Restoring Balance: Progress at the Gérard & Francis Paquay Natural Reserve

Explore the latest advances in wetland restoration at the Open Lab 5 in Belgium. Discover more!

REWET OL5 Aerial View

Ongoing Efforts in Wetland Restoration

Next to the Haute Ardennes region of Belgium, the Gérard & Francis Paquay Natural Reserve, also known as Quatre-Vents, is a testament to the power of ecological restoration. This unique landscape, situated upstream of the Amblève River catchment, has undergone significant transformation as part of a broader effort to restore its wetlands and peatlands, combat climate change, and prevent future natural disasters. This blog post provides an update on the latest restoration efforts as of May 2024.

Historical Context and Initial Challenges

The Haute Ardennes region once boasted extensive moorlands, which have largely disappeared due to the widespread drainage of soils for spruce plantations. These changes not only altered the landscape but also increased the risk of flooding and droughts. In July 2021, severe flooding devastated the Amblève River valley, highlighting the need for strategic interventions in upstream areas. Analyses revealed that the drainage of upstream lands exacerbated the peak discharges downstream during the floods, underscoring the critical role of these ecosystems in flood mitigation.

Restoration Efforts and Achievements

Phase One: Water Table Elevation and Dam Installation

In a major milestone for the project, the initial phase of the restoration efforts saw the successful elevation of the water table and the installation of dams to block drainage channels. This work was conducted in close partnership with Natagora, the landowner and a key player in the conservation of Belgium's natural habitats. Natagora has been instrumental in previous restoration projects, such as the transformative LIFE Nardus initiative, which included removing sections of spruce forest to restore natural habitats .

The implementation of these dams was carried out over two weeks by a contractor, Gessofor S.A., under Natagora's guidance. These interventions are expected to significantly enhance the site's ability to retain water, thereby mitigating both flood and drought risks. The elevation of the water table is crucial for re-establishing the natural hydrology of the area, promoting biodiversity, and enhancing carbon sequestration in both the soil and vegetation .

Phase Two: Blocking Additional Drainage Channels

Building on the success of the first phase, May 2024 saw the completion of the second phase of the restoration plan. This phase focused on further blocking drainage channels in another section of the Open Lab. The efforts included burying entire channels to restore the natural water flow across the landscape, and continuing the work to mitigate the adverse impacts of past drainage activities. The attached photo illustrates the transformative impact of these interventions, showcasing the blocked channels that are now reintegrating into the natural hydrological system.

Excavator working
Excavator working on the closing of the channels.

Looking Forward: Future Impacts and Monitoring

The ongoing restoration work at the Gérard & Francis Paquay Natural Reserve is a crucial part of the broader REWET project, funded by the European Union under the Horizon Europe programme. As these interventions continue, we are eager to observe how the ecosystem responds, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity recovery. These efforts not only aim to restore natural balance to the region but also contribute to the broader goals of climate change mitigation and sustainable land management.

The project team of REWET Open Lab 5 in Belgium, along with Natagora and other stakeholders, remains committed to monitoring these changes closely. The data gathered will be invaluable in guiding future restoration efforts and in showcasing the potential of ecological restoration to address some of the pressing environmental challenges of our time.

Community and Stakeholder Engagement

Community involvement and stakeholder engagement are integral to the success of the restoration project. Natagora continues to lead awareness programs, educating the public about the importance of preserving and restoring natural habitats. By fostering a deeper understanding of the ecological and social benefits of wetland restoration, the aim is to build a strong support base for ongoing and future conservation efforts.

The Gérard & Francis Paquay Natural Reserve is a shining example of how targeted ecological restoration can transform landscapes, mitigate environmental risks, and enhance biodiversity. As we look ahead, the continued success of these efforts will serve as a model for similar initiatives across Europe and beyond. Stay tuned for more updates on this inspiring journey towards a resilient and thriving ecosystem.




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