First National Park opened – Milestone for Belgium’s Countdown 2010

23 March 2006, Genk, Belgium. “National parks are an important contribution to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 in Europe”, said Stavros Dimas, EU Commissioner for the Environment, at the opening of Belgians first national park Hoge Kempen today.

The park is set in a rural part of eastern Belgium, a former coal mining area in the Province of Flanders. The natural values of the region will be restored and further developed over the coming years to support nature tourism and education. Hoge Kempen measures almost 60 square kilometres and consists mainly of pine forest and heathland, which are giving shelter to 80% of Belgiums Red List species.

“We Europeans need to show that we are serious about protecting our nature, before making claims to conserve the rainforests of the world. The National Park Hoge Kempen is a success story because it proves that we can establish protected areas within a densely populated part of Europe” said Tim Christophersen, European Programme Coordinator of The World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The Park demonstrates that protected areas are not only good for nature conservation, but also for local economies: revenues from sustainable tourism in Hoge Kempen are forecast to reach 24,5 Million Euro per year by 2011.

Commissioner Dimas also announced that he will try to strengthen the global networks of protected areas at the current Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Brazil.

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