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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article5 October 2022European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency1 min read

Using nature as a climate buffer

LIFE SPARC is making Belgium’s Scheldt estuary and surrounding towns more resilient to climate change.

LIFE16 CCA/BE/000107
Photo: LIFE16 CCA/BE/000107/Vilda

The Scheldt estuary in Flanders, Belgium is highly vulnerable to flooding because of its open connection to the sea, funnel shape and surrounding low-lying land. Potential financial damage from floods in the estuary is said to be around €50 million yearly. The area’s 720 000 inhabitants and 10 000 businesses are at serious risk after periods of heavy rainfall.

LIFE SPARC is employing nature-based solutions to protect the estuary and its urban areas against floods by creating open space for water and developing a robust estuary ecosystem.

The team has constructed three flood control areas, which capture excess river water. They have also developed five ‘depoldered’ areas that slow down stormwater.

Together, these eight climate buffers safely fill with water during flood events, decreasing water levels on the river and reducing the risk of flooding in urban areas. They make up around 428 hectares of additional freshwater tidal freshwater habitat – an area of around 800 football pitches.

This habitat comprises mud flats and marshes that store carbon from the air, filter the water and introduce oxygen and essential minerals into the river ecosystem. Migratory birds have ample shelter in the willow tidal forests and reed beds. And fish can find a quiet spot to breed, and their young can grow in a protected location. The waves no longer batter the river levees (embankments) as hard, preventing erosion.

Meanwhile, green infrastructure is being developed that act as corridors, allowing species to move more freely.

LIFE SPARC encourages recreation and tourism to boost the local economy along the estuary.

Visitors can explore the SPARC areas with the help of a guide or ask project ambassadors for tourist tips. The team also holds an annual summer event called STROOM, which combines different art forms with climate change topics.

LIFE SPARC is part of a master plan on flood prevention in the Scheldt estuary called the Sigma Plan.

Actions under the project support the EU’s Floods Directive, which aims to curb the negative impact of flooding on human health, the economy, the environment and cultural heritage. LIFE SPARC also contributes to the 2021 EU Adaptation Strategy.