LIFE Project Cover Photo

Large scale habitat restoration in the valley of the Kleine Nete

Reference: LIFE09 NAT/BE/000411 | Acronym: LIFE Kleine Nete



The ‘Kleine Nete’ is a lowland river situated in the Flemish Campine region and runs from the edge of the Campine plateau to the Scheldt river basin. The valley is characterised by high geomorphological and well-preserved natural diversity. The area is unique in Western Europe, featuring heathland and moors in higher areas and valley ecosystems along the upper, middle and lower stream. Alongside the river are land dunes whose gradients are determined by their distance to it. These dunes are subject to pressure from the development of peat. On the lower stream of the Kleine Nete, however, is a freshwater tidal river, a rare and vulnerable habitat in the EU.

The Kleine Nete valley contains several types of endangered habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive – in particular, sand dune vegetation on land dunes, oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters, watercourses on the level of the plain, wet and dry heath vegetation, species-rich Nardus grasslands, hydrophilous tall herb communities, transition mires, and quaking bogs and forests on extremely wet soils. The project sites contain several rare and threatened species listed in the Annex II of the Habitats Directive, including fish such as the spined loach (Cobitis taenia), European bullhead (Cottus gobio) and the European brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri), as well as dragonflies (Leucorrhinia pectoralis) and floating water-plantain (Luronium natans). However, land use changes (afforestation and intensive agriculture) have placed several habitat types under severe pressure with species on the verge of extinction.

Although some meadows have been transformed into valuable species-rich scrubs and alluvial forests with alder and willow, overall changes in the area have resulted in great loss and fragmentation of valuable habitats leading to a consequent loss of biodiversity. Improving habitats and creating stepping stones in the strategically-located Kleine Nete valley would be of great importance in maintaining a favourable conservation status of the habitats and the associated species found there.


The main objectives of LIFE Kleine Nete were to restore:

  • 52 ha of a complex of Annex I habitats that depend on seepage, flood and/or freshwater tides. (The project would be of particular importance for freshwater tide-dependent hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities, including the endangered plants, Veronica longifolia and Leucojum aestivum);
  • 17 ha of Annex I habitats on a dry, poor, sandy soil to encourage stepping stones between the Campine plateau and the heathlands in Flanders; and
  • 3 ha of the valuable Annex I habitat type, oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters, and associated species such as the dragonfly and moor frog.
  • The project area is used for nature-oriented recreation by the nearby communities of Herentals and Lier. Therefore, other project objectives would be to integrate volunteers into nature management, inform the local community, visitors and authorities, and build new partnerships as an example of best practice.

    The project also aimed to draw up three integrated conservation plans based on a detailed vegetation map and field research, and an After-LIFE Conservation Plan.

    Specific actions would include:

  • Monitoring of the (first) results;
  • Purchase of 40 ha of land in the project area;
  • Carrying out field works including removal of larch and pine plantations, sod-cutting, removal of spontaneous trees/vegetation on abandoned land, development of new alluvial forests, integration of sites with buildings, removal of the nutrient-rich top soil and restoration of the original soil profile of former agricultural land, restoration of the natural hydrology and freshwater habitats, restoration of fen habitats, removal of exotic invasive species, and installation of fences for grazing management;
  • Acquisition of specialised equipment to carry out habitat restoration in extremely difficult situations;
  • Construction of a fish passage to restore the connection for the fauna of the watercourses on plain levels; and
  • Organisation of several activities to exchange knowledge and experience with local people, other LIFE projects and authorities.


    The LIFE Kleine Nete project helped to establish the Kleine Nete as one of the core areas in lowland Europe for several targeted Habitats Directive listed Annex I habitats. It also restored populations of a number of targeted Annex II-species. Moreover, it provided improved visitor facilities and further information about the project area, as well as better socio-economic support for the Natura 2000 network in the area.

