A territory shaped by the Scarpe and the Escaut rivers
The European Nature Park brings together the Scarpe-Escaut Regional Nature Park (PNRSE in France) and the Escaut Plains Nature Park (PNPE in Belgium). This territory has maintained a rural and natural character with many meadows, forests and wetlands, but is under pressure from the surrounding urban areas. At the intersection of major urban poles (Lille metropolis, Valencian, Douaisian and Tournaisian poles), its high population density, its industrial, mining, and natural heritage make it an atypical territory. It covers:
- On the French side: 55 municipalities representing a population of 190,000 inhabitants in the districts of Valenciennes and Douai.
- On the Walloon side: 7 communal entities (71 villages) for a population of 102,000 inhabitants in the districts of Ath and Tournai.
Natural, cultural and landscape heritage
In terms of biodiversity, the lower valleys of the Scarpe and the Escaut rivers have wetlands of great ecological value. This includes marshes and alkaline peatlands, as well as natural or artificial ponds, which were, amongst others, created due to mining activities. Furthermore, the area has intensive or extensive wet meadows, alluvial forests and humid forests.
The hydrographic network is largely artificialized and restored. As such, it is dense and complex. These water-related environments are recognised as being of ecological interest at regional, national, European and international level (Ramsar site “Scarpe and Escaut Valley” in France and “Marais d’Harchies” in Wallonia).
There are 7500 ha of forests. Woods, poplar groves, alluvial forests and hedges. Rows of trees and orchards are sharing the space in the heart of the territory.
The European Nature Park also has a cultural heritage related to the history of abbeys on the territory (Ramsar labeling), as well as mining (UNESCO classification). This is one of the particularities of this territory, since it is a natural area that has always been inhabited, it constitutes a real «living landscape».
Long-standing cross-border cooperation
It was in 1983 that the cooperation between the two territories was formalized by the signing of a memorandum of understanding associating Wallonia and Nord-Pas de Calais for the creation of a “supra-border” nature park. It is thanks to various projects supported by the European Union in particular that the joint work between the two parks has been strengthened.
In 2010, as part of the renewal of the framework document of the Scarpe Escaut Regional Nature Park, the first cross-border charter (2010-2022) was signed and associated the Escaut Plaines Nature Park with the missions of the French Park.
Finally, it is in 2021 that the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation of the European Nature Park of Scarpe Escaut Plains was created, which should make it possible to overcome the political, administrative and financial obstacles. Furthermore, it should act as an interface between local issues and decisions taken at a higher level.