Talk Building an ecoduct in an agricultural environment a challenge for people and animals

Ecoducts are usually built in a natural environment, often even in special protection areas or with the intention to (re)connect the habitat of endangered species.

However, in Flanders (northern part of Belgium) a wildlife crossing was constructed in a fairly intensive agricultural area in 2011. A new high speed train line (HSL) was planned between Antwerp and Rotterdam parallel to the busy existing E19 highway. To almost all (non-flying) animals, this meant a total barrier to animal passage.

The negative effect on flora and fauna was shown in several preliminary studies and in the Environmental Impact Assessment. Moreover, the planning permission for the construction of the HSL explicitly listed a series of mitigation measures, including the building of an ecoduct.

An ecological study that considered ecological, technical, financial, spatial and political aspects determined the location and technical implementation of the ecoduct. Finally a wildlife crossing of 60 m width, bridging both the highway and the HSL (100 m), was proposed at Wuustwezel. This is a rural municipality in the northern part of Flanders with traditional agriculture focused on dairy cattle and pig farms. Building an ecoduct in such a setting encounters a lot of opposition. Therefore, from the very beginning, we paid much attention to communication, involvement of the local government, inhabitants and especially the dispossessed farmers.

In addition a decent landscape fitting of the ecoduct in this agricultural area was required. In a supporting landscape study a lot of attention was paid to local sensitivity and practicability. This entire process has been accompanied by a regional association with strong roots in the local community.

The construction of the ecoduct was fully funded by the infrastructure sector (roads and railway). The actions to enhance the local support were however paid by the environmental sector of the Flemish Government.

Above all, animals must use this new wildlife crossing. To counter the scepticism on the usage by proposed target species, the Environment, Nature and Energy Department performed a monitoring study. The ecological situation before the construction of the overpass was registered, followed by two years of monitoring, respectively one and three years after completing the construction. The results were above all expectations: after three years all target species used the ecoduct, some even on a very regular basis.

ecoduct; agricultural landschape; monitoring; communication