The Antwerp port area is one of the most important habitats for European endangered species. No fewer than 90 protected species of plant and animal live within the port area. Furthermore, a significant proportion of these plants and animals are specific to ports, being dependent for their continued existence in Flanders on habitats that typically occur in and around ports. When protected species are found within the Antwerp port area it is forbidden for economic activities to threaten their continued existence.
However, such a requirement is liable to create legal uncertainty for companies. In order to find a sustainable solution to this situation, a Species Protection Programme for the port of Antwerp has been developed over the past few years. This is a “first” for the port of Antwerp, namely the first location-specific programme in Flanders to be approved by the Flemish minister for the Environment.
The Species Protection Programme (SPP) is aimed at conserving protected species with significant populations within the port area. The conservation may apply to the port area as a whole, or may be limited to an individual company concession. By creating suitable “ecological infrastructure” (network of core conservation areas and corridors where port-specific fauna and flora can thrive), port operations are able to continue nearby and the port can expand further. In other words, nature conservation and economic activities are able to co-exist in harmony. Thus by maintaining healthy populations of protected species within the port area as a whole, individual companies no longer have to curtail their activities or take avoiding action if for instance protected natterjack toads are found on their concession.
The SPP for the port of Antwerp is made up of individual species protection programmes for 14 “umbrella species: the natterjack toad, the swift, the sand martin, the house martin, the peregrine falcon, the tern, the mediterranean gull, the bluethroat, the marsh harrier, the marsh helleborine orchid, the fen orchid, the sword-leafed helleborine, the brown argus and the pond bat. The protection and management measures for these species also guarantee sustainable population of the other 76 protected species, together with numerous other species that also benefit from the measures. Antwerp Port Authority in its role of manager of the port area performs the public duty of coordinating the various initiatives and ensuring that they are carried out in a timely manner. This in turn permits the Nature & Forest Agency to grant individual exemptions for port users, where they otherwise would have to take compensatory measures in order to comply with the applicable regulations for all 90 protected species listed in the Species Decree.
The SPP for the port of Antwerp was drawn up and the network of ecological infrastructure was created by Antwerp Port Authority in collaboration with the Nature & Forest Agency, the Left Bank Development Corporation, Natuurpunt (conservation society), VOKA (Antwerp/Waasland Chamber of Commerce), Alfaport (association of port companies) and representatives of industry in the port.