LIFE Peat Pals

Natuurpunt and their role in the Peat Pals for LIFE project


Natuurpunt Beheer vzw is a specific association that is part of Natuurpunt vzw, Belgium’s largest nature conservation NGO. Natuurpunt vzw has more than 130.000 member families in Flanders. Thousands of local volunteers are active in more than 190 local chapters and working groups, including management and the development of nature reserves. The most important activities of Natuurpunt Beheer vzw are:  


  • The establishment of nature reserves with high current or potential nature values. The emphasis here is on areas in the Natura 2000 network (75% of the managed area). The organisation currently manages more than 27.000 ha. Every year, the area of managed nature reserves grows by 700-1000 ha. Moreover, a lot of habitats and species in a favourable conservation status in Flanders are situated in nature reserves of Natuurpunt. This has often been made possible by previous LIFE projects.  
  • The management and restoration of natural habitats. Natuurpunt has a broad experience in drafting management plans. The management is consciously done mostly by volunteers from the local chapters, who are supported by a professional framework, including a social economy company.  
  • Focusing on nature based solutions in the management of our nature reserves as a cost-effective approach to tackle crucial challenges such as biodiversity loss, climate change and human health.  
  • Creating accessibility of nature reserves under the motto 'Nature for everyone'. In principle, all nature reserves are open to the public, if the capacity of the area and the species allow it. This offers economic benefits by improving the quality of life of the surrounding villages and by stimulating regional development.  
  • The organisation has an intense collaboration with various partners specialised in the field of nature conservation, landscape managing, tourism, regional development, scientific research and local and regional authorities. 


Project in the Valley of the Abeek, Dommeldal and the Veewei 


The project area 'Abeekvallei‘ has a size of 493 ha and is to a large extent wooded or planted with unnatural poplars, that are not native to the area. On plots where there is spontaneous afforestation, alder (alluvial) woodland is the most common forest type. The marsh and brook accompanying woods are interspersed with mires, quacking bogs, wet grasslands, willow thickets and (species-rich) grasslands. In this part of the catchment, dilapidated weekend quarters with weekend ponds are also found. On the valley slopes adjacent to the SAC, we find grasslands and sometimes fields. Along the Gielisbeek, we mostly find plots with intensive agricultural use.  


The Dommelvallei is the 272 ha project area located in the upper and middle course of the Dommel, a small river with its sources on the northwestern edge of the Campine plateau. The most upstream part of the project area actually comprises the source area, which used to be part of an extensive heathland area with many fens. The current stream sections are in fact dug (water) courses in this heathland complex. The heathland itself has largely been reclaimed, but a number of valuable relics can still be found scattered around. The fen and peat habitats, even though some of were drained for fish farming, are qualitatively well preserved. Dommelvallei soils are extremely wet, mainly due to the presence of a very high seepage pressure, which caused them to be used as hayfields (wet grasslands) for centuries. On the transition to the higher grounds, in places that do not flood too frequently but are within reach of the groundwater, smaller areas of Molinion grassland can be found, which are among the best developed and most species-rich within the Campine district. Unfortunately, only a small part of the hay meadows remain since plantations (poplar, spruce, pine and others) have taken up a large area. Fortunately, a part of the land evolved into a very nicely developed natural alluvial forest. The upper/middle course of the Dommel is bordered by an urban zone, formed by the municipalities of Neerpelt and Overpelt.  


Veewei (181 ha) is the valley and source area of the Grote Nete between Eksel and Kerkhoven, located on the edge of the Kempen Plateau. Peat formed in the valley even though for centuries the landscape and land use were determined by an extensive, traditional heathland system. The surroundings of Veewei consisted mainly of large areas of heathland alternating with hay meadows in stream valleys near the agricultural settlements of Neerpelt, Overpelt, Eksel and Hechtel. From the beginning of the 20th century onwards, the reclamation of the heathland became increasingly important, however, the area remained in use as hay meadows, characterized by high species diversity and thus interesting from a floristic and vegetation point of view. The mechanisation of agriculture in the area increased from 1950 onwards, making humid hay meadows less economically interesting due to access difficulties and resulted in a gradual wooding, while drier areas were worked more intensively as pastures or fields. In addition, a period of temporary weekend accommodation for city dwellers also began. Thus, Veewei evolved from an open area with heathland and hay fields to an area with a relatively large amount of forest and weekend accommodation. Despite this negative trend, there are still many extremely valuable habitat fragments in the valley.  


