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Feasibility study of ecological networks: ecological, economic, social and legal aspects (ECONET)

Research project MA/01 (Research action MA)

Persons :

Description :


In June 1992, the Rio conference resulted in several conventions and proposals for actions in order to promote concrete implementation of the concept of “sustainable development”. In this perspective, the conservation of biological diversity appeared as one of the main preoccupations. During the last century, the rate of loss of biodiversity has accelerated at all levels, be it genes, species or communities, under the influence of anthropogenic pressure. The concept of biodiversity cannot be dissociated from the idea of sustainable development, because it is part of the options we ought to transfer to future generations, and because biological diversity is essential for the stability and resilience of ecosystems, which provide the whole living world with various functions of vital importance (climate regulation, soil conservation, food production…).

Project description


In a given landscape, the ultimate consequence of human settlement and natural resources exploitation is the appearance of a mosaic of (semi-) natural habitats; scattered green “islands” in otherwise intensively cultivated (agriculture, forestry), urban or industrial surroundings. In order to reduce the number of endangered species, threatened with extinction due to habitat fragmentation, one solution is to (re)establish an ecological network, i.e. restoring a network of favourable habitats at the landscape scale. An ecological network can be defined as a set of interconnected zones representing a subdivision of the territory: “central zones” corresponding to long term sustainable habitats for animal and plant species where biodiversity preservation should be the top priority (nature and forest reserves), “restoration or development zones” where human land use is compatible with maintaining a given level of biodiversity, be it permanently or temporarily (extensive agricultural and forestry practices), and “corridors” (linear or stepping stones) providing physical connections (migration of individuals between central zones; e.g., hedgerows). Ecological networks aim to provide the physical conditions that are necessary for populations of species to survive in a landscape that to a greater or lesser extent is also exploited by human activities.

Establishing an ecological network means allocating the given resource - the territory - to certain, sustainable, land uses with a view to preserving biodiversity. At this, numerous actors will be directly involved, e.g. landowners, local authorities, nature associations, local people. The feasibility of restoring an ecological network will strongly depend upon the participation of these actors, one way or another. In particular, besides the “technical” nature conservation context, the legal, economic and social context of a restoration should be taken into account as well. Until now, ecological networks, legal land use planning and socio-economic assessment of biodiversity have always been dealt with autonomously. The objectives of this research project are to propose answers to these issues, both from a theoretical, comparative and from an applied perspective.


The research will be subdivided into three work packages (WPs). The first WP includes a structured overview of scientific reasons to conserve biodiversity and promote ecological networks, of social perception and economic assessment of these issues and project strategies and of legal instruments relative to ecological networks. The second WP deals with a case study concerning ecological network restoration. Its ecological, economic, social and legal aspects will be studied thoroughly. The case study will be performed at the scale of a relatively small, trans-boundary region (the Dyle valley from Wavre to Louvain), in which all of these aspects are meaningful and workable within the time frame of the project, and will yield results that can serve in a more general context. A third and last WP will be devoted to the proposal of new solutions.

Interactions between the different partners

Although the ecological partners would be the main actors in the initial phases of the process (i.e., in terms of defining the inventory of relevant areas, target species and potential measures towards restoration), virtually all partners should come into play, i.e., economic, social and legal partners will already evaluate these initial steps from their specific point of view. A list composed of potential measures for the study area will be elaborated and assessed by the different partners. Afterwards, the ecological partners will build the optimal ecological network, which, after passing through legal, economic, and social filters will be converted into an integrated scenario for the studied area.

Expected results and products

We hope to contribute paving the way towards the elaboration of decision-making support tools in the formulation of regional socio-economic development schemes that would be compatible with biodiversity conservation as well as implementation and restoration of ecological networks. The results will be published in both scientific and non-scientific journals.



The Centre Entreprise-Environnement of UCL has experience in environmental management of business companies and socio-economic analysis of natural resources management. Its contribution to the project has to do with the environmental/economic analysis of ecological networks, in addition to coordination of the project. The SERES (Séminaire de Droit de l’Urbanisme et de l’Environnement) of UCL acts as the legal specialist. Resource Analysis has an experience in various fields of natural resources managements and mainly contributes to the social aspects of the project. The last two partners, the Agronomical Faculty of Gembloux and the Department of Land Management of KULeuven, both specialised in various fields of ecology, play an essential part in the project, for the ecological assessment of land portions devoted to ecological networks.

Contact Information


Daniel Tyteca
Université catholique de Louvain (UCL)
Faculté des Sciences économiques, sociales et politiques
Centre Entreprise - Environnement (CEE)
1, place des Doyens
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve
Tel: +32 (0)10 47 83 75
Fax: +32 (0)10 47 83 24


Grégory Mahy
Faculté des Sciences agronomiques de Gembloux (FUSAGx)
Laboratoire d'Ecologie
2, passage des déportés
B-5030 Gembloux
Tel: +32 (0)81 62 22 45
Fax: +32 (0)81 61 45 44

Martin Hermy
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven)
Dept Land Management - Faculty of Agricultural and applied biological sciences - Laboratory of Forest, Nature and Landscape Research
Vital Decosterstraat 102
B-3000 Leuven
Tel: +32 (0)16 32 97 57
Fax: +32 (0)16 32 97 60

Michaël Van Rompaey, Els Vanthournout and Wouter Verheyen
Resource Analysis B.V.
Wilrijkstraat 37
B-2140 Antwerpen
Tel: +32 (0)3 270 00 30
Fax: +32 (0)3 270 00 31

Users Committee

Michel Baguette - Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) - Ecologie et Biogéographie
Geert De Blust - Instituut voor Natuurbehoud
Willy Delvingt - Ardenne et Gaume
Louis De Smet - Vrienden van Heverleebos & Meerdaalwoud
Michel Foret - Ministère de la Région wallonne
Catherine Hallet - Direction Générale des Ressources Naturelles et de l'Environnement, Région
Gérard Pierre - Centre de recherche de la Nature, des Forêts et du Bois - c/o Marc Dufrêne
Olivier Guillitte - Réserves naturelles RNOB
Frank Saey - Afdeling Natuur, AMINAL
Kurt Sannen - Vlaamse Landmaatschappij
Anne Teller - European Commission, DG ENV.B2
Joost van de Velde - European Commission, Directorate General for Environment

Documentation :

Feasibility study of ecological networks: ecological, economic, social and legal aspects (ECONET) : final report  Endels, Patrick - Hermy, Martin - Verheyen, Kris ... et al  Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2006 (SP1576)
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