|Objective 4.6 - Forestry
The forestry sector plays a multi-functional role as a producer of a renewable natural resource, provider of income and employment, biodiversity manager, guarantor of in situ conservation of local tree varieties and provider of environmental services (like soil and water protection) and of recreational activities.
The biodiversity of Belgian forests is threatened locally, among other things by intensive management, pollution, changes in groundwater levels, fragmentation, recreational activities and high population densities of big game species (ongulates). Indirectly, they also pose a threat to the forest as a productive resource. To ensure that the biodiversity in Belgian forests is maintained, it is necessary to work on quantitative aspects (for instance, halt deforestation and fragmentation) and qualitative aspects, and to focus on “internal measures” within the forest and nature conservation policies and practices, as well as external measures lying outside the forest sector (for example environmental quality, land-use planning). The guiding principle should be the promotion of sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management (SFM) is defined as “the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems” (Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe, 1993). In this context, the Flemish Government approved the Act of the Flemish government concerning the determination of criteria for sustainable forest management for forests in the Flemish Region (Decree of the Flemish Government of 27/06/03, Belgian Official Gazette 10/09/2003). Management standards for the promotion of sustainable forest management have been proposed in Flanders (“Beheervisie”) and Wallonia (“Walloon Biodiversity Guidelines” - Branquart & Liégeois 2005).
The improved pan-European criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management are taken into account in regional forest inventories.
Forest certification is seen as one of the most important initiatives from the last decade to promote sustainable forest management and since 1994, work on certification has been carried out in Belgium. Several different certification schemes exist world-wide; the best-known initiatives are the “Forest Stewardship Council” (FSC) and the “Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes” (PEFC). The Flemish Region and Brussels-Capital Region actively encourage the use of FSC-certified wood in public works, while the PEFC is mainly favoured by, and is fully operational in, the Walloon Region. The Federal Government supports all certification systems that prove that the timber comes from sustainable managed forests, for example through its public procurement policy.
|7. Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
|Objective 4.6.1 - Promote the conservation of forest biodiversity through independent credible forest certification systems that provide a guarantee for sustainable forest management.
This operational objective supports the use of sustainable (certified) timber products and the promotion of credible certification systems. This can be achieved, for example, by actions in several fields such as public procurements policy or public and forest owner’s awareness activities.
|1. Awareness increased
|Objective 4.6.2 - Promote nature-oriented forestry that provides a guarantee for sustainable forest management, including forest conservation.
The declining health of forests, new insights in forest ecology as well as the increased interest of society in the protection of the environment demand a change in forest-management priorities, with a greater emphasis needing to be laid on close-to-nature forest-management practices. Nature-oriented forest management means the use of management forms where self-regulating natural processes are used and promoted to regulate the required functional efficiency of forests.
Besides the adoption of close-to-nature forest management systems, it is also of vital importance to promote the development of a representative network of protected forest areas (see objective 3.1.).
Nature-oriented forestry has to be understood as a flexible system to maintain the natural characteristics of forests, via adequate planning, harvesting methods, origins of plant material and management practices that take into account the ecological requirements of all the natural values of the forest. This system should provide options rather than strict rules. Its promotion needs to be based on a better knowledge of its economic benefits (for instance, through innovative research) and a better illustration of its advantages for biodiversity (for instance through demonstration areas). Belgian public forests are progressively applying nature-oriented forestry, and it should be promoted for the private forest owners too. In Flanders, voluntary associations (forest groups) offer different services to help the small-scale forest owners with the management of their forests.
Positive incentives need to be enhanced to promote sustainable forestry. In Flanders, subsidies are given for afforestation of farmland and pilot projects are receiving financial and technical support for the development and implementation of forest management plans.
In Wallonia, both public and private owners must meet sustainable forest management (SFM) criteria in order to obtain financial incentives for forest operations.
|1. Awareness increased
|Objective 4.6.3 - Protection of forest genetic diversity.
Genetic diversity has become one of the keywords for the scientists and managers who are concerned with the sustainable management of forests. Scientific evidence suggests that high levels of genetic diversity provide a guarantee for perennial forests. Biodiversity in forests is therefore not only important for its economic potential, but also because the genetic variation within species influences growth and resistance to stresses such as harsh weather, disease and plagues.
