by the Département du Nord on the management of the recently acquired dunes, by mowing and clearing the cuttings or removing invasive alien shrubs. Other areas were subjected to grazing by cattle. On the 'Dune fossile de Ghyvelde', the Conservatoire du Littoral even demolished an inhabited house located in a protected area to make way for a large pool. On the Belgian side, piezometers were also placed in the newly acquired sites in order to study the groundwater regime and prepare for the restoration of humid dune slacks.

      Photos: mowing of dune grassland in the Simli-dunes (Nieuwpoort) and removal of clippings in the Doornpanne (Koksijde)

      Photos: grazing by Scottish Highland cattle in the Oostvoorduinen-Oost (Oostduinkerke) and placing of piezometers at Belvedèreduinen (Koksijde)

      Photos: a house located in a protected area was demolished to create a pool in the fossil dune of Ghyvelde

D. Monitoring of the impact of the project actions

  • D. 1 & 2. Assessment of the socio-economic impact on the local economy and population as well as on the restoration of ecosystem services (Belgium and France)
  • D.3. Permanent inventory of the nature reserves on the coast 'PINC' (Belgium)
  • D.4. Photographic monitoring of the zones that have been cleared of scrub (France)
    • Aerial photographs were taken during the last trimester of 2014.
  • D.5. Botanical monitoring of areas that have been cleared of scrub (action C.2) and are subjected to grazing by large herbivores (action C.3) (France)
    • This study is being carried out by the Conservatoire Botanique National de Bailleul on behalf of the Département du Nord. The field work for the mapping of the vegetations and important plant species before the execution of the works was carried out during the summer of 2015.
  • D. 6. Evaluation of the impact of the actions C.2 and C.4 on the populations of Vertigo angustior (France)
    • The report assessing the status of the populations of the Narrow-mouthed whorl snail before the execution of the works was submitted by the study desk Biotope to the Département du Nord during the autumn of 2015.  In 87 blocks of the 118 blocks of 4 m2 that have been sampled the presence of Narrow-mouthed whorl snail was established. 42 of these blocks contained living or fresh specimens.
  • D. 7. Monitoring of the impact of the actions C.2 and C.5 on the populations of Great Crested Newt
    • The report that describes the state of the population of the Great Crested Newt in the dunes of northern France before the execution of the works, that was submitted by the study desk Biotope to the Département du Nord during the autumn 2015, ascertains the presence of the Great Crested Newt in the 3 dune sites (‘Dune Dewulf’, ‘Dune Marchand’ and ‘Dune du Perroquet’). During 10 field sessions 453 individuals were found, among which young individuals as well as older individuals. It can be deducted that the population is healthy.

E. public awareness and dissemination of results

  • E. 1 & 2. Information leaflet about the future cross-border coastal nature park between Dunkerque and Westende in 4 languages (Belgium and France)
    • The leaflet is available in 4 languages (Dutch, French, English and German). Download the leaflet from the link on the welcome page of the LIFE+ Nature FLANDRE website.
  • E.3. Website of the LIFE+ Nature project 'FLANDRE' and about the future cross-border nature park between Dunkerque and Westende
  • E.4. Cross-border market information market about the LIFE+ Nature project ' FLANDRE ' with temporary exhibition in the visitor center ‘De Nachtegaal’ ('the Nightingale ') at De Panne (Belgium)
    • The mobile exhibition was inaugurated in the Provincial visitor centre ‘De Nachtegaal’ at De Panne on the 27th February 2015. It could be visited there until the 27th September 2015.  After that, the exhibition was also shown in Bray-Dunes, Leffrinckoucke, Zuydcoote and Malo-les-Bains. Back in Belgium, the exhibition could be visited again at the provincial visitor centre ‘De Nachtegaal’ at De Panne from the 30th of March until the 2nd of October,from the 3rd of October until the 29th of December 2016 at the Cultural Centre ‘Ysara’ at Nieuwpoort and from the 17th January until the 18th of June 2017 at the IWVA visitor Center ‘De Doornpanne’ at Koksijde. Between its inauguration on 27th February 2015 and the 30th June 2017 the exposition had already been seen by 52.000 visitors. The exhibition was during the months of July and August 2017 at the ‘Halle aux Sucres’ at Dunkirk, in September 2017 at the ‘Old City Hall’ of Middelkerke and during the winter 2017-2018 at the Media-house of Leffrinckoucke and the City Hall of Bray-Dunes, nearby the works that were then in execution on the field (actions C.2, C.3, C.4 and C.5), in March and April 2017 at the Hôtel of the Département du Nord at Lille and from the 15th May until the 8 June2017 at the building of the Communauté Urbaine de Dunkerque. From the 12th until the 14th of June 2018 it was shown in the Université du Littoral Côte d’Opale (ULCO) at Dunkirk, where the international workshop about the management of coastal dunes and sandy beaches (action E.5) has taken place. The exhibition was then displayed in the town hall of Koksijde, the Lycée Agricole de Dunkerque, the historic guardhouses of the Vauban ramparts of Gravelines, the "Fort des Dunes" in Leffrinckoucke and the Provinciehuis Boeverbos in Bruges. The 'career' of the travelling exhibition ended after 5 years of loyal services at the place where it had started: from 19 December 2019 to 29 February 2020 it was on display in the, now renovated and renamed as “de Duinpanne”, Provincial Visitor Centre in De Panne.
  • E.5. International two-day workshop about the management of coastal dune habitats, including published proceedings (networking with other LIFE and/or non-LIFE nature projects) became a great success with 143 participants from 13 European countries. Read more
  • E.6. Pannels (notice boards) with information about the LIFE+ Nature project 'FLANDRE' on the yard of the action C.1. ‘Restoration of a humid dune slack and excavation of pools in the Oostvoorduinen at Koksijde’ (Belgium)
    • The notice board was placed on the yard along the Karthuizerstraat at Oostduinkerke already before the start of the works in September 2015 and is still standing there.

