“Zwin Dunes and Polders: Discover the Magic of Our Natural Pearl!”

One aspect of the hospitality course in the Zwin region includes discovering a special location. Naturally, I chose to explore the enchanting Zwinduinen and polders, located just 200 metres from the hotel.

zwindunesandpolders

Everyone knows the Zwin, less well known and at least as important are the adjoining “Zwinbosjes”, which have borne the name of Vlaams Natuurreservaat ‘De Zwinduinen en -polders’ since 2003.

Situated between the ‘Oosthoek’ district, the Zeedijk, the Bronlaan, the Nieuwe Hazegraspolderdijk and the Zwin Nature Reserve, the dunes and dune edge area covers 222ha and forms the natural transition between sea, beach and polder.

The area has four subareas:

  • De Nieuwe Hazegrasdijkpolder: the area south between the Oosthoek district and Leon Lippensdreef
  • De Kleyne Vlakte: the extensive grassland area along Leon Lippensdreef
  • De Groenpleinduinen: form the western subarea and is separated from the rest of the reserve by the Zwinlaan
  • De Zandplaatduinen: consist of the higher relief dunes between the Kleyne Vlakte and the present-day Zeedijk

The Zwin dunes and polders took their current form in 1873 with the construction of the International Dyke, which closed off the area from the sea.

Until the end of the 19th century, this area was still in constant development under the influence of the sea.

From the 20th century, human interventions had left clear traces, e.g. various plantings took place, a golf course, jumping terrain, airport and karting were constructed, during WWII a lot of bunkers and concrete roads were built.

In 2006, the Nature and Forest Agency launched the LIFE nature project ZENO (Zwinduinen Ecological Nature Development).

The main objective of this nature restoration project was to restore and preserve the natural, typical dune habitats and their transition to the polders.

Concrete restoration works carried out

  • Restoration of wet dune valleys and pools:
    • Trees and shrubs were removed
    • Ploughing was carried out (= removing the nutrient-rich top soil layer)
    • Existing pools were cleaned up and new ones dug
    • These large-scale works were carried out in the Green Square Dunes, Northern Grazing Block and Far West.
  • Restoration of natural dune vegetation in and around the old sand extraction pits:
    • Removing the planted maritime pines in the Tobruk subarea reconnected the northern and southern dune grasslands.
    • The sand extraction pits were re-expanded, widened and the banks made less steep.
  • Restoration of micro-relief in the Kleyne Vlakte:
    • Wet environments were re-formed by digging creeks and pools.
    • The dune grass landscape that was present before the jumping site was restored.
    • The concrete jumping pit was removed and a dune pool was created in its place.
    • To regain more light, the planted poplars were removed and the willows were pollarded.
    • The old Paardenmarkt stream became visible again.
    • Over 17.5 km of barbed wire and many concrete posts were removed all over the nature reserve.
  • Grazing management:
    • Not only the restoration of the rare habitats was necessary, conservation through efficient management is equally important.
    • Since these major restoration works have been completed, the forester and his team take care of the maintenance of the restored nature.
    • In the area, about 75ha are mowed and removed every year, the fact that the clippings are not left lying around is of great importance as mowing is done to remove nitrogen.
    • Besides mowing, grazing is the most natural form of management.
    • By placing one or two animals per hectare, a lot of grasses and shrubs are kept in check and a mosaic landscape is obtained.
    • Another advantage is that seeds are spread via the excrements of the grazers and rare mushrooms are given the opportunity to develop.
    • Work is usually done with self-reliant animals such as Shetland ponies, Scottish Highland cattle, Polish Konik horses.
    • These animals do not originate from our regions, but their hardiness, self-reliance and strong character make them the perfect grazers for dunes.
    • In the Zwin dunes and polders, old native breeds such as the Duinengeit and the Flemish Sheep also graze.
    • Four grazing blocks have been realised and one small one retained, together accounting for 168ha

Meanwhile, plans for the Hazegraspolderdijk and Cantelmolinie land redevelopment plan have been approved. There, Flanders will improve “recreational facilities” in the Zwin area and reconstruct heritage from the Eighty Years’ War.

  • Graaf Leon Lippensdreef: Widen cycle path, slow down motorised traffic, bring larger part of nature area into grazing management.
  • Hazegraspolderdijk: Set up as grazing area for sheep, arrange for use by mountain bikers, horse riders and walkers
  • Hazegrasfort: widen and restore existing cycle path on tram bed along fort site
  • Paulusvaart: Pushing up the Paulusvaart between Fort Sint Paulus and Vrede
  • Cantelmolinie: Is the defence line that formed the border line between Spain and the Netherlands during the Eighty Years’ War, plans are to turn this into a walking trail and make one of the seven defence constructions visible again.

Zwin dunes and polders is top European nature!

Mascot Zeno, the little egret, a typical bird species for the Zwin region, welcomes everyone.

Sources

Agentschap Natuur en Bos – Beheerplannen
Vlaamse Landmaatschappij
Publicaties.vlaanderen.be
Ecopedia.be
Vlaams instituut voor de zee

Information

200m from the hotel

Parking plan Knokke-Heist

Private Parking hotel St Pol:
Out of season: 12.50 euro / night stay.
Season: 12.50 euro / night stay.

Green zone
From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. € 2,30 per hour, € 12.50 / day
Free outside weekends and school holidays!

Orange zone:
From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. € 2.50/hour max. 4 hours.

To be paid all days.

Red zone:
From 11h to 19h max. 1 hour parking € 2,50/hour second hour is € 3,50/ hour. Max. 2 hours.
To be payed all days.

Do you park longer than the allowed time? Then you pay the retainer fee of €80 per day.

Underground parking :
Dumortierlaan Underneath the IJzerpark

Lippenslaan:
Under the Verweeplein

Kustlaan:
Under the minigolf

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Hotel St. Pol

Bronlaan 23
8300 Knokke-Heist
Belgïe

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