Belgium has been looking to increase the number of nature reserves in the country, having already amassed a total of 32,000 hectares, roughly the size of Malta.
Much of the push comes from Flemish Minister for the Environment Zuhal Demir, who has recognised over 2,500 hectares of forest and nature areas as nature reserves since taking office.
“I am convinced that everyone who was not yet a fan of nature, has certainly become one in the past year,” Demir said in a press release marking the achievement, referring to the last year of coronavirus-related lockdowns.
“The call for accessible nature was louder than ever. During the spring and autumn lockdowns, we moved en masse into our forests, nature reserves and parks to walk and enjoy nature and tranquillity,” Demir said.
“By recognising additional nature reserves, we are protecting more nature and ensuring that everyone can enjoy it without compromising the carrying capacity of the areas.”
Flanders has gained 2,543.42 hectares of nature reserves under Demir, who recognised 51 different nature reserves within the first three months of her term.
There were 18 areas totalling 934.23 hectares added in 2020, according to her office, and another 14 areas totalling 926.69 hectares were added during the first six months of 2021.
Both Flanders and Wallonia are also on the hunt for areas that could be designated as national parks, which involves meeting a difficult and extensive set of criteria.
The regions are working together: earlier this month, Wallonia’s Budget Minister, Jean-Luc Crucke (MR), visited Hoge Kempen with Demir and Ignace Schops, a Belgian environmentalist who is the president of the largest network on natural heritage in Europe, the EUROPARC Federation.
Hoge Kempen in Limburg is currently Belgium’s only national park.