Sand dune - Country Report, Belgium

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This article on the sand dunes of Belgium, is a revised country report from the 'Sand Dune Inventory of Europe' (Doody ed. 1991) [1]. The 1991 inventory was prepared under the umbrella of the European Union for Dune Conservation [EUDC]. The original inventory was presented to the European Coastal Conservation Conference, held in the Netherlands in November 1991. It attempted to provide a description of the sand dune vegetation, sites and conservation issues throughout Europe including Scandinavia, the Atlantic coast and in the Mediterranean.

An overview article on European sand dunes provides links to the other European country reports. These represent chapters from updated individual country reports included in the revised, 2nd Edition of the 'Sand Dune Inventory of Europe' prepared for the International Sand Dune Conference “Changing Perspectives in Coastal Dune Management”, held from the 31st March - 3rd April 2008, in Liverpool, UK (Doody ed. 2008)[2].

Status: Original text with revisions 2008. Original author: Albert Salman; additional information, J Patrick Doody, 2007; Bird (The World’s coasts: Online), revised Jean-Louis Herrier, March 2008


Sand dunes have formed along the full length of the Belgian coastline (65 km) as a part of the dune barriers between Dunquerque (Northern France) and Denmark, originally covering over 6,000 ha. Today, only 3,800 ha of sand dunes remain, while nearly 50% of the coastline has been urbanised. The coast comprises a very gently sloping beach of fine sand backed by dunes generally less than 20m high, their width varying from a few kilometres (at De Panne and east of Knokke) to less than one hundred metres. They include Older Dunes of mid-Holocene age bordered and partly overlapped by Younger Dunes, which are still forming (Tavernier 1970,[3] Paepe and Baeteman 1979)[4]. The sequence is related to successive marine transgressions and regressions, during which a broad intertidal flat became bordered by barrier islands on which the dunes formed.

Distribution and type of dune

The present dunes form as an almost continuous ridge on top of older dune barriers, only interrupted by the Yzer river mouth at Nieuwpoort and the tidal inlet of the Zwin on the northern border. The dune systems were originally very important for their geomorphology and included many wet valleys and low transition zones to the hinterland. Because the dune ridge has been fragmented, very little of this variety is left. Only in the area between the French-Belgian border and Nieuwpoort are there mobile dunes on a large scale.


The vegetation is still very interesting, although most of the wet plant communities and species have suffered because of urbanization and drinking water collection. In some areas, 50-60% of the plant species have disappeared since the beginning of the drinking water production period. The vegetation zonation is very similar to that in the southern part of the Netherlands, although more fragmented.

Figure Sand dunes of the coast of Flanders, after Herrier & Killamaes (1998)[5].

Important sites

The following list replaces the original table. Update provided by Jean-Louis Herrier. The sites do not match exactly with the map in the Figure.

List of coastal dune-sites along the flemish coast with nature management

Flemish Regional Nature Reserves and their superficies along the Flemish coast:

a. De Duinen en Bossen van De Panne (incl. De Westhoek) 539ha, number on map: 1 and 2;

b. Belvédère at Koksijde, 7ha, number on map: 2;

c. De Noordduinen at Koksijde, 60 ha, number on map: 2;

d. Het Schipgat, de Doornpanne & de Hoge Blekker at Koksijde, 44ha, number on map: between 2 and 3;

e. Ter Yde (incl. Hannecartbos) at Koksijde, 116 ha (partially owned by IWVA: 24ha), number on map: 3;

f. Groenendijk at Nieuwpoort, 5ha, number on map: 4;

g. De IJzermonding at Nieuwpoort, 128ha, number on map: 5;

h. D’Heye at Bredene and De Haan, 25ha, number on map: 6 (old dunes);

i. De Baai van Heist at Knokke-Heist, 57ha, number on map: 8;

j. De Zwinduinen en –polders at Knokke-Heist, 222ha, no number on map, site located near the Dutch border.

All above-mentioned reserves have an approved management plan.

Regional Domain Forest of De Haan, 155ha, no number on map, located in between 6 and 7.

Nature Domains owned or managed by the Agency of Nature and Forest without a legal status:

k. Zwarten Hoek & Garzebekeveld, at De Panne 21ha, no number on map, located in between 6 and 7, no number on map: 1 (old dunes);

l. Cabour at De Panne, 86ha (owned by IWVA), no number on map: 1 (old dunes);

m. Labeurhoek at Koksijde, 7ha, number on map: 4;

n. Simliduinen at Nieuwpoort, 15ha, number on map: 4;

o. D’Heye, partim VMW, 14ha, number on map: 6 (old dunes);

p. Het Zwin at Knokke-Heist, 180ha, no number on map, site located near the Dutch border (adjacent to ‘De Zwinduinen en - polders’).

Acknowledged Private Nature Reserves (managed by NGO ‘Natuurpunt vzw’, mostly property of the Flemish Region, Coast Division of the Ministry of Public Works):

q. Schuddebeurze at Middelkerke, 17ha (private property of Natuurpunt vzw) number on map: 5 (old dunes);

r. Warandeduinen at Middelkerke, 33ha, no number on the map, located between 5 and 6;

s. Duinen van de Middenkust at Bredene and De Haan, 29ha, number on the map: located near 6;

t. De Fonteintjes at Blankenberge and Zeebrugge, 20ha, number on the map: 7. All 4 above mentioned Acknowledged Private Nature Reserves have an approved management plan.

