Goldman Prize for Belgium's only National Park

13 April 2008 | News story

IUCN congratulates Ignace Schops, winner of the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize. Head of the IUCN Member Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland, Ignace Schops led the effort to establish the first and only national park in his native Belgium.

Ignace Schops, Director of the IUCN Belgian Member Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland (RLKM), is the 2008 European recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded annually to grassroots environmental heroes from the six continents. After more than ten years of campaigning, Ignace Schops has led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park Hoge Kempen that now serves as a model for land conservation in Europe and beyond.

The national park was created in a highly industrial and densely populated area, home to large woodlands and pine groves. "Ignace has shown that nature conservation is possible in the most difficult situations", says Tamás Marghescu, IUCN Regional Director for Europe. "He created a national park that is a boost to the local economy and provides space for man and nature in a densely populated area - and he pioneered new ways of fundraising.”

The raising of more than EUR 60 million needed to set up the national park Hoge Kempen in the province of Limburg in northeastern Belgium was a result of a unique partnership between private industry, regional and European Union government, local stakeholders, and NGOs. Since its opening in early 2006, four hundred thousand people have visited the national park. By 2011, the economic revenue of the park is projected at EUR 27 million per year.

"The Hoge Kempen model of conservation and economic sustainability shows how a successful public-private partnership in the use and management of nature can be an asset for local and regional development,” adds Tamás Marghescu. IUCN, through its rich global environmental network, plans to apply the Belgium’s national park model to other regions of the world.

The province of Limburg used to host a thriving coal industry. Following the closing of the mines in 1990, a conflict arose between industrial development and the preservation of the remaining open spaces. Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland joined forces with the largest coal company in the region to conserve the land in the province and to continue to provide jobs and economic development, resulting in the establishment of the national park.

About the Goldman Environmental Prize
The Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded annually to grassroots environmental leaders from the world’s six inhabited continental regions. The Prize was created in 1990 by civic leaders and philanthropists Richard Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda Goldman and is the largest award in its kind. Since 2008 each individual Prize award consists of $150,000.