Restoring the damage caused to the Brecht nature reserve in the province of Antwerp by a massive fire that broke out after a shooting practice on the terrain just over one month ago will take at least 10 years of time and cost at least €5 million.
Because of the high nitrogen precipitation in the region, the heathland will not grow back by itself but instead will become moorland with little biodiversity value, Flemish Minister of Nature Zuhal Demir said on Tuesday following the first analyses by INBO and Natuur en Bos.
"The Natura 2000 area Schietvelden is essential on a European scale for a wide range of specialist plant and animal species. It goes without saying that we must do everything possible to restore nature in this area. That will require time, money, and manpower," said Demir.
At the end of April, the large fire at the Groot Schietveld in Brecht, which broke out after shooting exercises by the army, reduced over half of the nature reserve to ashes, 15% of all dry heathland in Flanders, whilst smoke and odour pollution spread across Antwerp and beyond.
According to nature experts, the moorland will grow on a large scale and at a rapid pace, which will be "detrimental to the restoration of heathland, and is also bad news in the context of the European nature objectives," a situation which will further be worsened by the increasing drought.
Sheep grazing was recently started in the area with a flock of 300 sheep, which should grow to at least 1,000, however, relying on grazing alone "will be necessary on a large scale over a period of around 10 years."
Demir added that more labour-intensive measures should be started by this autumn, including the mowing of grasses, chopping (removing the vegetation and part of the top layer of soil), or even plowing, in which the soil is scraped off completely and all the vegetation and soil is removed up to 10 centimetres deep.
"The fact that this is an active military training area means that not all the usual management or repair measures are possible, for example, because of unexploded ammunition. This means the necessary resources will have to be set aside to detect any ammunition present and to dismantle it where necessary," Demir's press release stated.
INBO and Natuur en Bos are actively working on understanding what specific species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies, and others have been impacted by the damage, and whether their populations were completely or partially wiped out.
Last week, Demir announced to formally declare Defence at fault for the fire, because of the disturbing reports about the cause of the fire.