In Belgium – this little country – 22.500 different animal species have been registered so far, but more than a third of them are threatened. There are many fragile eco-systems in Belgium and only 1.1 % of the total of surface of Belgium is classified as nature reserve (the most known ones are the Hoge Venen/Hautes Fagnes and ‘t Zwin).
There are many reasons why we all should try to encourage biodiversity: ethical reasons (our duty for the next generations), ecological reasons (to protect the fragile balances to which we ourselves belong as well), economic reasons (we are depend on nature in many areas) and emotional reasons (e.g. to keep the polar bears a bit longer).
But even you can do something for biodiversity! What could you do to improve it? Here are some ideas to choose from:
- Make a safe haven for small birds with a natural border of shrubs and bushes. The best is to plant indigenous or domestic ones and for Belgium, ideally this would mean bushes like maple, hawthorn, hazelnut, hornbeam or blackthorn. If you want to check whether a plant is an invasive species threatening Belgian wildlife check this website.
- A tidy garden is not what wildlife asks for! Try to leave some piles of cut branches or wood: this is an excellent spot to attract insects and many birds eating them, like robin birds, wrens, and hedgehogs and children will love to join in observing them. If you need to add a metal fence around your garden, please leave some space for hedgehogs to travel in and out! They will free your garden from slugs!
- Try to let a corner or area of your garden grow wild. There are many beautiful flowers which attract bees, butterflies and birds and which can make a pretty and busy border (see our information on gardening and translations of plant names).
- Plants can even be bought at online nature shops like Vivara; and seed mixtures can be found in many garden centers. Some wild plants are used by butterflies to lay their eggs, e.g. nettle. You could leave one slot of your lawn grow high and only mow it once or twice a year and wild flowers will come up all by themselves! Did you know that 1 million flowers are needed for bees to make 1 kg of honey?
- An old wall does not necessarily need to be removed or painted over. Try to maintain it and let a plant grow over it. It is an excellent place for insects like solitary bees to live and hide in. Vivara and Natuurpunt offer insect houses. If you are a little creative, you can make them yourself: Just take a handful of hollow bamboo sticks of 10 cm and tie them together with a strong rope. It's the perfect gift for nature lovers.
- Why not make a small natural-looking pond? Find a sunny spot and just start digging up to 80 - 100 cm deep. Make sure you have at least one shallow side with not too steep slopes and local amphibians and beautiful dragonflies will find their way all by themselves into your garden! It is not advisable to catch them from other ponds (and for tadpoles it is even illegal) , because their original habitat might be different and your pond might lack the proper nutrition for this species to thrive. If the habitat is right, they will find it! You can ask your local garden centre for indigenous species of water plants to give your pond the finishing touch.
- If you like to observe some of the most active “parents” in the world you can hang up some bird nest houses in your garden (again, check the Natuurpunt and Vivara websites or visit the bird association's website). Make sure the entrance is directed towards the South-East to protect it from wind, rain, and direct sun. Hang it at least 2,5 meters high and not higher than 5 meters and slighted tilted forward in order to keep out rain.
- What about planting a domestic tree? It has become a kind of tradition in some parts of Belgium to plant a “birth tree” when a baby is born. If you plant fruit trees, it would be nice to consider choosing “old” species. And please, think twice before you cut a tree in your garden! In Belgium, you need a special permission to cut a tree older than 50 years. Try to give the “annoying” tree another chance for at least a year and see whether you can find a way to live in harmony with it.
- Why not consider getting a membership for an organic fruit and vegetable basket service? They usually offer lots of locally grown veggies and fruit, including many kinds and varieties (e.g. “old” varieties of apples and beet root) which are hard to find in supermarkets nowadays. Did you know that 95% of all 500 varieties of cabbages and 500 types of beans have disappeared?
- Did you know you can reuse all the natural waste of your garden to make your own garden flourish? Make your own compost and chop all branches, leaves and grass into small pieces with the proper tools!
- Try not to use anything ending on “-cide” (like pesticides, insecticides or herbicides) and opt for environment-friendly alternatives (see our article on eco-friendly gardening).
- Maybe you can start looking for sustainably caught fish for your dinner at home or in the restaurant (see our information on sustainable fish and translations of fish names).
- Please do not buy souvenirs of endangered species (like coral, sea stars, seahorses, tortoise shells), nor exotic pets (like frogs and tortoises), or exotic wood (ask for the FSC label for sustainable wood and wooden furniture).
- Consider helping to protect a nature reserve in Belgium.
- Last but not least, please respect and enjoy nature and live as eco-friendly as you can!
For more information about biodiversity in general, check the FAO background document on biodiversity. To learn more about biodiversity in Belgium refer to these websites: www.biodiversity.be, www.naturalsciences.be (both available in English), www.vips.biodiv.be, www.ibgebim.be, and www.natuurpunt.be/biodiversiteit (in Dutch and French only); www.bombylius.be (for kids, Dutch and French).
Finally, for some amazing pictures we refer you to National Geographic.
This article was published by Sunbeams in the June 2009 issue of its newsletter.