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Flanders and France unite to protect seaside dunes
A cross-border agreement to preserve the landscape along the Flemish coast has been signed by the French and Flemish authorities. The aim is to create a single, cross-border nature conservation area, protecting the dunes between Dunkirk in France and Westende in Flanders.
“Internationally speaking, the dunes between Westende and the French border are highly rated for their nature and heritage value, thanks to the habitats, landscape and history,” said Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir. “They are also a crucial asset for tourism on our North Sea coast.”
The same can be said of the dunes on the other side of the border, hence the logic of treating them as a single conservation area. This will cover 3,280 hectares of coast, of which 2,200 hectares lie in Flanders and 1,080 hectares in France.
The creation of the conservation area is underpinned by the EU-funded Flemish and North French Dunes Restoration project, which ran from September 2013 to February this year. This addressed threats to the dune landscape, such as fragmentation by new roads and building developments, and the invasion of plants that turn the dunes into scrubland.
One solution to the threat of fragmentation has been to buy up land, and so protect it from harmful development. Over the course of the project, 24 hectares of land were purchased on the French side and more than 63 hectares in Flanders.
There has also been an effort to restore overgrown dunes, with 58 hectares of scrub removed in France and 30 hectares in Flanders. The French authorities have introduced sheep, goats and ponies to 30 hectares of restored land to graze away returning plants.
They have also dug 11 ponds as new habitats for protected amphibians such as the Great Crested Newt and the Natterjack Toad.
In Flanders, a nature management plan has been drawn up for 295 hectares of dunes owned or managed by the Agency for Nature and Woodlands. As a result, this area is now also recognised as a nature reserve.
The agreement to build on this work in the years to come was signed last week on the French-Belgian border, near Adinkerke. “The signing of this memorandum is a crucial step in our continuing co-operation on the conservation and enjoyment of nature, in one cross-border European protected area,” said Demir.
Photo courtesy Westtoer/VisitFlanders