The good folk of De Panne are rightly proud of this natural habitat, an environment that by aspect resembles the sands of the Sahara. Only two similar areas occur in Europe: one in the South of France and a second in Denmark. In the past filmmakers have used this unique spot of Flemish nature as a backdrop in films set in the desert, but during the past two decades global warming has contributed to a situation in which the sand dunes are all joining up with the disappearance of several plants and animals as a result.
Forester Johan Lamaire explains that the vegetation and animals that have been lost are important for the survival of this beach landscape.
“We’re talking about orchids, parnassia and the natterjack toad. We have a great responsibility to ensure this landscape survives in Europe and in the world as a whole.”
Seven hectares of beach grass and sea buckthorn were removed to restore the original landscape. Now the vegetation has been taken away the wind has free rein and the natural flora and fauna can restore itself. The Westhoek dunes are open to visitors, but environmentalists urge you to stick to the paths.