Biodiversity makes nature in Flanders of great importance for Europe

Biodiversity makes nature in Flanders of great importance for Europe

Interview with Ignace Schops, winner Goldman Environmental Prize

When you want to know more about nature, you can turn to no greater name than the Fleming Ignace Schops. His credentials in the field are impressive. He is an internationally renowned expert on herpetology, biodiversity and landscape care. From 2014 to 2021, Ignace was president of EUROPARC Federation, the largest network for nature in Europe. He is also a fellow and full member of the EU chapter of the Club of Rome.

In 2018, Schops received the Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as the green Nobel Prize, for his role in establishing the Hoge Kempen National Park – Flanders’ first national park. The success of his work is based on the (Re)connection Model, which aims to (re)connect nature and society. In 2017, Ignace Schops was named as one of the 25 most influential Belgians in the world by Charlie Magazine.

Enjoy nature close to your conference location

What makes nature in Flanders so special? It is the large variation, according to Ignace Schops.

“The Flemish nature reserves are indeed very diverse diverse because the Flemish landscapes are very different. In a relatively small area, you can find sandy, loamy and maritime nature. This is ideal for a great deal of biodiversity, which makes us very important in Europe. For example, Flanders is responsible for protecting the Atlantic heather and the white-faced darter, which have found their place with us.”

Although the nature in Flanders is fragmented – after Malta, Flanders is the most fragmented region in Europe – there are still many beautiful nature reserves and national parks here. What is more, your delegates can enjoy them close to the conference location.

“Just think of the Hoge Kempen National Park, for example, with some 12,000 hectares of nature and forest. Or the Meuse Valley River Park, the Border Park Kempen-Broek and the Kalmthout Heath. International conference visitors can enjoy unique natural experiences outside of the traditional conference halls in these areas. This is an important asset that Flanders has: wherever you are, nature is always nearby.

Yet it is important to realise that nature is not something we can take for granted. And that we have to take care of it. The corona pandemic taught us to rediscover the healing effect of nature. We had completely lost the connection with it. We need to reconnect and that is why investing in nature conservation is an absolute necessity. In the long term, it also yields many economic benefits.”

Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen

Building bridges between people, nature, business and policy

The elephant in the room: economic benefits. Ignace Schops developed a model that focuses on the connection between people and nature, between business and nature and between policy and practice.

“Nature should not be locked up in reserves, but be accessible to all. And then I'm not just talking about the large nature areas. Nature is also the flower pot on a terrace. But in order to strengthen the connection with nature, we must also involve children and young people in its conservation and the appreciation of it. We really need to give them a voice, listen to them. Sustainability and respect for nature starts at school. And then not limited to the four walls of the classroom. No, it is important that children experience nature. That we ask them how they want to be involved.

Analyses from 1820 until the present day show that the designation of nature areas has grown exponentially in Europe, but that the general biodiversity within them has declined. That is because we delineated them so strictly. We imprisoned them. What lies beyond, we declared outlawed. We must once again protect nature – in all its forms – starting with our own flowerpots and back gardens.

The cycle network of Regional Landscape Kempen and Maasland is a fine example of reconnecting people and nature in a contemporary and accessible way. The blue signs display the cycle nodes and take cyclists on an incredibly beautiful journey through heathlands and vast pine forests. The highlight is undoubtedly the wooden cycle bridge on the “Cycling through the Heath” route, from which you have a magnificent view of the wider surroundings.

With these cycle tourists also come the economic gain: the many B&Bs, restaurants and cafes that have found a place along the routes. You see: investing in nature pays off. On many levels.”



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