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Flanders launches hunt for three new national parks

Credit: Jules Johnston/ The Brussels Times

Flanders is looking for candidates for three additional national parks and three new landscape parks, which the Region wants to establish in the years to come.

This was announced on Tuesday by Flemish Minister for Nature Zuhal Demir and Flemish Minister for Immovable Heritage Matthias Diependaele.

“Nature is not an afterthought in Flemish policy, it is central to the policy,” explained Demir. “Arguments that Flanders is too small for this have to be consigned to the wastepaper basket once and for all. We are going to make space.”

The Hoge Kempen National Park is currently the only national park in Flanders, spread over ten municipalities in Limburg. The Limburg park, a nature reserve with more than 12,000 hectares of protected heathland and forest, attracts more than 1.2 million visitors annually.

Flanders is now looking for three additional National Parks – on top of the Hoge Kempen National Park – and three new landscape parks. “These areas must be sufficiently robust to protect the exceptional nature they contain in a sustainable way,” Demir said.

The focus for landscape parks will be on landscape quality and the various functions of the area.

“In a landscape park, landscape development, recreation, nature, heritage, agriculture, housing, business, and tourism go hand in hand,” added Diependaele. “Heritage is important for the future of Flanders, for the debate on identity and for the search for what binds us all together. That is why heritage also plays an important role in these Landscape Parks.”

To qualify as a national park, an area must:

  • have a minimum size of 5,000 hectares at the start, and grow to 10,000 hectares after 20 years of nature,
  • be distinctive and unique in terms of nature value and quality,
  • reach the status of nature reserve for half of the area after ten years, and at least 75% after 20 years,
  • be biologically valuable, or very valuable according to the Biological Value Map (for more than half of the nature reserve),
  • have a unique experience value and an international aura,
  • be possible to open up for tourism while respecting the carrying capacity of the natural values.

To qualify as a landscape park, an area must:

  • be at least 10,000 hectares in size, and form a logical and dynamic landscape entity,
  • have at least 35% as landscape heritage, and at least 70% must be open space,
  • have a high degree of intermingling between agriculture and nature,
  • be at least 15% nature (special areas of conservation, Flemish ecological network, and green uses),
  • have a unique experiential value and international appeal.

Candidates can sign up until 15 September 2021. The parks are expected to receive actual recognition by 2023.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times

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