The region Bruges Woodland and Wetland

West Flanders

The Bruges Woodland and Wetland is the green area around Bruges. Including the cities of Bruges and Torhout, the region covers 661 sq km and has some 275.000 inhabitants. To the north the North Sea can be found and to the east the Netherlands and the province of East Flanders. To the south is the Roeselare-Tielt region and to the west the Ostend-Gistel region.

The heart of the area is the historical city centre of Bruges, which is in its entirety included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The streets and squares with their numerous ancient houses, the canals and bridges, the monuments and museums attract some 2.5 million visitors a year from all around the world. Tourism therefore is a major economic activity apart from industry, trade and services.

Bruges is the administrative capital of the province of West Flanders. The city is also an important educational centre, although it does not have a university. The city nevertheless boasts a prestigious postgraduate educational institute, the College of Europe.

It is less well known that Bruges also features a considerable green heritage, including monastery gardens, almshouse gardens, private gardens, public gardens, the Beguinage and the old city walls enclosing the city as a green belt over a length of six kilometres.

As regards landscape the Bruges Woodland and Wetland consists of two clearly different parts. To the North the Polders can be found. This area was influenced by the sea for a long time and only in the course of the Middle Ages was it definitively reclaimed from the sea through dyking and impoldering. The soil consists of clay. This was also the location of the Zwin, the sea inlet which contributed significantly to the emergence of the medieval city of Bruges as a European trade metropolis. The memory of the Zwin lives on in the nature reserve with the same name near Knokke, in the former port cities of Damme and Sluis and in the name Zwin region, which was given to the area between Damme and Knokke.

The polder landscape is open and flat with numerous drainage ditches and old dykes. It is criss-crossed by canals the banks of which are planted with trees which have grown crooked as a result of the predominant westerly winds. Scattered farms and picturesque villages such as Oostkerke and Lissewege can be found in this area. A considerable part of the polders between Bruges and Zeebrugge is now used as industrial land and as port areas.

The southern part of the Bruges Woodland and Wetland consists of sandy soil and is consequently called the Sand Region. It was originally covered with dense forests. The name ‘Woodland’, which is given to the area around Torhout, is a reminder of this fact. Increasing human influence – cattle breeding, logging – seriously affected these forests as from the beginning of the Christian era and in particular in the late Middle Ages. Fertile land was converted into arable land, less fertile land developed into heathland. In the area to the south and to the east of Bruges a number of toponyms ending in ‘veld’ to refer this situation: Vloetemveld, Bulskampveld … (‘veld’ = ‘heath).

In the 18th and 19th centuries parts of this heathland were reforested, for example with conifers. Furthermore, the use of guano, and fertilisers later on, made it possible to bring less fertile land under cultivation. The area to the south of Bruges is now a patchwork of fields, pastures and forests.

A striking element is the large number of castles in various sizes. Some are seven to eight centuries old, others are 18th or 19th-century summer residences of noble families from Bruges.