What is it?
Within Bosland the partners ANB (Agency for Nature and Forests), the city of Lommel, Inverde and Sibelco work together towards the realisation of the Life+ project ‘TOGETHER’.
‘TOGETHER’ has a double meaning. On the one hand it is the acronym for TO GET HEath Restored: we focus on the recovery of habitats, with the emphasis on heath. The name also stands for cooperation between organisations, governments and people, with the joint purpose of restoring, protecting and showcasing nature.
Over the past decades heath habitats and their typical species have sharply deteriorated in Flanders, as well as in the rest of Europe. The area Lommelse Sahara/Riebos/Blekerheide in the north of Lommel is still home to several beautiful heath ‘relics’. That is why they have been included in the network of protected areas in Europe ‘Natura 2000’. Through the Natura 2000 network Europe aims to ensure the long-term survival of its most vulnerable animal and plant species and their habitats.
Nature under pressure
Despite the high nature value of the sub-areas Riebos, Blekerheide and Sahara there are many factors that jeopardise the survival of this valuable nature. The area is characterised, for instance, by high habitat fragmentation and population isolation. Habitats and sub-populations of species are isolated between homogeneous coniferous forests and agricultural areas. The fragmentation and isolation impede the exchange between habitats and populations.
Moreover, the exotic black cherry is present in large numbers in the forests. Especially on the poor sandy soils of the project area this species poses a major threat to the natural species diversity, the stability and the spontaneous development of forests.
Large-scale nature restoration through Life+
Large-scale restoration works are required to deal with these threats and turn this valuable area into European first-rate nature. This opportunity has led to the current partnership. The partners succeeded in also warming the European Commission to the project which has decided to co-invest through the Life+ Fund. Between October 2013 and October 2017 a total amount of €1,447,117 will be invested in nature. Half of these funds will be provided by the project partners and the other half by Europe.
The project area is situated in the north of the Belgian city of Lommel near the Dutch border.
Protected nature in Europe (Natura 2000)
Natura 2000 is a European nature network that stretches across 27 countries and consists of approximately 25,000 areas. Together, they cover almost one-fifth of Europe's land area. This makes Natura 2000 the largest network of natural areas in the world. It spans 27 countries and counts about 25,000 sites. Natura 2000 devotes special attention to the future of Europe’s most vulnerable animal and plant species and their habitats.
The European Birds and Habitats Directives are the legal pillars of Natura 2000.
The Birds Directive seeks to protect all wild birds and their main habitats throughout the European Union. It compels the member states to protect the areas that are important for all migratory bird species and for more than 190 particularly endangered species.
The measures contained in the Habitats Directive have a similar purpose, but relate to a much larger number of European species. Moreover, the Habitats Directive calls for the targeted protection of rare and special habitats, ranging from Scandinavian natural forests, to limestone pavements along the Atlantic Coast, to heath areas in the Vlaamse Kempen.
Flanders is home to 62 Nature 2000 areas. Apart from very large and well-known natural areas like the Kalmthoutse Heide and Het Zwin, the European nature network in Flanders also encompasses less well-known areas, like Dommeldal in Limburg and Heuvelland in West Flanders. The largest area measures 13,125 hectare, the smallest barely 86 hectare.
The European Commission has recently decided to include the area Lommelse Sahara/Riebos/Blekerheide among the Natura 2000 sites.