Terrain shapes and bedrock
Belgium is mainly a low lying country, slowly rising from the North Sea in the west and the Netherlands in the north to the Ardennes in the south-east, which is the only highland area. A number of topographical regions of different designs can be distinguished.
The Flemish plain in the west has the nearest 8-16 km wide polder, which is dry land. It is protected by dunes and ridges and is mainly covered by clay soil. The inner part of the plain, which covers most of West and East Flanders, has sandy soil. It is drained by the rivers Schelde, Leie and Dendre, which collectively flow into the Schelde estuary. A large number of channels run through the area and unite the rivers.
According to COUNTRYAAH, the Kempen Plateau at the border with the Netherlands at 50–100 m altitude forms an irregular water divider between Scheldes and Maas river system. It is a sandy area with vast moors. The inter-Belgian plateau of 50–200 m in height is intersected by many rivers and has soft landforms. It is partly covered by fertile, loose soils.
The Ardennes foreland has its central part in Condroz, a plateau of more than 300 m in height with a series of valleys in the limestone between higher sandstone ridges. A marked lowering, known as Fagne west of Maas and Famenne east of it, separates this region from the actual Ardennes. These are part of the hercynic mountain range and form a plateau cut by the valley for Maas and its tributaries. They consist mostly of Devonian rocks and reach the highest in Botrange, 694 m above sea level. The higher parts are poorly drained, which results in widespread sinkers. South of the Ardennes lies Belgian Lorraine with a series of slopes to the north. It is woody and has minor iron ore deposits.
Belgium’s climate is of a temperate, maritime type but is affected in different parts by the distance to and altitude over the sea. Air masses and frontal systems move from the Atlantic to the east, which is why the weather conditions are highly variable.
The annual rainfall is quite abundant, 750-1000 mm, and is evenly distributed throughout the year. The annual average temperature is 10 °C. Winters are mild and humid and summers are cool. Brussels in the central part of the country has an average temperature of 2.2 °C in December and 16.6 °C in July.
The Ardennes in the south have frost for 100 days and snowfall for 30-35 days as well as a Christmas temperature which is the lowest in the country due to the altitude. The rainfall is also more abundant here as a result of the topography. In Flanders in the north, however, frost occurs for less than 60 days and snowfall for a maximum of 15 days. The hot days are few due to the proximity to the North Sea.
Plant-and animal life
Belgium is one of Europe’s smallest and most densely populated countries, but after centuries of intensive exploitation, it is now beginning in many places to restore the landscape to a more original state, for the benefit of plants and animals as well as people in need of new natural experiences.
In the north-west, a flatter, short coastal zone is spreading along the North Sea where suitable parts have been harvested for intensive agriculture or exploited for recreation. Central Belgium is dominated by a lower, heavily cultivated plateau with smaller streams used for irrigation. To the east lies the Ardennes, which form the most natural part of the country with forests, lower mountains and ravines.
Along the North Sea coast on the border with the Netherlands lies Zwin, Belgium’s only remaining tidal area with reasonably intact nature. In the marsh areas, marritsp with light purple flowers grows during the summer. Among the birds can be seen cutting spot, fish tern, black-headed gull and white stork. Here, large flocks of winter goose, spitberg goose, cereal goose and wind blow winter.
Further east in connection with the river Schelde near the city of Antwerp there is another valuable wetland area, where a brackish water system creates good conditions for nesting cutting spot, black-headed gull, brown marsh, white-star blue hook (Luscinia svecica cyanecula) and many resting ducks.
In the northeastern Flanders on the border with the Netherlands lies Belgium’s only national park Hoge Kempen. In the higher lots there are sandy fields with heaths, forest plantations and artificial lakes arising from sand and gravel pits. Smaller watercourses flow eastwards, down to the Dutch lowlands and the river Maas, where some marshes still remain or are being restored.
The height positions dominate heather and bell heather open vegetation, and where you will also find nesting curlew, woodlark, nightjar, European Stonechat and – rare – warblers. The wetland areas offer a completely different nature experience with an intensive sprouting in the spring and early summer and planted beaver.
The National Park was created thanks to a private initiative and a fundraiser. It has a well-developed infrastructure and meets a great need for recreation and education. It is also important for the local business community. Work has begun on creating corridors for the distribution of plants and animals between the national park and nearby natural areas. The idea is to establish a network of natural areas and corridors from the Ardennes to the south via the river Maas to the North Sea.
The Hautes Fagnes mountain range in the Ardennes on the border with Germany is one of the most important natural objects in Belgium. Here, a complex of moss dominates nature with species such as cranberry, meadow wool, silk hair, bell gentian, heather and bell heather. Lo has recently colonized from nearby tribes. Beavers have been implanted, and among other mammals, wild boar and deer are noticed. The area is known for housing one of the last remains of blackberries in Western Europe. The nesting birds include blue marsh hawks and whales. Every year, cranes move in significant quantities over Hautes Fagues.
In the southeastern Ardennes there are several interesting nature areas, for example. Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse and Haute Sûre/Ardenne Méridionale, with deciduous and swampy forests and wetlands. Here are nesting black stork, hazel grouse, honey buzzard, happy, black kite, eagle owl, corncrake, the spit and kingfishers. Wolves were found in 2011 near the city of Gedinne, for the first time in Belgium since 1898 – an example of how the wolf is now spreading west and northwest from Poland and Italy via Germany and France.
Belgium (2012) has a national park, Hoge Kempen (60 km 2), and a number of nature parks. About 14% of the surface, exclusively on land, is protected by nature.