For almost five years, LIFE Sparc has been giving eight project areas of the Sigmaplan a boost. With subsidies from the European Union’s LIFE programme, four partners – Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos, De Vlaamse Waterweg nv, Regionaal Landschap Schelde-Durme and Flanders Hydraulics Research – are working to arm the Scheldt river valley against climate change.
At the start of the project, we set several goals:
- giving the Scheldt and Durme more room to flow and overflow
- restore the authentic freshwater tidal nature
- invest in recreation and education
- share the solutions we develop along the Scheldt and the Durme with custodians of other tidal areas in Europe
In 2021, we reached an important milestone: the Groot Schoor in Hamme was de-poldered. As a result, freshwater mudflats and salt marshes are in full development in this area. Great progress has also been made for the other goals.
2 climate buffers completed
Sparc works have already been completed in two of the eight areas where we are creating climate buffers. Meanwhile, the remaining six areas are all under development. For example, we are building culverts in the Wal-Zwijn and Vlassenbroek flood areas while in Groot Schoor Hingene, after clearing the area, the surrounding levee is being built. Works in Groot- and Klein Broek are also quite advanced.
In the latter area, as in Wal-Zwijn, temporary wetlands were realised last year. This was done in anticipation of more tidal nature, 27 hectares of which have already been realised in one of the finished areas. That nature provided a clearly noticeable improvement in the oxygen content of the Scheldt.
Furthermore, many rare birds made a home in Wal-Zwijn during the past breeding season. The area gave us little black kites, black-winged stilts, little bitterns, the garganey and spoonbills. The great reed warbler, Savi’s warbler and the Eurasian bittern have also nested here. Meanwhile, behind the scenes hard work is being done on the three climate trails. These nature experience paths, hiking trails along which there are educational play elements, will gradually appear over the next few years.
With our nature-based solutions, we aim to offer a response to global warming. These solutions can also be useful in other tidal areas. That is why we share our knowledge and solutions with partners from other European estuaries. And we participate in expert conferences, such as the Telemac User Conference in Paris last October. In this way, we want to promote the benefits of our innovative controlled flooding areas with reduced tides or GOG-GGG. In doing so, we simultaneously reduce the risk of flooding and create unique freshwater tidal nature.
Sparc originally aimed for 90 ambassadors: 30 entrepreneurs, 30 climate parents and 30 guides. We have since exceeded that target with 30, 34 and 57 ambassadors respectively. The development of the educational package was equally successful: 17 municipalities now use it and offer it to schools. A new tool ensures that visitors never miss a waterfall and that they always know how warm the Scheldt is and what its oxygen and salt levels are. The eight Sparc areas offer lots of opportunities to go explore: on foot, by bike or by boat, with or without a guide.
The highlight of LIFE Sparc’s recreational pillar was to be an annual festival. For the past three years, every summer visitors could enjoy the summer event Hoogtij. This year, a new concept took shape: thanks to a collaboration with Ghent Festival of Flanders, the Scheldt Valley was the setting for STROOM, a festival around nature, climate and sustainability. Through its offer of outdoor concerts, discourses, an art route and a photo competition, STROOM attracted 15,000 visitors. A lot more than the proposed 6,000 visitors per year.
At the end of 2022, LIFE Sparc already has an amazing journey to look back. Thanks to the extension of the project, we will also be working towards a climate-proof Scheldt river valley in the next three years. Keep following us for more updates!