Antwerp campaign highlights nature in the city


Natuurpunt’s summer campaign features a series of guided walks that take you to a variety of wildlife habitats without straying far from the city

Walk with the animals

The city isn’t really a place for wildlife, you might think, unless you’d just been awoken by cooing pigeons, or had your binbag ripped open by a fox, or the cats had caught a mouse or a bat and presented half of it to you proudly. In short, the city is more of a place for wildlife than we imagined.

That’s the theme of a summer campaign in Antwerp by the nature conservancy organisation Natuurpunt. The organisation has taken over part of the KBC Tower at the foot of the Meir, still occupied by the bank, to install a pop-up shop (pictured) and offer visitors the chance to enjoy a view from the panorama room on the tower’s 26th floor.

The mascot of the campaign is the sparrowhawk, a bird of prey who lives in conifer woods next to open land where he can hunt. In recent times, he’s been known to take up residence in city parks, and this spring was spotted in the heart of Antwerp, as well as peripheral municipalities Mortsel and Borsbeek, and in the Hobokense Polder.

The Hobokense Polder is one of seven areas that feature in the free Antwerp walking guide, each one themed around nature and wildlife. Others are Ekeren and North Antwerp, Mortsel, Antwerp centre and the old port, Edegem and the Kleine Struisbeek valley, Fort Bosbeek and the left bank of the Scheldt.

The guide is available at the shop and covers a wide range of habitats in and around the city, with attractions ranging from wild orchids to 300 types of butterfly. Did you know that the Oude Landen to the north of Antwerp, partly owned by Bpost, is home to both nightingales and Galloway cattle? That walk is only 4.5km long, open all year round and close to public transport.

Panoramic views

The Hobokense Polder walk is specially designed for children, under the watchful if myopic eye of Whoppie, a mole who acts as guide. Kids are armed with a backpack full of gear for their trip and have to solve puzzles along the way. There are Galloways here too – they do an excellent job of keeping the wild nature under control, it seems – as well as 360 kinds of mushroom, salamanders and Pseudonapommyza hobokensis, a fly found nowhere else on the planet. The walk is 3.5km long and starts in the Taverne De Schorren in Hoboken, and is open all year except Mondays in winter.

The shop itself is sparsely supplied, when we visited at least, with a few stuffed toys, some bird houses and beehives you can put up in your own garden to encourage bees to come together. The areas covered by the walking guide get some explanation (although the guide itself is pretty comprehensive). And there’s an exhibition of aerial photos by Wouter Pattyn showing some of the effects of nature in Flanders. We’d have appreciated some explanation of what exactly we were looking at and where the photo was taken.

The trip to the 26th floor with a guide to explain what you’ll see all around you is bound to be a highlight. Unfortunately KBC has only granted access on certain dates, and the day we visited wasn’t one of them. The remaining open days are 26 July and 9 and 23 August. Entry is free but you have to reserve.

Other activities include: Have a photo taken with a deer, fox or wild horse on 30 July and 13 and 27 August; pick up a bunch of flowers for Mum on Antwerp’s own Mother’s Day on 14 and 16 August; enjoy a free cup of fairtrade coffee with a coupon downloaded from the site. The closing event takes place in Het Steen on the riverfront on 28 September, when there’s also a Natuurpunt-themed trip on a river boat, for members only. Membership costs €24 a year for the whole family.

Photo: Natuurpunt