For the reasons mentioned above, Belgium needs to protect its forest genetic resources in order to ensure healthy tree populations and to preserve all the potentials of the forests. It is to be achieved through a better knowledge of the conservation of forest genetic resources, in parallel with the adoption of practical measures for conservation. The “Technical Guidelines for genetic conservation and use” that are being produced by the EUFORGEN network can be used as a basis for such work in Belgium.
|13. Genetic diversity maintained
|Objective 4.6.4 - Prevent GM trees from having a negative impact on forest and general biodiversity
Genetically modified trees are currently in development in various countries worldwide mostly for industrial uses, to speed up the growth of the plant, to make them more resistant to various environmental stresses, to enhance the photosynthesis process, to reduce lignin content (reducing the need for toxic chlorinated organic compounds as bleaching method in the paper industry), etc. As for GMOs in agriculture, not only the ecological consequences of the transgenic trait itself and of the spreading of the transgenes into nature should be carefully looked at, but also the impact that economic forces can have on the spreading of those patented GM forests area, leading possibly to loss in forestry biodiversity and to negative social consequences (see also Objective 7.8).
It is also noted that GMO forest trees are not allowed in certified forests.
|Objective 4.7 - Hunting
Hunting is a leisure activity for about 23,000 hunters in Belgium. It generates a societal debate with discussions on the pro and cons, and compromises always have to be reached. There has been an evolution over the last 20 years, with cooperation between hunters, foresters, farmers and conservationists improving. Important progress has been made in putting new wildlife management insights into practice and in recognising the ecological interactions between hunting and biodiversity.
Belgian hunting was regulated by a law of 1882 but is now a full competence of the Regions, with different regulations in Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital Region. These laws differ between the Regions to better fit the respective game situations. The law of 1882 was first revised by the Regions in the 1990s in order to obtain a sustainable use of wild species and their habitats. In Brussels-Capital Region, hunting is completely prohibited since 1991. Since the 1990s, modifications of Walloon and Flemish laws on hunting, along with efforts from hunters, aim to a sustainable use of wild species and their habitats.
In Flanders, management plans for the game management units are controlled, and if necessary amended, by the responsible Minister on a 6 years basis. In Flanders and in Wallonia, cull plans in general are drawn up every year for the most part by game management units for certain big game (red deer in Wallonia and roe deer in Flanders) and approved by the Regions in order to guarantee a coordinated management of these types of game.
Since 1978, both in Flanders and in Wallonia, a compulsory hunting exam aims to guarantee best safety practices, ethics, and good knowledge of game species and their habitats.
For birds, the Council Directive 79/409/EEC provides the framework for the management of bird-hunting in the EU. The Guidance document on hunting under Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds published by the European Commission in 2004 accepts hunting activity in accordance with the general objectives of the Birds Directive. The AEWA action plan and Bern Convention foresee the phasing out of the use of lead shot for hunting in order to prevent saturnism. The use of leadshot in wetlands is prohibited since 1993 in Flanders and since 2006 in Wallonia. Since 2008, there has been an absolute ban on the use of leadshot anywhere in Flanders.
Historically, hunters have played an important role in the conservation of habitats. More recently, through their commitment in game management units, hunters took management measures with a positive influence on biodiversity, for instance management of field edges, promotion of agro-environmental methods, planting of indigenous shrubs and trees, infrastructural actions such as roe deer-reflectors along roads.
Hunters’ behaviour has changed significantly given they have to take courses and pass an exam on theory and practice to gain a hunting permit. The creation and approval of game management units has had a major impact on vision and attitudes of hunters in Belgium. However, specific efforts need to be done to avoid harmful behaviour that can have an impact on biodiversity by individual hunters and landowners. The hunting sector still needs proactive policy initiatives with a vision on the long term to contribute to the objective of halting the loss of biodiversity in Belgium.
|Objective 4.7.1 - Promote integrated management of hunting grounds in cooperation with farmers, foresters and environmental NGOs and the application of good hunting practices.
Game habitats should be managed in an integrated manner fully compatible with maintenance and rehabilitation of biodiversity (Objective 3) and in cooperation with farmers, foresters, other users of the countryside and environmental NGOs. For instance, attention should be paid to create and maintain refuge areas for small game, in particular in agricultural habitats. Hunters should participate to semi-natural habitats restoration and small landscape elements conservation in open lands taking into account that today farmers and land owners are the key role players for landscape management. To achieve this goal, legislative initiatives, such as modification of set-aside regulation, should be taken by the competent governments.
In the long term, game management units should be stimulated and plans should be extended to all native game species in all Regions.