Dune sites owned and managed by the drinking water company IWVA:

u. Calmeynbos - Krakeelpanne, 98ha, number on the map: 1;

v. Doornpanne at Koksijde, 124ha, number on the map: between 2 and 3. Both sites have an approved management plan.

Military domain, property of the Ministry of Defence, managed by the Agency of Nature and Forests:

1. Military domain ‘Camp Lombardsijde’: 32ha, number on the map: 5.

  • The Flemish Nature Reserve ‘De Westhoek’ constitutes together with the French state-domain ‘La Dune du Perroquet’ a trans-border coastal dune area of 700ha, situated between De Panne (Belgium) and Braydunes (France). NR, Nature Reserve.


The dune areas of Belgium have been damaged to a greater extent than in almost any other country. Most of the dune systems have been cut off from the sea by concrete dikes, coastal roads, conurbations and harbour areas, while excessive drinking water production, extensive golf courses, use for camping, parking areas, uncontrolled recreation and mismanagement have had dramatic and devastating effects. Urbanisation of the Flemish coast during the 20th century caused not only a strong loss of superficies of coastal dunes, but also a strong fragmentation of the remaining coastal dune area. The remaining coastal dune area is scattered along the 65km long coast in no less than 38 separate sites of which only 2 sites have a superficies exceeding 500ha and no less than 23 sites have a superficies of less than 50ha. In 1997, only 922ha of the remaining dune area was property of the Flemish Region. Since the approval by the Flemish Parliament of the decree on the protection of coastal dunes in 1993, a strong dynamic in the coastal conservation policy of the Flemish government has developed. This intensified coastal conservation policy resulted in the elaboration of an ecosystem perspective for the Flemish coast (with guidelines for the management of the coastal dunes). The acquisition of 860ha of coastal dunes (23 % of the remaining superficies) between 1998 and 2007, the designation of 10 new Flemish regional Nature Reserves, the approval of several management plans by the Flemish authority followed. The Life Nature projects ‘Integral Coastal Conservation Initiative’ (ICCI, 1997 - 2001) and ‘Fossil Estuary of the Yzer Dunes Restoration Action’ (FEYDRA, 2002 - 2005) allowed the restoration of natural habitats on a large scale along the western part of the Flemish coast. A former naval base, a disaffected water purification plant, a large Swimming Pool complex, and two illegal campings have all been demolished or removed in the period 1999 - 2007. Drinking water companies and conservationists have now a quite good mutual understanding in managing the coastal dunes. The coastal area being the major touristic region of Flanders, the very strong recreational pressure on the remaining dune sites continues to be a challenge for dune-managers and real estate speculation slows down the dune-purchase policy of the Flemish Region. Especially the acquisition of parcels of legally protected dunes by private owners of surrounding residencies to enlarge their gardens is a growing threat.

Text revised by: Jean-Louis HERRIER, Regiobeheerder Kustzone, Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos, Provinciale Afdeling, West-Vlaanderen: Cel Beheer - Beheerregio Kustzone, Zandstraat 255 – 8200, Brugge (Sint-Andries), Belgium.

Additional information on spiders, (Bonte et al. 2000 [6])


  1. Doody, J.P., ed., 1991. Sand Dune Inventory of Europe. Peterborough, Joint Nature Conservation Committee/European Union for Coastal Conservation.
  2. Doody, J.P., ed. 2008. Sand Dune Inventory of Europe, 2nd Edition. National Coastal Consultants and EUCC - The Coastal Union, in association with the IGU Coastal Commission.
  3. Tavernier, R,J., Ameryckx, F.S. & Farasijn, D., 1970. Coast, dunes, polders. (in French). Atlas de Belgique, Comité national de Geographie.
  4. Paepe, R. & Baeteman, C., 1979. The Belgian coastal plain during the Quaternary. Acta Univ. Uppsala., Symp. Untu Ups. Ann. Guing. Cel, 2, Uppsala, 143 146.
  5. Herrier, J-L. & Killemaes, I., 1998. Acquisition and protection of the coastal dunes of Flanders. EUCC Magazine, Coastline, 4, 10-15.
  6. Bonte, D., Maelfait, J.-P. & Hoffmann, M. 2000. Seasonal and diurnal migration patterns of the spider (Araneae) fauna of coastal grey dunes. Ekológia (Bratislava) 19 Suppl. 4, 5-16.

Furthur reading

Herrier J.-L., Mees J., Salman A., Seys J., Van Nieuwenhuyse, H. & Dobbelaere I. (eds) (2005) Proceedings of Dunes & Estuaries 2005, International conference on nature restoration practices in European coastal habitats, Koksijde, Belgium, 19 – 23 September 2005, VLIZ Special Publication 19, 685 pp.

See also

The main author of this article is Doody, Pat
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Doody, Pat (2020): Sand dune - Country Report, Belgium. Available from,_Belgium [accessed on 25-06-2024]