The Walloon government is on the hunt for areas that would be suitable for the establishment of two national parks.
The plan is part of the recovery project Get Up Wallonia!, which was born of the coronavirus pandemic and pursues economic, social, environmental and territorial development objectives for the region.
The project has four goals: managing the health emergency, minimising the economic and social impacts of the crisis, relaunching socio-economic activity, and strengthening the resilience of Wallonia and its ability to meet new challenges.
A national park would draw more visitors to the region, and offer a certain amount of prestige considering the difficult national and international criteria required for the designation.
Belgium currently has just one national park: Hoge Kempen in Limburg.
Wallonia’s Budget Minister, Jean-Luc Crucke (MR), visited Hoge Kempen this week with the Flemish Minister for Environment Zuhal Demir and Ignace Schops, a Belgian environmentalist who is the president of the largest network on natural heritage in Europe, the EUROPARC Federation.
Terwijl Vlaanderen de zoektocht bezig is naar drie extra Nationale Parken, starten ook de Waalse collega’s met hun eerste twee Nationale Parken. Vandaag alvast met @cruckejeanluc en @ISchops op pad doorheen het Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen. pic.twitter.com/fctGWDKLUa
Translation: While Flanders is in the process of searching for three additional National Parks, the Walloon colleagues are also starting their first two. Today with @cruckejeanluc and @ISchops on the road through the Hoge Kempen National Park.
“With more than 1.2 million visitors each year, it is a magnet for those looking for an authentic experience of nature. In the future, we want to do even more with the National Park ‘brand’,” said Demir (N-VA).
Several areas in Flanders have already applied for the title of National Park, according to the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT), including Bosland Limburg, Rivierpark Scheldevallei, Grenspark Kalmthoutse Heide and Rivierenland Mechelen.
Area coalitions still have until mid-September to submit their candidacy.
In order to be recognised as a national one, a park must meet the qualitative and quantitative criteria of a jury, while also having a minimum of 5,000 hectares to start with and a growth potential of reaching 10,000 hectares within 20 years.
The park must also have “a distinctive and unique natural value and quality,” and offer opportunities for tourism development with respect to natural values.
Demir hopes that Wallonia will find inspiration for a national park by visiting Hoge Kempen.
“I am very happy that Wallonia can find inspiration here, not only to expand and protect the beautiful Walloon nature, but also to market it as an asset for the entire community,” Demir said.