Hunters should be aware of the carrying capacity of habitats. Total achievement of annual big game cull plans and game management plans will help restore the equilibrium between economic, ecological and social functions of forest and countryside. High densities of ungulates are locally a problem for foresters that can be managed in partnership with hunters. Populations of big game have increased over the last 20 years due to a lack of severe winter periods for several years, the positive effect of storms on forests’ nutritional potential (CEEW, 2000), but also due to the absence of natural predators since more than 150 years and hunters’ tendency to protect females of big game and the feeding of wild boar (CEEW, 2005). This phenomenon has led to an over-density of total population of wild boar, roe deer and red deer in Wallonia (a similar evolution is observed in neighbouring regions) which locally cause damages to trees, hamper forest regeneration, threat several species and sensitive habitats, and cause other problems, including in suburban zones.
It is important to develop legal instruments in order to enable taking concrete measures for field management on favour of biodiversity. Several field measures still miss a legal framework or lack financial incentives (for instance, wildlife set-aside measures).
Some current legislation even has adverse effects on biodiversity (a.o. in Flanders, the berm Decree still allows mowing before 15 July and this hampers the breeding success of partridge and other species; in Wallonia, farmers are obliged to cut some set-aside covers in May-July during the main period of wildlife reproduction).
|1. Awareness increased
|Objective 4.7.2 - Promote the involvement of hunters as biodiversity actors.
Sustainable hunting should be widely promoted. The use of wild species may not have a significant impact on the long-term viability of all species populations in their natural habitats. Several practices could be improved in order to limit pressure on biodiversity. The breeding and introduction of non-indigenous stocks of small game should be strictly controlled and avoided in order to limit genetic pollution. In Flanders the introduction of wildfowl is prohibited since 2001; illegal introduction nevertheless remains a concern. Excessive feeding of game should be avoided. As to the control of predators, hunters should strictly follow legislation as predators play an essential role in the natural control of populations.
The issue of alien species detrimental to indigenous biodiversity can partly be dealt with in cooperation with hunters as they could help contain certain species or even be responsible for their systematic elimination.
|1. Awareness increased
|Objective 4.7.3 Promote stability within the hunting sector.
For their investment in long-term biodiversity protection, hunters must be assured to some extent of their hunting rights in a given area and of a more stable legislative environment. This can stimulate their investment in the preservation and management of hedgerows, edges of woods and fields, game crops, and ponds or wetlands.
|Objective 4.8 - Tourism and leisure.
Many people regularly visit parks, green areas, forests and other natural areas, including Belgian protected areas and natural reserves to enjoy nature and observe wildlife. Some of our most attractive destinations encompass the sea coast and the polders (for example the Zwin and the Westhoek), heaths and peat bogs (for example Kalmthout, the Hautes-Fagnes and the Ziepbeek Valley), ponds and marshes (for example the Zwarte Beek Valley, the Haine Valley, Harchies and Virelles), limestone hills (for example the Meuse escarpments and the Viroin Valley), natural caves and caverns (for example Han-sur-Lesse, Remouchamps, La Merveilleuse and Hotton), and woods and forests (for example the Meerdaelwoud, the Hertogenwald, the Sonian Forest and the Anlier-Rulles Forest).
The development of tourism in natural and protected areas and other nature-based destinations is a source of increasing stress on fragile ecosystems. Its social, economic and environmental impacts are immense and complex. In the absence of appropriate policies and plans, tourism to natural areas may have a negative impact on biodiversity.
The challenge is to ensure that tourism is developed in harmony with environmental considerations. Sustainable tourism can generate employment and income, thus providing an incentive for conservation. Tourism policies should therefore be formulated and implemented in a way that generates incentives and revenues to cover a share of the costs of managing and protecting marine and terrestrial protected areas. Sustainable tourism can also raise public awareness of the many goods and services provided by biodiversity.
Worth mentioning here is the EU expert meeting ‘Natura 2000 and Leisure’ in 2004 where the participants shared their experiences and approaches to nature and recreation. The report ‘Jewels in the crown - Good practices Natura 2000 and leisure’ illustrates the synergies existing between recreation and protected Natura 2000 areas.
Another challenge is the development of knowledge on carrying capacity and the raising of consciousness among Belgian tourists abroad and foreign tourists in Belgium.
The Commission has published in 2003 a communication laying down basic orientations for the sustainability of European tourism (COM/2003/0716). This communication addresses current and future possibilities of community intervention in tourism, makes an analysis of the European situation and its difficulties and establishes orientations for the future.