Zwin Nature Park

Province of West Flanders

The most important task of the provincial government is to develop and promote the strengths of the region. This ambition is two-fold: to provide administration to the whole province and in addition to act as a partner with knowledge and experience to help our region move forward.
The Zwin
The Zwin nature park consists of a line of dunes behind which lies an area of tidal waters. The tidal action is made possible thanks to a natural opening of several hundred metres in the dunes near the Dutch border. At high tide, a large amount of North Seawater floods into the area through this opening. The area owes its characteristic flora and fauna to the daily influence of the sea. The seawater conveys fresh food for numerous ground-dwelling organisms that colonise the mud flats and mud banks, such as worms and shellfish. A wide variety of halophytes – plants that can tolerate salt water – grows in the upper-lying salt marshes. Their habitat is determined by the extent to which they can tolerate seawater flooding. For example, glasswort is a typical pioneer species of the transition zone between the mud flats and salt marshes. Characteristic plants of the upper salt marsh are sea thrift, sea aster and common sea-lavender. The ground-dwelling fauna of the mud flats serves as rich feeding ground for a variety of waders, shore birds and other waterfowl. In this way, the Zwin serves as an important resting and foraging location for thousands of migratory birds during their journey between their northern nesting grounds and their southern winter habitats.
The mission of the Zwin Nature Reserve Visitors Centre is to offer the general public and various interested parties an ecotourism attraction with an educational character, and which functions as a tourist reception area for visitors to the Zwin region. The ecotourism attraction is rooted in the existing natural environment and the accessibility of this through a contemporary natural-educational approach, focusing on experience of and respect for nature.
Of equal importance to the project's mission is the realisation of an exemplary level of sustainability in all aspects of the reserve, out of respect for the area's unique and highly protected natural resources and as an example to the community.
Through the Natura People project, the Province of West Flanders wants to demonstrate the importance of the Natura 2000 network for the Zwin and its surroundings. The activities developed as part of this project are:
1. Demonstrating and further developing the economical significance of the Zwin by:
  • Involving local businesses: a cross-border network of “Hosts of the Zwin region” is being launched in collaboration with the European project REECZ (Recreation & Ecotourism in the Zwin region). Hospitality businesses receive a short introduction to the cross-border Zwin region and Natura 2000, they are introduced to businesses across the border and are encouraged to produce package deals within this network in collaboration with the Zwin Nature Reserve and (in future) with Waterdunen.
  • Demonstrating the economical significance of the Zwin itself and as part of the N2000 network: the Zwin's economical significance is demonstrated within the Zwin Nature Reserve on the basis of an analysis of the existing ecosystem services and a classical appreciation analysis (developed through the Natura People project). The results from these studies will serve to inform the various stakeholders of this significance and to exploit structural sources of income for the Zwin Nature Reserve itself.
  • Developing an automatic reservation system: increased visitor numbers require a higher degree of automation. In order to process adequately the increase in visitors both now and in future, an automatic reservation system is being developed.
2. Engaging the visitor with the Natura 2000 concept by:
  • Developing a high-quality natural-educational framework for the natural environment: a new exhibition concept is being developed in the new Zwin Nature Reserve Visitors Centre under the heading of “The Zwin as International Airport for Birds”.
  • Developing educational modules and a team of expert guides: an education employee is developing modules based on innovative techniques, through which the perception of nature can be intensified. Present and new guides will receive additional training so that their message can be conveyed as best as possible.
  • Developing the Zwin as a scientific hotspot: in order to ensure the message remains topical, scientific research is encouraged in the Zwin; this will be achieved by setting up a structure in which research institutes can call on the support services of the Zwin Nature Reserve in exchange for their support in the actualisation of the natural-educational framework.
  • Developing a bird-migration database: an important illustration of Natura 2000's importance is the annual bird migration. In order to portray this, a model will be developed that is able to make predictions on expected species and those already present, based on an extensive network of volunteers and comparable environments, international sightings, historical research and weather conditions.
3. Communication and dissemination of the importance of Natura 2000 by:
  • Organising various workshops and information sessions for the various stakeholders.
  • Developing an active online community through an attractive website, the use of social media and the support of various user groups.
Developing and implementing a communication strategy to illustrate the importance of N2000.

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