    The main results included:

  • An important eco-hydrological study including modelling to assess the potential impacts of a particular hydrological action on water levels and on habitats. This will be of considerable assistance for further restoration and management in the area over the next decades;
  • The surpassing of the original land purchase objectives for the restoration of target habitats i.e. a total 59.37 ha of land sections was purchased under the project, compared with the planned 40 ha (148%). In addition, the project beneficiary added 109 ha land sections (purchased with non-LIFE funds), and 8.09 ha (rented) land sections i.e. effectively extending the Natura 2000 site by 228 ha – and demonstrating the project’s considerable leverage effect;
  • The surpassing of restoration targets. In total,161.21 ha were restored, 2.03 km of artificial riverbanks were removed and reshaped, a fish ladder was constructed, 21.55 ha were fenced in order to establish grazing management and management equipment was purchased; and
  • The restoration of a more natural hydrological status for the flood plain. This was a particularly significant achievement brought about through the successful coordination of several administrations and public bodies. The result was/ is the implementation of more integrated management of the valley bottom (flood plain), reducing flood risk and enhancing biodiversity. The more effective/ coordinated approach contributed towards climate change adaptation policy (i.e. by combining flood management with the restoration of habitats within the Natura 2000 network) and to the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

    Important environmental benefits concerned the restoration of the connectivity between the river and the flood plain and the continuity of the river. Ecological continuity was also considerably improved by the removal of a number of former holiday/week-end cottages and the restoration to a more natural shape of associated artificial ponds. These holiday cottages and their ponds were a major cause of the de-fragmentation of the natural habitat types of the valley and were also a source of other problems (e.g. introduction of invasive species, increased waste water and other waste disposal). By improving the ecological continuity, the project also worked towards implementation of EU strategy on Green Infrastructure.

    An innovative aspect of the project was the development of a new ‘Softrack’ device for the management of particularly wet areas – offering promise for the future management of such challenging wetland areas.

    The project also launched a new initiative to produce compost from the vegetal biomass produced by the management of the grasslands and heath vegetation. Although too early to assess its long-term impacts, if the resulting compost proved to be of an acceptable quality to farmers, or other garden or green-spaces managers, it offered promising opportunities to be explored in the future.

    To conclude, the beneficiary and partners had (and have) a strategy for the whole region. This existed before the project and was the basis for the LIFE programme funding. Thanks to the LIFE support, the project team was able to develop and fine tune the techniques over more extensive and more challenging areas. The project also provided an opportunity to fine tune this strategy, especially thanks to the eco-hydrological study and the development of an integrated management plan for the Natura 2000 sites concerned. The beneficiary plans to continue with the management of the protected areas, so the project’s results were also sustainable.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


    Reference: LIFE09 NAT/BE/000411
    Acronym: LIFE Kleine Nete
    Start Date: 01/01/2011
    End Date: 31/12/2016
    Total Budget: 4,369,475 €
    EU Contribution: 2,184,737 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Natuurpunt Beheer vzw
    Legal Status: NGO
    Address: Coxiestraat 11, 2800, Mechelen, België - Belgique
    Contact Person: Stefan VERSWEYVELD
    Email: stefan.versweyveld@natuurpunt.
    Tel: +32 15 29 72 56

    LIFE Project Map



    • Freshwater


    • river
    • wetlands ecosystem
    • restoration measure
    • flood control


    • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)
    • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directive (21.05.1992)
    • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)
    • COM(2013) 249 final “Communication from the Commission on Green Infrastructure (GI) - Enhancing Europe’s Natural Capital” (06.05.2013)
    • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020” (03.05.2011)
    • Directive 2009/147 - Conservation of wild birds - Birds Directive (codified version of Directive 79/409/EEC as amended) (30.11.2009)


    • 2330 - Inland dunes with open Corynephorus and Agrostis grasslands
    • 4030 - European dry heaths
    • 6230 - "Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe)"
    • 7140 - Transition mires and quaking bogs
    • 91E0 - "Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)"


    • Cobitis taenia
    • Cottus gobio
    • Lampetra planeri
    • Luronium natans


    Type Code Name
    SCI BE2100026 Valleigebied van de Kleine Nete met brongebieden, moerassen en heiden (DEPRECATED)


    Name Type
    Natuurpunt Beheer vzw Coordinator
    Province of Antwerpen, Belgium Participant
    Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij (Flemish Environment Agency), Belgium Participant