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Integrated restoration of natural habitats on military areas in Natura 2000 (MILITAIRE GEBIEDEN)
Start date: Sep 1, 2003, End date: Jun 30, 2010 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background The Belgian defence ministry owns large areas of land across Flanders, especially in the eastern part (Kempen-Limburg). These sites are mainly used for military training. Although some of their original heathlands and semi-natural grasslands were transformed into forests – to produce timber for the coal mines – or into farmland, these military properties were protected and remained in fairly good condition overall. As heathlands and species-rich semi-natural grasslands disappeared elsewhere in Flanders, the focus of conservation efforts shifted to the ministry of defence land. In 1999, in the context of Natura 2000 designation, an agreement was signed between the regional nature conservation organisation and the national defence authorities. However, the sheer size of the military properties did not allow the regional authorities to provide appropriate management, let alone to restore and maintain degraded habitat or tackle threats purely with their own resources. Strict military control over these areas has softened over the past decades and more people are using them for recreational purposes. Moreover, intensive farming in surrounding areas has become an increasing threat to certain biotopes, such as the oligotrophic heaths and lakes. Objectives The project targeted 12 sites covering over 9 400 ha, with a mosaic of landscapes: dry heaths and shifting dunes, dry grasslands, wet heaths, fens, marshes and isolated forests. Some of the sites included springs and the upper sections of brook valleys with generally intact natural structures and good hydrological conditions. The first objective of the project was to develop strategic and detailed management plans for the sites and to couple these to a GIS-tool that would allow camp commanders to dovetail military exercises with nature conservation needs. A second objective was the straightforward nature restoration of up to 2 500 ha of degraded and afforested heathlands, grasslands and mires, as well as brooks, former meanders etc. Awareness of the general public would be raised through the erection of information boards, the publication of articles in military journals, the creation of a website and the hosting of exhibitions. The problem of recreation would be addressed through contacts with user groups and by launching a wardening system. Two workshops about large-scale nature restoration projects were planned to allow the beneficiary to network with similar LIFE-Nature projects in Europe. Results The ‘MILITAIRE GEBIEDEN’ project enhanced nature values in 12 military camps spread over the north of Belgium. Restoration work was performed on almost 4000 ha: habitat types, such as 2310, 3130, 4010, 4030, 7140 and 7150 were restored by mowing, sod cutting, pre-emptive burning, extensive grazing and removal of exotic species. Much effort was made to create a situation in which natural processes will result in a natural landscape where important habitats are restored and where survival opportunities of several endangered species are maximised – e.g. viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara), slow worms (Anguis fragilis) and large white faced darter dragonfly (Leucorrhina pectoralis). A better co-operation between the administration and the military was established and will form the basis for continued nature conservation in these areas. To this end, special training material was produced for all new recruits entering the military. This project was a joint effort by the regional nature conservation body, forestry administrations and the ministry of defence, and securing a long-term structured co-operation between these partners was essential to guaranteeing lasting success. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).

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