Cultural Landscapes Blog

A digital platform which seeks to highlight research, to engage practitioners from the field, to showcase best practices, and contribute to discussions.

Cultural Landscapes BlogA New LIFE+ for an Old Landscape

A New LIFE+ for an Old Landscape

26 August 2015/by Robert de Graeff/Tags: pond area, LIFE+, restoration, revitalization

The Pond Area, a protected Natura 2000 site, situated in the heart of Belgium’s Limburg province, represent an old landscape that has been revitalised through the efforts of landowners, cities, nature organisations and the Flemish state. Together, these different groups have worked to restore and repurpose a landscape that grew out of the Middle Ages and now contains an extraordinary variety of biodiversity and landscapes – one can travel from pond to marsh to dry heath in 15 minutes by foot.
A New LIFE+ for an Old Landscape

The formation of this landscape finds it roots in the monasteries of the Middle Ages, when fish-farming became a means of living for locals and monks alike. As the region was quite poor, fish became an affordable means for the population to consume protein. Over the centuries, this fish-farming system created a network of interconnected ponds and canals that could be drained individually; an empty pond being much easier to recover the farmed fish from. Simultaneously, this seasonal emptying allowed for the establishment of a unique ecosystem that houses many rare plants and animal species. Among these is the tree frog, a small green frog that breeds and grows up in the water, but spends it adult life ashore in (preferably) bramble thickets. Another major element in landscape development was the construction of mines for iron ore in the area – requiring both food (fish) for the workers as well as wood for the construction of mineshafts. Evidence of the latter can still be seen in the pine forests that grow in the sandy soils close to the ponds.

Unfortunately, the last few years have seen a decline in fish-farming in the region, both as a consequence economic reasons; an increase in regulatory burden and lower consumption of carp and other fish. As a result, many of the previously maintained ponds were slowing turning to land, as the shallows filled up with sand and willows established themselves.

Part of the LIFE+ 3watEr’s efforts was to restore these ponds and canals to their previous condition, as well as opening up the landscape by removing scrubs and trees from the dikes – this does not only help many bird species, such as the bittern, to move from pond to pond, but it also restores the ‘old look’ of the area when private, often economic, interests kept the landscape open for better access. After four and a half years of effort, one of the more interesting consequences was that some younger people who knew the area thought that we had near-vandalised it, many older visitors stated that they ‘recognized’ the landscape again.

One of the vital conditions of creating this EU co-funded project, where the full cooperation from the local organization of private landowners represented a European first, was that the (restoration) actions and further maintenance of the area would not seriously impede economic activities. Through the creation and adoption of the 3E model, wherein Ecology, Economy and Education were held as equally important, the right results were achieved and demonstrated that commercially viable activities such as forestry and fish farming can still take place right alongside, and often in combination with, environmental protection.

In the end, the unique collaborative approach between the seven active partners was rewarded by the first Natura 2000 Award for ‘reconciling interests and perceptions’. The LIFE+ 3watEr project demonstrates that old landscapes can be given new purpose through a combination of restoration and smart commercial use. 

For a short documentary visit or go to the project website at


Picutre: Francois Van Bauwel 

Tell Us What You Think:

The information and views set out in this Cultural Landscapes Blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the HERCULES project nor the European Commission.

Blog Search

Blog Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by e-mail:

Blog Archive


, CAP, Cultural Landscape Days, Cultural Landscapes, Cultural heritage, Cultural landscape values, Cultural landscapes, EFAs, ELC, EU level workshop, EU project, EU-funded project, Estonia, European Landscape Convention, European review, HERCULES project, HERCULEs, Knowledge Hub, LIFE+, Lakescape, Land use, Landscape Initiatives, Marine ecosystem, PECSRL, The Bonn Challenge, WHC, WP1, WP3, WP4, World Forest Congress, abandonment, agent-based landscape change model, agrarian landscapes, agricultural landscapes, agriculture landscapes, ancient, anthropology, archaeological site;, archaeology, biodiversity, case studies, case study, citizens, climate change, coastal ecosystem, collaborative project, community plan, cross-disciplinary, cultural capital, cultural heritage, cultural landscape change, cultural landscape typology, cultural landscape values, cultural landscapes, cultural landscapes; driving forces; ecosystem services; landscape management; socio-cultural valuation, culture, data repository, dialogue, diversity, driving forces, dynamics of change, ecological space, ecosystem services, enhancing knowledge, farmland consolidation, field boundarie, field margins, fieldwork, food, foodscapes, forest landscape restoration, forest science, forestry, free access, good management practices, greening, habitat management, heritage, heritage categorisation, heritage inventory, heritage objects, historic ships, historical ecology, human element, human well-being, ice-roads, integrated landscape initiatives, inter- and transdisciplinary integration, knowledge, labelling, land cover, land use, land-use change, landscape, landscape approach, landscape assessment, landscape change, landscape community, landscape development, landscape features, landscape governance, landscape history, landscape labelling, landscape management, landscape policies, landscape preservation, landscape resilience, landscape stewardship, landscape values, landscapes, landscapes art, local, local benefits, local initiative, local natural heritage, local scale workhop, local stakeholder engagement, local supply, long-term changes, management, mapping tool, methods, monument, national landscape, natural capital, ong-term landscape history; landscape change; landscape values; landscape stewardship, oral history, peri-urbanization, photo contest, policies, policy, pond area, prioritization exercise, procedure, reconciling interest, recreational activity, research, research project, restoration, results, revitalization, rural development, scenario, social functions, stakeholder collaboration, stakeholder engagement, stewardship, stewardship goals, stewardship; connectivity; ecological integrity and human wellbeing; ecosystem services, sustainability, synthesis, traditional and local knowledge, web GIS, well-being, wild food, wood-pastures, workshop
Back to top
Hercules Project © 2024 - All rights reserved
created by WebDeb