      As well as the notice board, also the visits guided by the LIFE+ FLANDRE project team to the Oostvoorduinen-Oost during the summers 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 contributed to the attention of the public for the executed nature restoration works. Some 20 to 30 intrested people took part  in each of these guided. In the frame of the LIFE+ Nature project ‘FLANDRE’ this domain of ANB was expanded by the acquisition in 2015 of  15 hectares (action B.1) that were formerly privately owned and thorough nature restoration works took place during the autumn and winter 2015-2016 (action C.1).During these guided walks, attention was also paid to maintenance management (action C.7) by either mowing or grazing by cattle and the different effects these different forms of management have on vegetation and fauna.

      Successful European Natura 2000 Day at Oostduinkerke!
      On Monday the 21st of May 2018 no fewer than 40 interested participants appeared for the guided walk through the the Oostvoorduinen and the Hannecartbos in Oostduinkerke, with the focus on the achievements of the LIFE Nature projects FEYDRA (2002-2005) and FLANDRE (2013-2020), organized by ANB. There were participants from 4 member states of the European Union: Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Germany! This too is building a united Europe that also stands for more and better.

  • E.7. Educational program of proximity with the local communities, especially the schools (France)
    • From 2015 to 2019, some 20 public walks were led by the guards of the Département du Nord during which participants were given explanations about the objectives, preparation, implementation and results of the nature restoration works carried out within the framework of LIFE+ FLANDRE in the "Dune Dewulf", "Dune Marchand" and "Dune du Perroquet".

      Moreover, in the same period (2015-2019) more than 23 "nature work camps" were organized, in which a total of 440 people participated. Under the leadership of the guards of the Département du Nord, the participating volunteers and students mowed and pull out the shoots of regrowth of shrubs and invasive exotic plant species on the areas that had been cleared from scrub in the frame of action C.2.
  • E.8. Layman’s report

F. Overall project operation and monitoring of the progress of the project

Visit of the European Commission
A deletation of the European Commission has visited with local press coverage on the 10th of August 2016 the restored humid dune slacks in the “Oostvoorduinen” at Oostduinkerke (Belgium, action C.1) and on the 11th of August the areas where scrub had been removed or has to be removed in the Dune du Perroquet (France, action C.2). The project started in 2013 and its implementation period being half-way, the representative of the European Commission, Simon Goss, and the monitor of the consultancy NEEMO, Jean-Paul Herremans, came to verify the state of progress of the project. At Bray-dunes they were received by the vice-president of the Environment of the Département du Nord, Paul Christophe.

From left to right: Simon Goss (European Commission), Bénédicte Lemaire (Département du Nord), Jean-Paul Herremans (NEEMO) & Marc Leten (Agentschap Natuur en Bos

Second visit of the European Commission
On the 22nd August 2017 the European Commission visited for the second time the LIFE+ Nature project FLANDRE. With the elaboration of a legal base for cross border cooperation and a legal status of transnational nature park, the LIFE+ FLANDRE project wants to provide a tool that is useful for transnational cooperation for the protection and management of cross border Natura 2000-sites in general. The representatives of the European Commission, Laszlo Becsy and Päivi Rauma, visited together with Ben Delbaere, of the external monitoring team NEEMO, that is supporting the European Commission, among other sites, the “Dune Dewulf” at Leffrinckoucke (France) where during the winter 2016-2017 11 hectare of scrub was removed and 5 pools dug out by the Département du Nord. In the newly dug out pools reproduction of Natterjack toad has already occured and on the areas cleared of scrub, plant species that are typical for the target habitats ‘humid dune slack’ (yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata), marsh helle borine (Epipactis palustris) …) and ‘grey dunes’ (common milk-wort (Polygala vulgaris)) were already appearing.

Photo: The delegation of the EC (Päivi Rauma and Laszlo Becsy) and NEEMO (Ben Delbaere) together with the transnational French and Belgian LIFE+ FLANDRE-team in front of a panel providing explanations about the project at the entrance of the ‘Dune Dewulf’ (© Herman Spruytte)