Because of the success of the first call for forestation projects last year, Flemish environment minister Joke Schauvliege more than tripled the budget for subsidies. The Flemish agency for nature and forests (ABN) approved 11 projects: six forests on the outskirts of a city, three “recreational forests” and three local forest expansions. In total, the forests cover a surface of 68 hectares, up from 30.5 hectares last year.
Although forest conservation organisation BOS+ is pleased with this evolution, it is still critical of the government’s forestation policy and is demanding that it plant 1,000 hectares of forest each year. In August of 2008, BOS+ collaborated with ABN in a campaign to plant a million trees in four years. The goal was reached well in time; in fact, BOS+ says that locals planted about 1.5 million new trees.
But BOS+ says that the region cannot rest on its laurels and has launched a campaign to plant 10 million trees by 2020. This means around 4,000 hectares, as a forest is measured as approximately 2,500 trees per hectare. It is also calling on the Flemish government to create 1,000 hectares of forest every year.
“These are ambitious goals, but they are necessary because Flanders is one of the regions with the least amount of forest in Europe, and forests are still being cleared at a higher rate than trees are being planted,” says BOS+ director Bert De Somviele.
Flanders Today talked to minister Schauvliege about her forest policy and response to BOS+.
FT: What are the Flemish
Joke Schauvliege: We have agreed to the Pact 2020, part of the Flanders in Action plan, to make sure that at least half of city or town areas have a forest or are creating one by 2020. In 1997, the Flemish government specifically decided to provide 10,000 hectares of ecologically responsible forest expansion. We are committed to pursuing this goal further and in 2011 reached 37% of the required woodlands.
The resources for the 11 projects
this year come from “forest
compensation funds”. What does
In Flanders, every deforestation has to be compensated, either with a compensation forest or a financial contribution to our funds. From 2001 to 2011, almost half of the compensation was done by reforestation. The funds have received €39 million since 2002, and the budget for this year was €3.35 million. ABN uses these resources to buy land for forestation projects.
BOS+ feels that nature associations
and residents should also benefit
from these funds.
I agree. As we speak, we are working on a system to extend the subsidies to these target groups in the most effective and fair way. I will introduce the new method as soon as possible, to support everyone with quality forestation projects.
BOS+ also says that it is still too
complicated for residents to get a
permit for forestation projects.
At the beginning of the year, I made the procedure much easier so that local governments can act more quickly and autonomously in arranging forestation in agricultural areas.
BOS+ asks that you create 1,000
hectares of new forest each year.
It sets the bar very high, as it is difficult and expensive to find so much land for forestation in our very urbanised and densely populated region. Further, there are other natural areas than forest threatened in Flanders, which also deserve our attention. The Flemish government aims to increase natural areas, including forests, by 3,000 hectares each year.
Does the urbanised profile of
Flanders mean it is one of the
regions with the least forests in
I don’t want to beat around the bush: With a forest index of 13% [the ratio between the forested surface and the total surface of Flanders], the Flemish region is only ahead of Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. We are working to improve the situation and objectively evaluate the evolution every two years with the Boswijzer, a digital database of all forested surfaces in the region, which I introduced last year.
Six of the new forestation projects
will be created on the outskirts of
They are essential for the quality of life in Flanders’ many city environments, as the trees absorb dust, clean the air and form “climate buffers”. Apart from the ecological advantages, the recreation and sporting possibilities contribute to the well-being of Flemings.