‘Urgent’ change in forest management needed to avoid floods

‘Urgent’ change in forest management needed to avoid floods
Intensive Norway spruce plantations on the High Fens. Credit: WWF

Belgium ‘urgently’ needs to change its forest management and invest in nature based-solutions to protect itself from the effects of climate change, according to WWF.

According to the non-profit organisation’s experts, the deadly floods that ravaged Belgium in mid-July were intensified by the lack of natural forests upstream from rivers and villages, but it stressed that the presence of Norway spruce plantations near the High Fens nature reserve played a big role in worsening the effects of the floods.

The Norway spruce trees, which in Belgium are exploited to be used as construction wood, do not respond well to overwatering, so drainage channels have been constructed throughout the plantations to drain the water as quickly as possible.

This results in hardly any other vegetation growing there, further resulting in the soil in these trenches becoming eroded. This means water drains away quickly when there is heavy rainfall in the region, as the water cannot infiltrate into the ground, which is what happened between 13 and 15 July.

The water then flowed down to lower areas in the region without any real natural impediment to slow down the runoff of water, resulting in the rivers and reservoirs below swelling.

More diverse nature needed

The WWF experts found that, by the time the masses of water passed through the Vesdre in Pepinster, where it also rained heavily, their destructive power was unstoppable.

“WWF asks that Belgium stops draining natural areas, and makes room for diverse nature such as mixed forests with lots of biodiversity,” Koen Stuyck, spokesperson for WWF-Belgium, said.

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“Together with wet (peat) areas they have a great capacity to retain water and CO2 and to protect us better. Rich natural areas with a large water storage capacity are an important part of the solution against future floods,” he added.

A recent WWF report titled ‘Powering Nature: Creating the conditions to enable Nature-based Solutions’, stated that the number of people affected by floods worldwide will double by 2030, and highlighted that nature-based solutions can better protect us from such disasters.

The organisation argued that urgent policies that include avoiding water runoff into rivers from higher ground, both through agriculture and forestry, are needed, and that the concreting of land should be avoided, so that rainwater can better seep into the soil, and not run off the ground.

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