LIFE Project Cover Photo

Grassland restoration in the East Coast polders

Reference: LIFE12 NAT/BE/000252 | Acronym: LIFE Oostkustpolders



Some 2 000 years ago, the original mudflats (coastal wetlands that form when mud is deposited by tides or rivers) along the Belgian coast were closed off by a dune belt, behind which an extensive area of peat bogs formed. Incursions by the sea during the Middle Ages caused this bog to become saline and left it covered with a fertile layer of mud. Converted to polders, the land has been used mostly as pasture. Since the 1960s, the polder grasslands were levelled, and large areas were drained, excessively covered in manure or transformed into maize fields or high-yield grasslands.

Nevertheless, the polders at the eastern end of the Belgian coast are core-areas for inland saline habitats and are an important breeding and wintering territory for many grassland bird populations, including ducks, geese and waders.

The project site comprises four areas: Uitkerkse polders (1 223 ha), Zwaanhoek (166 ha), Ter Doest (63 ha) and Polders van Koolkerke tot Lapscheure (5 247 ha). Local NGOs began the first conservation initiatives in the early 1990s. In 1999 and 2003 Natuurpunt launched two LIFE projects in the Uitkerkse Polder to purchase and restore degraded grasslands. After restoration, contracts were made with local farmers to use these grasslands in a more sustainable way. The results of the LIFE projects in the Uitkerkse Polder were very positive. In this site the population of black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) increased, in contrast to the general trend in the region. Complementary to these projects, the Flemish government improved the protection status of these grasslands and initiated its own restoration projects in Zuienkerke-Meetkerke, the area south of the Uitkerkse Polder, and in de Zwaanhoek.

Present threats in the project site relate to the direct destruction of the micro-topography of the (salty) grasslands, inadequate management, non-optimal water-level management, disturbance and insufficient public support.


The main objective of this project is the large-scale restoration of typical grassland habitats in the polders of the eastern Belgian coast. The habitats 1310 (Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand) and 1330 (Atlantic salt meadows Glauco-Puccinellietalia maritimae) form a patchy network throughout the project area. Because of their size and isolation, some patches are very vulnerable to further degradation. One of the two major project objectives is to improve both the quality and quantity of these saline habitats.

The project also focuses on breeding and wintering species of grassland birds, including the pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) that is listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive. Furthermore, the project area is an important wintering site for Annex I species such as the short-eared owl (Asio flammeus), pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus), greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) and Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope).

Annually, 60 to 80% of the Spitsbergen population of pink-footed goose winters here. These primary target-species act as umbrella species for others such as barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis), black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata), Northern shoveler (Anas clypeata), black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) and garganey (Anas querquedula). Grassland restoration focuses mainly on restoring the typical micro-relief and on optimising the hydrology of the project area. The area are used for foraging by Western marsh-harrier (Circus aeruginosus), but suitable nesting sites seem to be lacking. Therefore, new breeding sites will be created.

Expected results:

  • Large-scale restoration and sustainable management of 75.5 ha grassland with Annex I habitats 1310 (Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand) and 1330 (Atlantic salt meadows Glauco- Puccinellietalia maritimae) in the pSCI;
  • Restoration of an additional 140 ha of grassland habitat leading to increased breeding or wintering populations of pied avocet, short-eared owl, pink-footed goose, greater white-fronted goose and Eurasian wigeon in the SPA. These species act as umbrella species for other grassland birds; and
  • Enhanced visitor facilities and dissemination of information in the area (in a range of languages) and better socio-economic support for and involvement of local people and other stakeholders (including other land managers) in the LIFE project and the Natura 2000 site.


    Reference: LIFE12 NAT/BE/000252
    Acronym: LIFE Oostkustpolders
    Start Date: 01/07/2013
    End Date: 31/12/2019
    Total Budget: 5,473,613 €
    EU Contribution: 2,736,806 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Natuurpunt Beheer vzw
    Legal Status: PNC
    Address: Coxiestraat 11, 2800, Mechelen, België - Belgique
    Contact Person: Stefan VERSWEYVELD
    Tel: 003215297220

    LIFE Project Map



    • Grasslands


    • grassland ecosystem
    • protected area
    • site rehabilitation
    • coastal area
    • restoration measure


    • 1310 - Salicornia and other annuals colonizing mud and sand
    • 1330 - Atlantic salt meadows (Glauco-Puccinellietalia maritimae)


    • Numenius arquata
    • Limosa limosa
    • Cygnus cygnus
    • Anser fabalis
    • Anas querquedula
    • Anas crecca
    • Anas clypeata
    • Platalea leucorodia
    • Himantopus himantopus
    • Egretta garzetta
    • Recurvirostra avosetta
    • Philomachus pugnax
    • Circus cyaneus
    • Circus aeruginosus
    • Branta leucopsis
    • Asio flammeus
    • Anser brachyrhynchus
    • Anser albifrons
    • Anas penelope


    Type Code Name
    SCI BE2500002 Polders (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BE2500932 Poldercomplex (DEPRECATED)


    Name Type
    Natuurpunt Beheer vzw Coordinator
    None Participant