Belgium: a small country with great biodiversity
Every year on the 22nd of May, the International Day for Biodiversity takes place. With this global campaign, the United Nations aims to make citizens aware of the great diversity of plant and animal species on earth. Although Belgium is the second most populous country of the European Union and one of the most livestock-intensive countries in the world, it is home to several ecosystems of inestimable value.
The distribution of these ecosystems varies from one part of the country to another. About 80% of Belgium’s forests are in Wallonia, the southern part of the country, where almost a third of the territory is forested. Although the area of forest in the Brussels Region is limited, the Sonian Forest plays an important role as the green lung of the capital. Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, is characterised by grassland and arable land, heaths and dunes.
Many ecosystems are of great importance for Belgian and European biodiversity, such as the Zwin, the Flemish Banks in the Belgian North Sea, the Hoge Kempen Nature Park and the High Fens-Eifel. Belgian habitats such as coastal dunes, peat bogs, raised bogs, calcareous marshes and calcareous grasslands are rare in Europe and must be protected by all means.
Due to the heavy industrialization and urbanisation, Belgium’s biodiversity has been under serious threat for years. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in 2017 an approximate 57.1% of reptiles, 43.8% of amphibians, 29.9% of birds, 28.4% of mammals, 26.8% of all vertebrates and 17.7% of all fish were under threat.
Due to the heavy industrialization and urbanisation, Belgium’s biodiversity has been under serious threat for years.
In spite of these poor scores, biodiversity has improved slightly over the past 30 years, as is shown by the first ‘Living Planet Index’ (LPI) of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). From 1990 to 2018, we see a total increase of 5.7 percent or an increase of 0.2 percent per year, a trend that is not the same for every species.
Over the last few decades, a number of medium-sized and large carnivore species have made a remarkable comeback across Europe and also in Belgium. Depending on their territorial behaviour and top position in the the food chain, the populations stabilise spontaneously at a low density.
Because of their great need for space, large carnivores inevitably have to share areas with other animals, human activities and interests, especially in Flanders. Animals that are increasingly present in our country are the badger, otter, beaver, lynx and wolf. The golden jackal could also make its appearance in the coming years.
The main threats to biodiversity in Belgium are habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution and eutrophication, climate change and pressure from recreation and tourism. Also not to be underestimated are the new species, normally found elsewhere in the world, that have somehow ended up in Belgium. When these species are dominant or aggressive, they pose a threat to indigenous biodiversity. Examples of invasive exotic species are the muskrat, the Asian ground squirrel, the necked parakeet and the Asian multicoloured ladybird.