Uitkerkse Polder



Uitkerkse Polder


The reserve “Uitkerkse Polder” with its salty meadows is located alongside the eastern Flemish coast and was founded in 1991.

Because of the typical Flemish phenomenon of sprawling, an intact poldercomplex has become a rare and unique landscape.

While the open space of 1400 ha in the Uitkerkse Polder has become a rare and vulnerable area within the European Union, it now is the centre of attention in a Belgian Life project.


Because of the salt in the soil and the water (outside the intertidal holdings!), quite some halophilous plants found an ideal habitat here, such as Annual Sea-blite, Salicornia, Sea Aster, Sea Hard-grass and Sea Arrow-grass.

Also a number of birds found their homes in the Uitkerkse Polder. It is e.g. an important breeding area for meadow birds like Avocet, Bluethroat, Common Tern and Marsh Harrier.

But the area is perhaps most known as an outstanding wintering area for thousands of waders, ducks and geese (Pink-footed Goose, White-fronted Goose…). Up to 90% of the entire Svalbard population of Anser brachyrhynchus winters in the Oostkustpolder, i.e. the area between Ostend and Knokke-Heist in which the Uitkerkse Polder plays an important role.


The extraordinary salty concentrations in this poldercomplex are due to centuries of seepage of the seawater, which enriched the soil.

Unfortunately, those characteristic salty meadows and thus the plants and animals are threatened by the development and intensification of modern agriculture. Farmers drain and excessively manure the wet grasslands in order to create arable fields.


While the Uitkerkse Polder has been designated a Natura 2000 site, we can guarantee the conservation of this precious and vulnerable biodiversity of plants and animals. Moreover, thanks to the LIFE-instrument  we can, more than ever, intensively restore the different habitats.


Visitor Centre Uitkerkse Polder

Kuiperscheeweg 20

B-8370 Uitkerke-Blankenberge

(+ 32 0) 50-42 90 40


Contact: Anneleen Lybeer


Opening hours

Whole year round from Tuesday to Saturday from 1.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. Open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

During school holidays also open on Mondays from 1.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.


The visitor centre

The visitor centre is an ideal starting point for walks and bicycle rides throughout the Uitkerkse Polder. Without having to walk for miles, you will find three bird hides in the neighbourhood of the visitor centre. Furthermore, you and your children will have the chance to take part in a short educational walk of 1 km around the visitor centre. After the walk, you can visit a multimedia exhibition or have a drink.

Do you feel like it? Then hurry and click this link: Activities in and around the visitor centres.

Information and requests for walks for schools and groups can be obtained by e-mail

bc.uitkerksepolder@natuurpunt.be or call (+32 0) 50-42 90 40 (during opening hours).


The neighbourhood

In the Uitkerkse Polder you can enjoy the typical flat Flemish landscape. It is an open landscape without any trees or hedges, with only a few farms here and there. This gives you a feeling of freedom. Because the sea flooded this area several times throughout the centuries, the plants that grow here are adjusted to these salty circumstances. These internationally protected salty meadows attract a lot of geese that spend winter here. You can observe them from November 15th until February 15th.


How to get there?

The visitor centre is situated in the eastern pas of the meadow bird area and can easily be reached. All you have to do is follow the signposting starting at the church of Uitkerke (1 km). You can also opt for public transport and use the so-called belbus. You have to book this bus at least two hours in advance. Call (+30 0) 78-15 11 15.



LIFE projects



What are Natura 2000 and LIFE?


In order to preserve what’s left of Europe’s precious nature, the European Union created “Natura 2000”. Natura 2000 is a network of protected areas within the European Union. The aim of this network is to guarantee the conservation of rare and vulnerable plants and animals.

In order to finance all this, the European Union also created LIFE. LIFE is a fund for all governments and nature associations in the European Union. This way, major projects can be financially supported and thus made possible.



LIFE and the Uitkerkse Polder

The Life project in the Uitkerkse Polder, entitled “Uitkerkse Polder: a surplus value for nature and people”, aims to:


·         restore the unique salt meadows (Salicornia-vegetations and Glauco-Puccinellietalia) on a large scale and the breeding species associated with them (Recuvirostra avocetta, Sterna hirundo, Circus pygargus, Circus aeruginosus, Platalea leucorodia and Luscinia svecica)

·         recover the disappeared inshore variety of Kreken (large shallow inlets and bays) 

·         create outstanding migrating, foraging and wintering conditions for birds (Anser brachyrhynchus, Anser albifrons, Platalea leucorodia, Asio flammeus, Pluvialis apricarius, Philomachus pugnax and Limosa lapponica)

·         promote and develop nature oriented tourism in order to ensure social and economical embedment of Nature 2000



In order to realise all this, we’ve already taken several actions. This resulted in two Life projects:


During the first Life project we already established, among other things, the following: we bought 95 ha of extra domain, we recovered 114 ha of grassland and 10 km of trenches and we also built a new bird hide.

The aims of the second Life project, which started at the beginning of 2003, are increasing the area’s natural value even more and organising more activities for the broad public.


A surplus value for nature…

In order to realise this, we need to create the necessary management schemes and a monitoring survey of the first results.

We’re planning on buying 120 ha of grassland, of which 30 ha of arable land, in order to restore the halophilous grasslands. We will recover another 90 ha of halophilous grasslands by restoring salty meadows, extending the existing “core areas” and creating new ones.

In order to obtain optimal development and management of salt and hay meadows (and their associated species) recurring management (grazing management, hayfields) will be started.
By 2008, we want the Uitkerkse Polder to be one of the finest bird areas of Flanders and one of the most important junctions on European bird migration routes!


…and people

Of course, we are also putting people at the heart of the process. We co-operate with a lot of volunteers and farmers and thus increase the involvement of the local people.

The aim is to develop the socio-economic potentials of the area and therefore we are going to expand the visitor centre in order to be able to greet our guests more adequately. We will also elaborate a new exhibition and place new signposting and information panels. We will build another new bird hide and a watchtower too.

Moreover, we even want to start a mobility plan to limit the nuisance for the neighbours and the natural values! Therefore we will use a wide scale of push and pull measures to introduce a modal split: we will create different Park & Walk-areas to limit the increasing use of motorised traffic and we will publish a brand new guide for hikers and bikers. Because car free is care free!



All of these efforts will result in large-scale restoration and long-lasting conservation of the salt meadows, the development and conservation of Kreken, Magnopotamion and Calthion/Arrhentherion meadows and of course new and outstanding breeding, foraging and wintering conditions for the birds. Respecting the natural values and socio-economical embedment of the Natura 2000 area, new and increasing visitor facilities will be installed. This way people will be aware of our precious nature and everyone will be able to enjoy it!


See also http://www.eurosite-nature.org/article.php3?id_article=227