The Hallerbos, a bluebell wood near the city of Halle in Flemish Brabant, has never been so quiet in 25 years, according to forest ranger Pierre Kestemont.
This is the time of year when the bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) which carpet the floor of the forest are at their bluest. Normally, the sight attracts thousands of visitors a day for as long as the phenomenon lasts. But not in 2020.
The Flemish agency for nature and forests (ANB) issued a reminder to the public that the coronavirus confinement is still in place, and no exceptions are made for leaving home to visit the blooming of nature, no matter how brief it may be.
“It’s been completely different from other years,” Kestemont told the VRT. “So peaceful, and then the blooming came much earlier than other years. The people from this area certainly appreciate the peace.”
And while those living near the woods are enjoying the peace and quiet, the creatures that live in the forest itself benefit even more.
“For the birds and the deer it’s a good thing that there aren’t people visiting from sunrise to sunset, and wandering around everywhere,” he said. “It’s also good for the plants that there are far fewer visitors trampling the flowers to get a good photograph. There’s been no damage this year, so that’s definitely good news for the wood.”
The lack of visitors has meant a change in the task for the forest rangers, but there is still plenty for them to do, he said.
“There are some jobs that have gone away, so there are no temporary toilets in the woods, and not so much to watch over. On the other hand our job as forest ranger also includes enforcing the ban on gatherings. The job is different from other years.”
The Hallerbos was part of a primeval forest stretching from the Senne, which flows through Brussels, to the valley of the Meuse. Until the second half of the 18th century the forest was still joined to the Sonian Forest. The Hallerbos was decimated by occupying German troops in the First World War, looking for wood for the construction of trenches. Most of the trees we see nowadays date back to the replanting efforts that took place between 1930 and 1950.