A family of which two members earned the reputation of slumlords has once again made headlines for illegally felling a forest in Kortessem, in the Limburg province, causing damage that will take decades to restore.
The Appeltans family, whose name became synonymous with the leasing of insalubrious properties, may once again be facing legal action as it was reported it illegally felled a forest which was located in the castle park Jongenbos, which the family owns, by taking down more trees than it was legally permitted to.
"We granted a felling authorisation, but we explicitly said that 20% of the American oaks and poplars could be felled, while all the rest, including the shrubs and indigenous trees, had to remain standing. They failed to follow this advice," Jeroen Denaeghel, spokesperson for the Natuur en Bos Agency, which is responsible for allocating such permits, told The Brussels Times.
He explained that people who own forests and maintain these themselves can request to cut down certain trees when the forests need thinning out, "which can at times be necessary to ensure it remains sustainable and that it can further develop."
"In this case, we analyse the request and advise to leave the very valuable and ecologically important trees, as well as the indigenous trees, while some trees - in this case, exotics like the poplar and American oak, species that are mainly planted for timber production - can, in moderation, be felled," Denaeghel explained.
The Appeltans family went in against this authorisation and instead allowed around 1.5 hectares of the forest to be completely felled.
"Our inspectors received a report about this and went to the location, and established that the felling authorisation had not been carried out."
A report was drawn up by the Natuur en Bos inspectors, which will be sent to the public prosecutor who can decide whether a criminal case will be launched, or whether it will result in an administrative settlement.
"In any case, they will be forced to replant the area that was felled," Denaeghel said. "But, a forest does not grow in five minutes, so the pity is that it will take decades to restore the forest to its original state."
The family previously cut down 8.9 hectares worth of forest in Hoeselt, in the same province, as well as 100 old trees on the same property, according to reports from Het Belang van Limburg.
According to Denaeghel, every case is looked at on an individual basis, meaning that the forest for which the felling or deforestation is analysed, and the conditions for the cutting of trees are given on this basis, not based on who submits the application.
"As an administration, we are responsible for looking at these requests and for setting the conditions for giving the permit or not, we are not the court of law, which in this case, is the problem," said Denaeghel.
"We can establish infringements, but not the penalty."