All project areas are privately owned with Natuurpunt Beheer vzw being the biggest landowner in each area (43%, 27%, 22% resp.). The remaining ownership situation of each area is extremely fragmented, but we have a good idea of the ownership situation. 




With the Peat Pals for LIFE project, Natuurpunt wants to realise following objectives in the Flemish sites: 


  • Obtain a favorable conservation status of three special and unique habitats for European lowland peatland: Transition mires with small sedge communities and quacking bogs (H7140, Veewei, Dommelvallei, Abeekvallei), Molinion caerulea meadows on peat soils (H6410, Veewei, Dommelvallei) and Speciesrich Magnopotamion and Hydrocharition-type vegetations in peat pits (H3150, Dommelvallei).  
  • Create and expand quality (reproduction/breeding) habitat for peatland-associated species with a bad conservation status, of which the most important are Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus), Tree Frog (Hyla arborea), Common Spadefoot (Pelobates fuscus), Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae) and Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica). In addition, we hope the Common Crane (Grus grus), which started to breed again in Flanders after 400 years of absence, will expand its breeding area.  
  • Reduction of carbon-emissions in the short term and the creation of conditions for carbon sequestration in the medium term in the project areas by rewetting and stimulating peat recovery/growth, demonstrating that smaller peatlands are equally important for climate mitigation to site managers and other stakeholders.  
  • Understand the impacts of restoration activities by measuring carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) dynamics at these ecosystems  
  • Increasing water retention and the water buffering capacity of the three project sites, which in the medium to long term will make a significant contribution to countering the effects of periods of prolonged drought or heavy rainfall (climate change mitigation) 
  • Realise an average increase of the water levels by 20 centimeters at the end of the project and 3/5 years after the project end for 49 ha (out of 56 ha) of the target habitats 





Each site has specific actions that are going to be carried out to realise Natuurpunt’s restoration aims for the Peat Pals for LIFE project. In the Veewei, we want to restore 16 ha of H7140 (14 ha habitat restoration and 2 ha habitat improvement) and 4 ha of H6410 (2 ha habitat restoration and 2 ha habitat improvement). The focus lies on restoring the historic peat core, which will enable effective lowland peat ecosystem restoration. The main previsioned measures are: 


  • Removal of trees and shrubs, including removal of stumps, with extra attention to the use of appropriate equipment to avoid damage to the soil and existing habitat fragments. 
  • Damming ditches to stop drainage of the peatland and restore the natural hydrology (high groundwater level). 
  • Removal of artificial embankments and removal of alien material to restore the natural relief. 
  • Removal of invasive exotic spp. (Impatiens glandulifera and Hydrocotyle ranunculoides). 

Concerning the Dommelvallei, we intend to restore 4 ha of H3150 (3 ha habitat restoration and 1 ha habitat improvement), 4 ha of H7140 (2 ha habitat restoration and 2 ha habitat improvement) and 14 ha of H6410 (10 ha habitat restoration and 4 ha habitat improvement) by: 


  • Removing trees and shrubs, including the removal of stumps, with extra attention to the use of appropriate equipment to avoid damage to soil and existing habitat fragments. 
  • Damming ditches to stop drainage of the peatland and restore the natural hydrology (high groundwater level). 
  • Removing artificial embankments and alien material to restore the natural relief. 
  • Damming artificial ponds, the removal of sludge and the removal of all alien elements and structures to restore natural hydrology and relief and connect habitat fragments. 


Restoration of 14 ha of H7140 in the Abeekvallei is carried out by:  


  • Removal of poplar plantations and preparation of the plots for mowing by removing the stumps. 
  • Removal of shrubbery and bushes, mainly Salix, for restoration of open transition mires and quacking bogs. 
  • Restoration of natural hydrology and rewetting by, among other things, filling drainage ditches. 
  • Restoration of open water bodies to initiate quacking bog development, removing silt layers and, where necessary, removing unnatural fish populations in order to initiate the recovery. 
  • Removal of unnatural artificial elements and bank restoration of ponds 
  • Reintroduction of peat and bog forming species (Spagnum, Menyanthes trifoliata, Comarum palustre