Devastating damage to rare peat reserve in Antwerp province


A fire in the De Liereman nature reserve has been extinguished, but the damage will take ‘decades’ for nature to repair

‘Very bad news’

Drone footage has shown the extent of damage caused to a nature reserve after a major fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon. The 500-hectare De Liereman domain in Oud-Turnhout, Antwerp province, is one of the oldest nature reserves in the country, and is home to numerous rare plants and animals.

Conservation agency Natuurpunt said that up to 30 hectares of land has been destroyed, but praised the fire service for preventing further damage. After a passing cyclist raised the alarm, 10 fire crews attended the scene, pumping water from a nearby canal to extinguish the flames.

An investigation has confirmed that the fire began in the east of the reserve, then spread west driven by strong winds. The fire service created a break using water and sand, preventing it from spreading further.

To the north, the Lieremansloop brook blocked the fire’s progress. The blaze did not go underground, as peat fires often do, where they can continue to smoulder after the surface flames are extinguished.

Peat is very sensitive to climate and temperature changes and grows just one millimetre a year

Natuurpunt now fears that the affected land will struggle to recover. “Peat is very sensitive to climate and temperature changes and nitrogen deposits, growing just one millimetre a year,” a spokesperson explained. “Peat bogs are really remnants from the Ice Age that are no longer widely found in Belgium. In recent years, Natuurpunt has worked very hard to keep this peat healthy with financial support from Europe. It will take many years before it is completely restored.”

An investigation into the cause of the fire is under way, with arson not yet ruled out. The reserve was closed to the public at the time because of the high risk of fire following weeks of dry weather.

“We had feared this happening for a long time,” said local mayor Bob Coppens. “For Oud-Turnhout and the surrounding area, this is very bad news. It will be decades before everything is restored.”

Donations accepted

The De Liereman reserve consists mainly of heather and peat bog. Among the animals that live there are curlews, nightjars and natterjack toads.

The birds in the area – including bluethroat, teal, robin wheatear, tree lark, pipit and mallard – have lost their habitat and breeding area, and many types of moss and other plants have been burned. Horses grazing in the reserve at the time of the fire were moved to safety by Natuurpunt volunteers.

Natuurpunt has requested donations to support the restoration of the reserve, which can be made here.

Photo ©Eric Lalmand/BELGA