Deforestation: More trees disappearing than being planted in Flanders

Deforestation: More trees disappearing than being planted in Flanders
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Despite Flander’s great ambitions for its natural environment and forests, the region sees more trees disappearing than being added. A third of the licensed deforestation is not compensated, according to figures the Green party (Groen) requested.

Environment Minister Zuhal Demir is aiming for 4,000 hectares of extra Flemish forest by 20214, envisioning that “every deforestation must be compensated on the site”, De Morgen reports.

The ambition is there, but in practice, Flanders' forests lag behind. After three planting seasons, 688 hectares of extra forest have been planted - only 17% of the planned 4,000 extra hectares.

Forest compensation

Meanwhile, at least 242 hectares of forest disappeared in 2020, and another 228 hectares in 2021. When trees are pulled down, for infrastructure or construction works, they have to be planted elsewhere, and sometimes more should be added than were removed because of “compensation factors”.

About 500 hectares of compensation forest need to be planted for the deforestation that occurred in 2020 and 2021, but figures for previous years do not give hope. In 2018-19, 531 hectares of compensation forest should have been added in the two following years. Only 352 hectares have now been planted - 66% of what it should have been, Greens MP Mieke Schauvliege said.

On top of that, Demir inherited a backlog of 1,500 hectares of forest to be compensated from her predecessors.

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Flanders’ main obstacle is its density, as the region is built-up and spatially cluttered. “That puts enormous pressure on the open space and high land prices. As a result, afforestation, especially in areas intended for construction, is often very difficult or virtually impossible financially," expert Laure De Vroey says.

In Schauvliege’s opinion, the policy needs to be sharper: “Too much valuable forest is being felled too easily. Planting additional trees is just a drop in the ocean. If Minister Demir really wants to see more forests, she should start by shutting down the chainsaws.”

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In a reaction, Demir only considers the period since she was minister, from 2019 to 2021. “There is a compensation backlog of 191 hectares and the term to fix that is still running,” she says, not counting the backlog that has accumulated earlier.

In the meantime, Demir is working on measures to make the compensation scheme work more smoothly and to further combat deforestation. She wants a higher financial contribution for those who are logging and more control over lax local authorities that approve logging permits.

“At least 1,400 hectares of land have already been found for forest expansion and discussions are underway in parliament to accelerate the termination of the lease in function of afforestation,” it sounds.

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