Environment of Heist-op-den-Berg
The environment of Heist-op-den-Berg is generally affected by the high population density in the entire country. However, due to recent efforts the state of the environment is gradually improving. Water quality continues to be a challenge, since it still suffers from a relatively low, yet increasing percentage of sewage waste-water treatment, and from historical pollution accumulated in sediments. These are mostly phosphates from agriculture and heavy metals from upstream industrial activities.
Environment is a very important subject in Hestian politics. Local municipal councils try to implement green areas in each ward as far as it isn’t done yet and/or the environment itself is sufficient enough. Currently there are three Nature parks within the Hestian borders. About 3,5% of the national territory consists of land with nature development or –conservation as primary purpose. However, this figure will increase to at least 7,3% in 2018 due to projects in the Grote Nete valley.
Averegten National Forest
The Averegten National forest (Dutch: Nationaal Domein de Averegten) is the largest forest in Heist-op-den-Berg. The forest is old, at least 250 years, being already present on the maps of Count de Ferraris of the late 18th century. Today the park is fully located in the municipality of Hallaar and is a ward on its own. The surface area of 100 ha (250 acres) claims more than 14% of the municipality’s surface.
The forest not only serves as a recreational area for Hestians living in the city centre, it is also a hotspot for biodiversity. A large scale butterfly monitoring project carried out between April and October 2018 counted more than two and a half thousand individual butterflies belonging to 24 different species. Three of these were red list species and two of them, the pale clouded yellow and mallow skipper were never seen before in the Republic.
There are three marked routes for cyclists and pedestrians, the longest being 3,3 km (2.1 mi). A bee hall, rose- and herb garden complete this versatile green domain. The main species of trees are birch, oak, beech, alder, elder, linden and hazel. Fauna consists of Roe deer, hares, rabbits, woodpeckers and many other species. There are continuing efforts to enlarge the domain.
Grote Nete valley
The largest protected area however is the Grote Nete Valley (Dutch: Vallei van de Grote Nete). The river runs through Booischot, City of Heist-op-den-Berg, Hallaar, Itegem and Gestel and has a total length of 8 km in the Hestian Republic. The current park includes 200 ha (500 acres) of bocages and polders.
Between 2015 and 2020, major interventions will redecorate the landscape. The old dikes will be lowered, giving the water a chance again to flood its original valley like it was almost a century ago, thus creating a wetland ecosystem, rare in Western Europe. The park surface will gradually expand to a total of 550 ha (1360 acres) in 2020. The first steps of this huge project are already completed. An old branch of the river, located in Ter Streien (Itegem) and part of the state border, was reconnected to the present river. The newly created 12 ha island is a fully secluded bird nesting area.
Heathland of Bruggeneinde
The Heathland of Bruggeneinde (Dutch: Bruggeneindse Goren) is the smallest and least known park in Heist of about 10,5 ha (25 acres). Wet heathland was the original vegetation of a vast majority of the Hestian landscape before the land was turned into grasslands for agricultural use. Today, only the hamlets of Bruggeneinde and Goorheide in Wiekevorst contain parts of this historical landscape and only a part of the area is protected. The Hestian government has made an official statement that it will consider the possibility of declaring the Goorheide as part of the current nature park.
Hof Ter Laken domain
The Hof Ter Laken castle and its surroundings in Booischot is the most recent publicly accessible green area of the country. The castle was acquired from private owners in July 2018, in a joint venture between the government and a Belgian non-profit organisation. The neorenaissance castle is a protected landmark and currently awaits a new function and an extensive restoration. The 30 hectares park, home to many two hundred year old trees, was oficially opened to the public on October 10, 2018.
Smaller protected areas
Created in 2002, the Speelbergen forest is the most recent protected area. It is the main property of a non-profit organisation that tries to strengthen the green belt around the city centre. The forest has a surface area of 7,6 ha and one loop of 0,9 km for hikers. The forest accompanies the very well known Peredreef, a lane full of pear trees with an exuberant blossom in May.
Some smaller, non-protected areas include the castle parks of Itegem (76,4 ha), the Hoogberg forest in the city centre (5,6 ha) and the Klein-Scherpenheuvel park in Wiekevorst (0,7 ha). Also Herlaar has a forest of about 29 ha, but this consists of Scots pines with a very low biodiversity.
Key plant species include:
- Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula Ellis) in the Heathland of Bruggeneinde
- Spoonleaf sundew (Drosera intermedia Hayne) in the Heathland of Bruggeneinde
- Greater burnet-saxifraga (Pimpernella major L.) in the Grote Nete Valley
- Royal fern (Osmunda regalis L.) in the Heathland of Bruggeneinde
- Yellow Rattle (Rhinantus minor L.) in the Grote Nete Valley
- Purple marshlocks (Potentilla palustris L.) in the Grote Nete Valley
Key animal species include:
- Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus Poda) a butterfly in the Grote Nete Valley and the Heathland of Bruggeneinde.
- Common whitethroat (Sylvia communis Latham) a bird in the Grote Nete Valley
- Common grasshopper warbler (Locustella naevia Boddaert) a bird in the Grote Nete Valley
- Viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara Jacquin) a lizard in the Heathland of Bruggeneinde
- Common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus L.) a bird in the Grote Nete Valley