"203 natural areas in Flanders threatened"

The Flemish environmental organisation Natuurpunt is sounding the alarm. It estimates that 203 natural areas across Flanders can't be maintained any longer if the Flemish Environment Minister Joke Schauvliege will focus too much on 'top nature' in her reforms. Schauvliege is adapting subsidy policies and smaller, less important natural areas would lose out on subsidies.

The 203 natural sites are smaller areas, often in the neighbourhood of urbanised areas where local residents go to enjoy nature when they have some time off. "We are talking about woodlands where children can play, where people go jogging or take the dog out for a walk. Green areas where the aged meet and take the time to have a chat on a bench", Hendrik Moeremans of Natuurpunt told Het Nieuwsblad.

Joke Schauvliege is currently reforming the policies concerning natural areas. Flanders is doing this to respond to European guidelines, which say that the more authentic natural areas ('top nature') need more and better protection. If Schauvliege decides to spend more cash on those, it is feared that subsidies for the less important areas could be cut or disappear altogether.

Natuurpunt keeps the natural sites tidy and maintains them, cutting the grass and keeping the shores open. Without the necessary subsidies, the areas could go to the dogs. Schauvliege says that nothing has been decided yet: "I don't have the intention to stop the subsidies altogether."

Almost half of the West-Flemish sites threatened

Het Nieuwsblad reports that 39 of the 81 recreation areas in West Flanders are threatened (48%). For East Flanders, this is 40 on a total of 134 (30%), for Flemish Brabant 51 of 148 (31%), for Limburg 26 of 109 (24%) and for Antwerp 47 of 171 (28%). The sites include Bourgoyen (near the city of Ghent) and the Oude Landen (Antwerp).