The Sonian Forest consists of 4 400 hectares of the highest quality European nature, bordering the major city of Brussels. It receives several million visitors a year, contains four Natura 2000 sites and is home to important protected species and habitats. In 1980, management of the forest was transferred to the three Belgian regions: 56 % to the Flemish, 38 % to the Brussels-Capital and 6 % to the Walloon. Since then, the regions have managed the forest within their territories. In 2008, the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions decided to cooperate and better coordinate the various functions of the forest and its uses.
The regions laid out their agreed vision for the forest in a ‘Structural Vision for the Sonian Forest’ and committed to cooperate more intensively to strengthen management. From 2010 onwards, and supported by the EU LIFE fund, multiple successes from this improved cooperation can be observed: inventories, meetings on management plans, establishment of a participatory platform, improved public information, etc. Moreover, the cross-regional cooperation allowed the establishment of a recreational network and five gates where visitors can be welcomed into the forest and informed about Natura 2000, forest management and future projects. Better visitor management has strengthened the core zone of the forest and improved ecological networks. In order to enhance the mutual ecological, economic and social benefits, more cooperative projects are planned between the three regions, the different users and the municipalities involved in the forest.
The real innovation of the project is the collaboration and networking with many stakeholders (such as citizens and associations) and affiliated agencies (such as heritage, road and university bodies, and municipal and provincial authorities). In addition, better connectivity and networking for nature has greatly benefited the Natura 2000 sites, habitats and species.