Last month, State Secretary Henk Bleker decided the Hedwige polder in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen would not be returned to the sea, despite agreements with Belgium. 'That is unfortunate from an ecological point of view', says Tom Ysebaert of Wageningen Imares in Yerseke.
Bleker now wants to keep the Hedwige polder and flood other sections of land along the Westerschelde. Bleker's alternative consists of 'fragmented sites that probably don't add up to the area it was agreed to return to nature', says Ysebaert. 'They are now considering flooding land in the vicinity of Vlissingen, but this is a smaller site that had already been reserved as compensation for the container terminal in Vlissingen. There is also an advice to create nature outside of the dyke-protected areas, but I have my doubts about that. The expected benefit to nature of these measures is probably being overestimated. It certainly warrants further research.'
'Bleker's decision has deprived the flooding on the Belgian side of the border (of the Prosper polder) of much of its value. There was an opportunity to create one large nature reserve together with the Drowned Land of Saeftinghe. This could have been a suitable habitat for rare species. The salt marshes and mudflats could be home to birds and seals while serving as breeding grounds for fish and shrimps. Furthermore, it is easier to combine functions, such as nature experience, recreation and extensive forms of aquaculture, in such a large area.'
'The creation of more nature by the Netherlands and the Belgian province of Flanders was laid down in the European Birds and Habitats Directives. If we are to comply with those Directives, we need to create space for nature in the Westerschelde.'