Essential pandemic workers honoured with 'hero forests' in Flanders

Essential pandemic workers honoured with 'hero forests' in Flanders
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A nature organisation is seeking to create "Hero Forests" in every Flemish province by planting thousands of trees to honour health and essential workers over their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of residents of the Dutch-speaking region have already joined the 'Hero Forest' campaign and funded or planted a total of 17,783 trees for their "personal corona heroes."

While the campaign, led by nature organisation BOS+, was first aiming for the creation of a single 'Hero Forest' in Moerbeke, near the Dutch border, the vast response to the public from the campaign has now resulted in an added 9.75 hectares of new forest in Flanders.

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"Due to the overwhelming success of the campaign (...), the organisers had to appeal to [cities and municipalities], as well as private landowners, in order to spread the excess trees over various locations in Flanders," BOS+ wrote in an online statement.

The organisers now said that the goal is to have one 'Hero Forest' in all five provinces of Flanders and are planning to organise mass planting campaigns as soon as coronavirus rules are relaxed.

"What started as a humble idea to plant some trees has grown into a major afforestation campaign in every province," Kristof Malfait and Ignace Bogaert, campaign organisers, wrote in a press release.

To them, the success of the campaign among citizens is also a sign of the importance of nature and green spaces for residents, a need that was heightened by the lockdown.

Organisers encourage residents wanting to take part in the campaign to honour their own "personal hero" throughout the pandemic by funding a tree or taking part in one of the upcoming planting campaigns.

"The list is endless: hospital and healthcare workers, retail and supermarket employees, mail and parcel deliverers, drivers and machinists, construction workers, butchers and bakers, journalists, ... or simply someone who sews masks, goes shopping for a neighbour... and so on," the campaign organisers wrote.

The five new forests will be located in Moerbeke (East Flanders), Poperinge (West Flanders), Halle (Flemish Brabant), Houthalen-Helchteren (Limburg) and Aartselaar (Antwerp).

Amid the ongoing pandemic, the country has also resorted to other ways to honour the work of healthcare workers, including by dedicating this year's national holiday celebrations in July to their efforts.

Health care workers and unions have been asking for increased financing of the country's social security system and have repeatedly expressed outrage over the government's handling of the crisis, staging numerous symbolic actions and large demonstrations since the start of the pandemic.

In one of the most striking protests which stirred controversy beyond the country's borders, workers at Brussels' Saint-Pierre hospital turned their back to then-Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès as she arrived for an official visit to the site.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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