The Polders of Kruibeke are a stone’s throw from Antwerp, along the river Scheldt. Before the restoration works began, the Kruibeke Polders were a patchwork of private plots composed of agricultural land and forestry, holiday homes and fish ponds. The activities of anglers were incompatible with the nature values of the area and the local youth, inhabitants and the wider public had little interest in the Polders. People perceived the marshy soil and the tangle of trees and dead wood as a kind of wasteland.
Yet, when the authorities decided to turn the polders into a large 600ha flood control area and nature reserve to protect the Scheldt basin from flooding during storms and spring tides, the resulting compulsory expropriation of the land created a lot of resistance among owners and neighbours.
The Agency for Nature and Forests therefore started an initiative to try to turn the situation around. Together with the other partners and with the support of the LIFE fund numerous actions were undertaken to involve and engage various target groups. At the start, the partners concentrated on engaging local interest with info evenings, monthly site walks and workshops in order to agree together on a joint vision for nature and recreational activities in the area. This was then taken a step further with the development of new recreational facilities: two trails, six fishing pitches, two hides, one viewpoint, five-time capsules and three artworks.
The Kruibeke municipality was involved as official partner of LIFE+Scalluvia. They now consider the area to be a touristic master card that ensures more income and jobs. In the last two years, four new bed & breakfasts and a company that offers tourist packages have started up. Since 1 July 2017, a water bus sails from central Antwerp to Kruibeke and ever more people are coming from outside the area. A new VZW (non-lucrative association) will coordinate the recreational activities in the Polders and Kruibeke is working on a river park with various neighbouring municipalities.
Guides have also professionalised their operations thanks to the project and now attract 30 to 140 visitors in their monthly rambles. In 2012, 15 guided visits were requested; in the first half of 2017 there have already been 90. In this way, over 3000 people are acquainted with the Natura 2000 area every year. The European attention has also given the inhabitants a great sense of pride.