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Boundless Bocage Landscape and the Einstein Telescope: complementary above and below ground

Seven neighbouring municipalities in the Flemish Voer region, the Walloon Land of Herve and the Heuvelland in Dutch South Limburg are working together to strengthen the so-called bocage landscape. That region largely coincides with the area where the Einstein Telescope is also to be built. Can a high-tech, scientific project underground enhance the landscape above ground? Project leader Ann-Sophie Debergh of the candidate landscape park Boundless Bocageland thinks so.

What does a bocage landscape look like?

“If you look at the landscape in this border region, the similarities are immediately obvious. It is a hilly patchwork of meadows, fields, old forests, hedges, standard orchards and fast-flowing streams. Because there are still many linear elements, such as hedges, hedgerows, rows of trees and ditches, it is known as a bocage or hedgerow landscape. It is a region with characteristic church villages and many castles and abbeys, square or carré farmsteads and half-timbered houses that can be counted as part of our heritage. All this makes it an area with a unique regional identity and high landscape quality, loved by residents and visitors.”

Bocage landscape

So what does it need to be protected from?

“There are trends that affect the quality of the landscape and the liveability of the region. These do not stop at the national border. Think of the flood problem, think of the disappearance of standard orchards or hedgerows, endangered plant and animal species. The future is uncertain for local farmers, leaving few successors. And the pressure on the landscape and villages from tourism and recreation is quite strong. All this was reason enough for the Flemish municipality of Voeren, the Walloon municipalities of Dalhem, Aubel and Plombières and the municipalities of Eijsden-Margraten, Gulpen-Wittem and Vaals in the Netherlands to want to work together structurally around the landscape.”

How do you approach this?

“It does not only require the commitment of the seven municipalities and other authorities. Farmers, nature associations, tourism entrepreneurs and residents in particular also have a lot of area knowledge that governments don’t always have. That knowledge, those ideas and that enthusiasm are crucial and we want to tap into them further. We will look for solutions that create a win-win situation for more parties. With this approach, we hope to get the official status of cross-border landscape park from the Flemish government under the name ‘Boundless Bocageland’. We expect the result in September.”

How does this relate to the Einstein Telescope?

“The Einstein Telescope is scientifically and economically an important project that can mean a lot for the Euregio. The telescope benefits from as little disruption as possible because of the noise it causes. The Boundless Bocageland is a high-quality, rural area where you can still enjoy a tranquillity that is unique in the region.

“Recognition as a landscape park would mean that this authenticity of the landscape can be preserved and enhanced. This goes hand in hand with maintaining the peace and quiet in the area. This is an important aspect of the complementarity between the two initiatives. Just because of this, the landscape park goes together perfectly with the Einstein Telescope and they reinforce each other. As a landscape park, we don’t want to put a bell jar on the landscape, but rather just combine the intrinsic qualities of the area with modern, high-tech evolutions.”

“As a landscape park, we do not want to put a bell jar on the landscape, but rather combine the intrinsic qualities of the area with modern, high-tech evolutions.”

Anne-Sophie Debergh

So no clashing ambitions?

“Of course there are also aspects we look at critically. If this area is allowed to host the Einstein Telescope, it will involve a construction phase of plusminus five to seven years in a fragile landscape with scattered habitation. We are therefore pleased to note that the project office is very actively investigating ways to minimise the impact of this construction phase on the landscape, the environment and the inhabitants. But we can’t really comment on it until these plans are finalised. We have also been assured that the Einstein Telescope is not intended to become a major tourist attraction turning this rural area upside down. We will continue to follow it closely and have agreed with the Einstein Telescope project office to coordinate regularly. After all, the two initiatives can reinforce each other.”

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