LIFE+ OZON defragmentation of the Sonian Forest
  • Steven Vanonckelen
    Bio statement : Steven Vanonckelen studied Bio-Science engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven. Afterwards, he performed a PhD in Sciences on forest transition in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains. Currently, he is project coordinator of the European LIFE+ OZON project in the Sonian Forest. This project defragments the forest by the construction of different wildlife crossings (budget of 10.8 million euro).
    In his leisure time, Steven is involved as an International Youth Representative on Sustainable Development and a young Sustainable Change Maker.
    Country : BE
    Contact :
    Website :


The LIFE+ OZON project tackles the fragmentation of the Sonian Forest. Different roads fragment the forest into isolated patches and prevent animals from travelling between different areas. The ‘Dead provides Life’ project revealed that about fifty animals were killed each year.

Along these roads, 25 wildlife crossings are being constructed or renovated. These structures are designed to reconnect parts of the forest, so as to recreate a larger habitat for numerous animals. This is good news for endangered species, such as the Daubenton's bat, European pine marten, Dendrocopos medius, Triturus cristatus, etc.


Defragmention of the Sonian forest
The LIFE+ project reconnects ecological hotspots by constructing or renovating 25 wildlife crossings by 2017. The most spectacular is the wildlife bridge, but also different tunnels and bridges have been constructed. Moreover, wildlife fences and warning reflectors are being installed.

Reduction of roadkills
The number of roadkills among migrating forest animals will decline. The idea is to protect existing populations, as well as to reduce human damage.

Nature-friendly forest edges
Forest edges and ponds are made nature-friendly with additional open areas and shrub vegetation. Moreover, the project examines how recreation in the forest can be steered to less sensitive areas so that animals can use the wildlife crossings.

UNEP and N2000 recognition
Recently, the project received international support of the United Nations Environment Programma (UNEP). Moreover, the Sonian Forest was nominated as a finalist for the Natura 2000 Award in 2014 and 2015!


Concrete protection measures
  • Restoring 15 existing tunnels and culverts;
  • Constructing a wildlife bridge, 3 wildlife tunnels and 4 tree bridges;
  • Defragmentation measures on secondary roads;
  • Installing wildlife fences and warning reflectors;
  • Creating additional open areas and forest edges;
  • Steering and clearly demarcating recreational flows.

Monitoring and communication

  • Monitoring the use of wildlife passages between 2014-2017;
  • Mapping animal species and their evolution;
  • Communication through website, information panels, magazines, etc.;
  • Laymans report and technical publications.


Putting an end to fragmentation
In 2015, 18 tunnels have already been renovated or built, the wildlife crossing and fence will be built in 2016-2017. These measures allow isolated animal populations to migrate across the forest.

A boost for protected animal species
By defragmenting and restoring the habitats in the Sonian Forest, animal species are provided a chance to survive.

Roadkills reduced by 90%
The number of roadkills among migrating forest animals declines by 90%.

Long term investment
Closely involving the public in the Sonian Forest and subsequently increasing the respect for this beautiful city forest with European valuable habitats and species. Finally, the success story of this project sends an important message to the society: inter-regional cooperation between different partners is possible and improves nature conservation. Thanks to the collaboration for a common long-term goal, we reach beyond our individual goals.

Defragmentation, Natura 2000, wildlife crossings, communication, inter-regional cooperation, Brussels