Heathland formerly used for military training opened to public


Tielenheide nature reserve near Turnhout is open to visitors after years of conservation work

A quick tramp

The Tielenheide nature reserve in Antwerp province has been opened to the public after years of work to restore its woodland ecosystems. Two new walking routes now cross the 60-hectare reserve, to the south of Turnhout.

Tielenheide used to be a military training ground, attached to the Major Blairon Barracks in Turnhout. Daily exercises in the woods or a few nights roughing it on the heath were part of basic training for approximately 700,000 soldiers who passed through the barracks between 1946 and its closure in 1994, at the end of compulsory military service.

From 2004 to 2008, the military worked together with the Flemish Agency for Nature and Woods to restore the heath, woods and fens in the area, with financial support from the European Union. In 2014 the management of the land was transferred to the agency.

Endangered species

According to the agency, the Tielenheide reserve is the best-preserved relic of an ancient landscape that covered approximately 750 hectares between Turnhout and Tielen. It is also home to several endangered or rare species.

“Thanks to the restoration work, woodlarks, nightjars, the ilex hairstreak butterfly, the blue-winged grasshopper, and marsh gentian are all doing well again in the area,” said Kris Rombouts, warden for the area.

There are even leftover bits of military equipment in the reserve, as a reminder of its working past. But the main attraction right now is that the heather is in bloom, carpeting the ground in purple.

A signposted 2.5km walking route covers the whole diversity of the landscape. Sheep and Konik horses also graze in the area, which, together with the presence of vulnerable ground-nesting birds, means that access for dogs is restricted.

Photo ©Kris Rombouts