Talk Ecological importance and management measures for verges and embankments associated with transport infrastructure in Flanders Belgium

In Europe the area of traditionally managed semi-natural grassland habitats has been reduced dramatically during 20th century. Main reasons are the agricultural intensification, urbanization and the abandonment of marginal land. Due to long co-evolution, those semi-natural grasslands are extreme species-rich habitats. To preserve these habitats management measures, based on the continuation of traditional agricultural practices like mowing or grazing, are essential.

Verges and embankments of transport infrastructures don’t have any direct input of artificial fertilizers or pesticides and are at least partly managed mainly because of traffic safety, slope stabilization and to facilitate transport function. As a consequence, these infrastructure habitats can function as a refuge for semi-natural grassland species, especially in highly fragmented landscapes with few or very small semi-natural habitats left. In this way, infrastructure verges and embankments can provide suitable habitat for many species, even for rare and declining species (red list species). Moreover, verges and embankments may serve as corridors or stepping stones for species thereby increasing the connectivity between habitat patches.

Flanders is a highly urbanized region with a dense network of transport infrastructure.The area covered by infrastructure verges and embankments is estimated at approximately 2% of the total surface area. For comparison, 5.6% of Flanders surface are areas with ecological conservation measurements. In Flanders, much attention is paid to infrastructure habitats because of their ecological value and potential. Ecologically orientated management plans are (being) developed and implemented in field for verges and embankments of many navigable waterways, highways and regional roads.

Major principles in these management plans are:• Target to semi-natural grassland vegetation by the introduction or continuation of mowing or grazing measures;• Adjust management measures in such way that rare and declining species can set seed or reproduce;• Take into account the ecological and landscape values adjacent to the transport infrastructure;• For wide verges, aim for a diverse vegetation structure by creating a mosaic of short herbaceous vegetation, tall-herbs, shrubs and trees;• Vegetation management measures should be carried out in an ecological appropriate way during a long period of time.

The basis of the management plans is an inventory of occurring ecological values along the verges and embankments. In a further step, ecological targets are assigned. With this information appropriate management measures are proposed.

Expected results of the application of ecologically orientated management plans are the development or maintenance of flower-rich semi-natural grassland vegetation with rare or declining plant or animal species. Consequently, infrastructure verges and embankments should be seen as opportunities to strengthen green infrastructure and ecological networks.

verges, embankments, management, semi-natural grassland