Belgian Presidency leads the EU's Water Framework Directive | WWF

Belgian Presidency leads the EU's Water Framework Directive

Posted on 17 October 2001
Brussels, Belgium - Belgium is leading the European Union towards the implementation of a new European law with enormous potential for nature conservation through the Water Framework Directive. WWF-Belgium is showing the way by bringing new life to local rivers.

Natural rivers and their floodplain wetlands are amongst the most diverse ecosystems in the world, vital for wildlife as well as for people. However, they are also amongst the most vulnerable and endangered ecosystems. European rivers and their floodplain wetlands are faced with an environmental crisis. Its freshwater ecosystems, vital for all forms of biodiversity, are under threat. Any remaining near-natural river systems are now under pressure from development and degradation.

To fight this worrying trend, WWF joined with partner NGOs to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems over Europe. WWF-Belgium launched a 'Life Project' in collaboration with three local nature conservation NGOs in order to restore nature along the Grensmaas (local name given to the stretch of the River Meuse forming a natural border between the Netherlands and Belgium) and its tributaries. The Grensmaas is of great ecological importance because the river still flows naturally, thus keeping natural elements such as gravel banks and islets. The natural landscape alongside this river area and its tributaries accommodate unexpected natural treasures such as rare plants and trees (eg. black poplar), fish (eg. barbel, sturgeon, burbot), insects (eg. grasshoppers and ground beetles), amphibians (eg. tree frog, great crested newt) and birds (eg. corncrake, nightheron, black kite, kingfisher). It also offers interesting leisure possibilities, and recreational and educational opportunities are provided at demonstration sides on both sides of the river.

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) offers real hope for a major restoration and revival of Europe's freshwater ecosystems. This new piece of European law obliges governments to establish river basin management programmes. Concretely, this means that rivers in EU and accession countries will have to be revived and restored to a more natural state in order to meet a 'good ecological status'. Restoring floodplains and allowing rivers to run their own course will be necessary in many parts of Europe. It will require substantial investments, but the costs of reviving Europe's rivers will definitely be repaid by long-term savings in flood damage, water treatment and public health.

The Habitats and Birds Directive, Europe's most important nature conservation law, strive to protect Europe's natural heritage through the creation of ecological networks. Both the WFD and Habitats and Birds Directive are hopeful tools, but need full and correct implementation in each member state. So far, the designation of nature sites as required in the Habitats Directive continues to be too slow: many national lists are incomplete for wetlands and the level of protection and management varies in the different countries. Belgium is an important partner in two international Committees for the protection of the rivers Meuse and Scheldt. The national and regional authorities of Belgium recognize how difficult and complex it will be to correctly implement this new directive. WWF believes that under the Belgian Presidency, Belgium has a real environmental challenge in continuing the coordination work of Sweden regarding the implementation of the WFD. Belgium should also push the member states to correctly implement the Habitats & Bird Directive into national legislation.

For further information contact:

Edith Verhoestraete, Press & Campaigns Officer, WWF-Belgium, Tel : +32-2 340 09 49, e-mail : edith.verhoestraete@wwf.be