Case study:Flood management and ecological restoration in the Dijle valley

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Location: 51° 2' 16", 4° 28' 56"
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Project overview

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Status Complete
Project web site
Themes Flood risk management, Habitat and biodiversity, Hydromorphology
Country Belgium
Main contact forename Joost 
Main contact surname Dewyspelaere
Main contact user ID
Contact organisation Natuurpunt Beheer vzw
Contact organisation web site 11.aspx
Partner organisations Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap (AMINAL-Afdeling Natuur) Vrienden van Heverleebos en Meerdaalwoud Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap (AMINAL-Afdeling Water) 
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Project summary

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The purpose of the project was to restore the natural retention capacity and give to enhance the alluvial valley habitats. The river was put back to its natural course and sediments were build up on the banks, allowing erosion to occur. This is for the river to change its course and benefit from the improved habitat.

LIFE funding enabled Natuurpunt to acquire sufficient land and remove obstacles to flooding, such as poplars and maize crops, to demonstrate that creating a ‘natural’ river that overflows into floodplains can alleviate flooding further downstream. For the creation of the new floodplains, it was necessary to destroy weekend cottages. Restoration also involved carrying out hydrological engineering works, such as the removal of a culvert under the River Ijsse and filling of the Leigracht drainage ditch for restoring the natural retention capacity of the river. Poplar plantations were removed to restore the grassland habitats remove and sow former arable land with seed mixtures taken from the local hay meadows.

Those farmers that resulted affected by the restoration of the floodplains and the changes in the water level management regime were compensated for no longer be able to cultivate poplar plantations.

Monitoring surveys and results

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The project achieved two main results. The project contributed towards the work by the competent authorities to reinstate a more natural flooding regime in the Dijle valley, which would increase water retention upstream and so prevent flooding in Leuven. It secured and restored large coherent blocks of land to Annex I habitat status, by removing poplar plantations, weekend cottages, overgrowth etc, re-modelling former fishponds and installing appropriate recurring management - partly in close collaboration with local farmers via a direct marketing scheme for environmentally sound produce. Hydrology and vegetation had been mapped before the project began.

Lessons learnt

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Building on this comprehensive eco-hydrological assessment of the valley, a management plan was produced by the project covering all land within the Doode Bemde perimeter of 500 ha, whether it was owned by the beneficiary or not. This is quite innovative in comparison to the traditional Natuurpunt management plans, which only cover land owned by the NGO. The target set in the management plan is to have 50-60% open land (grassland, swamp, pond) and the rest as succession landscape evolving to ash-alder woods. Land purchase targets changed markedly during the project, as the competent authorities began acquiring land originally earmarked for purchase by the beneficiary. 54.3 ha was bought by Natuurpunt within the LIFE project - mostly former grasslands planted with poplars or overgrown as a result of abandonment, fish ponds and patches of degraded woodland. In parallel there were other land acquisition initiatives: 44.8 ha was expropriated by the competent authorities (AMINAL-Natuur and AMINAL-Water) and leased to Natuurpunt to manage, while a VLM (agri-structural authority) project for nature rehabilitation acquired another 10 ha which was also leased to Natuurpunt to manage. So altogether during the LIFE project over 109 ha came under conservation control. The beneficiary now owns or manages the most important 'depression areas’ in the project area. These are the Doode Bemde, the Dijlebroek-Leigracht area and the Grote Bron, the depression zone with the Langerodevijver. Before the LIFE project Natuurpunt only managed 99 ha (20% of the project area), this has now gone up to 208 ha (42% of the project area), mainly in large coherent blocks. The land purchase and acquisition allowed the competent authority (AMINAL-Water) to block a culvert bringing a drainage ditch (the Leigracht) under the IJsse river. This action, done parallel to LIFE, allowed the retention zone to fulfill its natural function. Since then, the drainage of the alluvial woods has stopped and wintertime flooding of the Dijle valley in the project area has started again. The project itself undertook an extensive list of one-off restoration works. - Whereas 20 ha were foreseen, in total 43 ha poplars have been removed by the LIFE project. On 18 ha of this, stumps were totally removed as well. - Four weekend cottages were demolished. - 4 ha maize field was converted into extensively managed grassland, 7.6 ha of production grassland was restored to Annex I habitat status by appropriate recurring mowing and grazing and shrubby overgrowth removed to restore 3.4 ha of former habitats for the benefit of the species Vertigo moulinsiana. - 4 km fences were installed to expand grazing management: 10 ha of the Doode Bemde is now managed by grazing and 40 ha by hay mowing followed by grazing. This recurring management is done by local farmers. - The banks of the 24 ha Langerode pond were cleared of trees and bushes and graded in order to stimulate reed growth. A small pond was restored in order to act as amphibian habitat and as a nature education site. - 5 ha of degraded woods were taken out of use and poplars ring-barked to provide standing dead wood. 400 metres of ditch draining the Langerode wood was filled in. This work was done by own staff (4 labourers were hired), a local employment initiative for disadvantaged youth and volunteers (regular camps were organised). Equipment was bought for the staff and volunteers using LIFE funds (tractor, trailer, shredder). The beneficiary and its partner, the NGO Vrienden van Heverleebos en Meerdaalwoud, are working closely with local farmers on recurring management – the farmers market the meat from their grazing livestock through a local cooperative, Veeakker cvba, as “nature meat”, thereby getting premium prices. This collaboration is one of the case studies in the LIFE-Focus report “LIFE and agri-environment supporting Natura 2000”. In terms of PR and awareness raising, and to channel the growing recreational use of the area, the following was done: - A folder ‘Welkom in de Doode Bemde’ explaining LIFE and the project, was distributed door-to-door in surrounding villages. - Open door day of May 30 1999, to which 1800 people came. - 6 information panels, a 300 m boardwalk, a hide and two bird observation huts were installed on site. - To create a trail across the site, an old tramway was cleared. The footbridge needed to cross the river was built by the Belgian military (Ecole du Génie) as goodwill gesture. The LIFE project was active in networking. The LIFE-Nature projects Obere Drau (Austria) and Alzette (Luxemburg) visited the site, as well as the Dutch NGO Natuurmonumenten involved in several LIFE projects. The project was presented to an international symposium on water retention (Leiden, 2001)and collaborated with a research project by the University of Cardiff on the role of LIFE in Natura 2000 sites. There were also contacts with the Schelde Convention.

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Catchment and subcatchment


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Heavily modified water body
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Protected species present
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Project background

Reach length directly affected (m)
Project started
Works started
Works completed 2003/12/31
Project completed
Total cost category 1000 - 5000 k€
Total cost (k€) 1902
1,902 k€
1,902,000 €
Benefit to cost ratio
Funding sources EU LIFE Programme

Cost for project phases

Phase cost category cost exact (k€) Lead organisation Contact forename Contact surname
Investigation and design
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Works and works supervision
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Supplementary funding information

Duration 01/07/1998 to 30/12/2003 Total budget 1,902,464.97 € EU life contribution 760,985.99 €

Reasons for river restoration

Mitigation of a pressure
Other reasons for the project


Structural measures
Bank/bed modifications
Floodplain / River corridor
Planform / Channel pattern
Non-structural measures
Management interventions
Social measures (incl. engagement)


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Monitoring documents

Additional documents and videos

Additional links and references

Link Description proj id=299&docType=pdf LIFE project description Dijle Valley EC (2007) LIFE and Europe’s rivers. Protecting and improving our water resources

Supplementary Information

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