Sonian Forest

  • Country:
  • Start year:
  • Location:
    Sonian Forest, near Brussels
  • Size (ha):
  • Area Type:
  • Type of protection:
    SCI: BE2400008, SPA: BE2400008

The Sonian forest is an Atlantic acidophilous beech forest and consists of 4,400 hectares top European nature, connected to Brussels. It is the destination of several million visitors each year and the habitat of several Natura 2000 species.

Planned wildlife passage at Sonian Forest near Brussels (Witteveen + Bos and Cluster, commissioned by LIFE+ OZON)


  • Habitat types: The Sonian Forest has a variety of trees of different ages. The forest mainly consists of beech trees, which dominate with approximately 70 percent of the Sonian Forest. Throughout the course of history, parts of the Sonian Forest have been transformed into parks, arboreta or race tracks. These sites make the Sonian Forest rich in landscapes and habitats.<br /> Forest habitats 9120, 9160, 9130 en 91E0 are best represented. Moreover, habitats 6430 en 6510 are being expanded.
  • Keystone species present: Daubenton's Bat (Myotis daubentonii), Leisler's Bat (Nyctalus leisleri), European pine marten (Martes martes), Ground beetle (Carabus coriaceus), Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber).
  • Fauna (mega) species present: Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and Highland cattle.
  • Vegetation types present: The Sonian Forest is an Atlantic acidophilous beech forest with Ilex and sometimes Taxus in the shrublayer (Quercion robori-petraeae or Ilici-Fagenion; 93.2%). 9120, 9160, 9130, 91E0, 3150, 6430, 6230, 6210 en 6510


  • Description: In 2008, the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions decided to work together to better coordinate the various functions and uses of the forest. In order to enhance the mutual ecological, economic, and social benefits, more cooperative projects started, involving different users and municipalities. Two large projects are the ‘Dead Supports Life’ project which inventoried road kills in 2008-2012 and the LIFE+ OZON project which aims at ecological reconnection of the Sonian forest in 2013-2017.
  • Aim: The project ‘Dead Supports Life’ paved the way to enable leaving dead animals in Belgian nature and restore the community of species which rely on this food source. The LIFE+ OZON project is realizing different green infrastructures such as a wildlife crossing of 60m wide.
  • Vision: By applying several defragmentation techniques, the densities of wild species will increase. Moreover, forest edges will be restored and open areas will be created. Finally, recreation will be directed towards less sensitive areas with touristic infrastructures (such as the area in which Highland cattle is present).
  • Accomplished in 10 years from now: Enabled the natural increase of currently present herbivores (roe deer), and brought in more large herbivores; Supported roe deer and wild boar by making inventories, management of forest edges and LIFE+ OZON defragmentation project (to allow safe passage of all types of animals in the forest); The LIFE+ OZON project constructed three different types of ecological infrastructures over or under the Brussels Ring (R0) and E411: a wildlife crossing, four tree bridges and three ecotunnels. The design of the 60m wide wildlife crossing reflects the natural character of the oak-beech forest (to be built in 2016). Moreover, 18 existing tunnels and culverts are repaired and an ecofence built along both sides of the highway.
  • Uniqueness: The Sonian Forest is a unique beech forest because the soil is undisturbed since the last Ice Age. Moreover, it is the largest forest of Flanders and located at the edge of Brussels, the capital of Europe. So its well-being is essential for wildlife and tourism/recreation.
  • Results so far: Three Highland cattle and increased population of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), fox (Vulpes vulpes) and wild boar (Sus scrofa).


  • Inspirational value: Combination of wildlife protection, research and eco-tourism/recreation, in an area so close to urban life.
  • Experience you would like to share: Re-introduction of Highland cattle; Defragmentation activities (part of "LIFE+ OZON project"); Expertise from the "Dead supports Life" project on road kills
  • Experience you would like to gain: Cattle management when living in semi-wild conditions: year round, less/no supplemental feeding; Novel wildlife crossing opportunities; Leaving dead animals in nature: monitoring activities, communication about it to general public


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