ALFAwetlands Living Lab in Belgium

One of the ALFAwetlands Living Labs that supports and integrates interdisciplinary research, is the Living Lab in Belgium, managed by EVINBO.

Fragmented wetland habitat

The region of Flanders is situated in the northern part of Belgium and covers 13,522 km2. With almost 75% of its wetlands lost since the 1950s, Flanders ranks highest amongst the European regions. The high population density and spatial planning and urbanization policy were important drivers, as well as the water management, which is traditionally very complex with many actors on different government and administrative levels. Remaining wetlands cover only 5% of the region and suffer from eutrophication, pollution, and disturbed hydrological regimes. All 25 wetland habitat types protected by the Habitats Directive are in an unfavorable conservation status. Most peat soils were extracted in medieval times and nearly all of the 6000 ha of remaining peat soils are heavily fragmented and assumed to be in a degraded, mineralized state.

Hot spots for biodiversity and carbon restoration

And still … Despite dramatic historic wetland loss and the unfavorable status of remaining wetlands, Flanders still has a large biophysical and ecological potential for wetland restoration.

Restoring or creating wetland habitat will result in a strongly increased supply of several important regulating and cultural ecosystem services. Ecosystems on permanently wet soils provide most ecosystem services, especially forested habitats. Thus, provision of water quality regulation, pollination and climate regulation are the most prominent. Wetland areas are hot spots for biodiversity and carbon sequestration. In some areas as the river valley the Zwarte Beek we still have a large section with transition mires and quaking bogs, considering the scale of Flanders. They are an important habitat for the common snipe. EVINBO ALFAwetlands partner sets conservation goals in this area for species such as the European brook lamprey, large white-faced darter and the floating water-plantain. There’s a unique peatland of more than 200 ha. The peat layer can be locally four to five meters deep. It is estimated that more than 1 million CO2 is stored in the peatland of the ‘Zwarte Beek’.

Left: white-faced darter: @Geert De Knijf, Right: soil profile in the valley Zwarte Beek: @Nathalie Cools

Restoring peatland

Peatlands exist because waterlogging prevents plant decomposition, resulting in peat formation. Peat accumulation is hampered by low water tables promoting peat oxidation, high water tables reducing plant productivity, and strongly fluctuating water tables. 

Rewetting is essential in Belgium to initiate the re-establishment of peatforming vegetation. In the frame of the ALFAwetlands project, the EVINBO team is monitoring 3 rewetted sites, forming 1 Living Lab.

Furthermore, in the valley Zuidleie there’s periodic flooding with nutrient rich water, a polluted sludge deposit removal and a reinstalled mowing management.

In the Dijle valley the river channel was allowed to become gradually rougher and reached bank full discharge more frequently. The drainage has been reduced in several compartments of the floodplain, resulting in vegetation shifts.

Parts of the valley Zwarte Beek have been restored via shallowing a central stream, ditch elimination, reconnecting meanders  and tree removal.

From left to right: Dijlevalley, Valley Zwarte Beek, Valley Zuidleie

Monitoring greenhouse gas fluxes

EVINBO measures two-weekly the carbon fluxes in their living lab for two years. With these data they want to estimate avoided greenhouse gas emissions and the long-term carbon sequestration potential of the rewetted wetlands. They will consider the different hydrological circumstances, vegetation type and management measures. They aim to have more detailed information on carbon sequestration in relation to certain environmental circumstances. This will provide tailor based solutions in future peatland restoration projects.

Other partners of the ALFAwetlands consortium are doing similar work in their Living Labs. Together we’re collecting valuable cases on a European level, gathering best practices in order to ensure a better future for our peatlands.

Maud Raman
(EV)INBO ALFAwetlands teamleader

Left: Valley Zuidleiec: @Kris Decleer, Right: Instruments for measuring greenhouse gasses: @Nuria Simoens

Post is prepared and photo are provided by Maud Raman, (EV)INBO team leader at ALFAwetlands.

Subscribe to ALFAwetlands newsletter!

Translate »