Sofie Wyns (RLKM) dreams of a clean Meuse valley without litter and plastic.
Sofie Wyns, project employee at Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland, has been committed to nature for many years. The cross-border river landscape of Rivierpark Maasvallei is her pet and also the connection with the Interreg project Litter Free Rivers and Streams (LIVES). “Unique nature and heritage, that does not include plastic. Collaboration to drastically reduce plastic is absolutely necessary!” Sofie explains why nature conservation in the cross-border RivierPark Maasvallei is so close to her heart.
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Living in a waste society
“We have too much waste”, says Sofie, “We live in a waste society and keep throwing away. It has become too easy to use things once and throw them away and then quickly replace them. We have made it easy for ourselves on the one hand, but also too difficult on the other hand to be able to adjust our behavior easily, quickly and ‘cheap’. Raising awareness and behavioral change have become real challenges”.
The Maas as a common thread
The mother of 2 who lives in Diepenbeek (B) is an archaeologist by birth. After her studies in Leuven she worked as an archaeologist in The Netherlands for 10 years. At that time, she was already connected with the Limburg Meuse: she conducted research in Venlo and Eijsden, among others. But she was also actively looking for remains from the past in the wider area, such as in Kerkrade and Beek. She has now been working for the Regional Landscape Kempen en Maasland (RLKM) for 11 years. “I am working on the River Park Maasvallei (RPMV) together with a passionate team. This unique area forms a natural, cross-border river landscape where residents and visitors can relax. As an ecological main road, the river forms the heart and the basis for a sustainable experience. Quality, attention to heritage and cohesion create a landscape where it is good to live, work and relax.”
Meuse valley in motion
“RiverPark Maasvallei is a unique area, where the Maas and its surroundings or the impact on its surroundings have always inspired me, formerly as an archaeologist and now as a project employee. I coordinate various development projects at the RPMV, including the expansion and collaboration of the international visitor center ‘De Wissen’, the gateway to the entire RivierPark Maasvallei. In addition, I contribute to land development projects in various Flemish Meuse villages. The complexity you experience, the many contacts you make or connect people with each other, the opportunity to achieve new developments and which can further contribute to strengthening, greening and making a unique region more sustainable is fantastic. You will encounter policy, projects and people at regional, provincial, regional and international level. Being able to contribute to a unique area that is livable for its inhabitants, can resist climate change and is sustainable. But at the same time it is also wonderful to visit or to be able to disseminate knowledge about it, makes it worthwhile to commit yourself.”
Awareness by cleaning up
A third very important pillar within her work package is the litter problem in the nature areas of the River Park Maasvallei. The Maas of the RivierPark Maasvallei, is the border between the Netherlands and Belgium and is also called the common Maas.
After the floods of 1993 and 1995, the Vlaamse Waterweg and Rijkswaterstaat decided to give this part of the Meuse more space to ensure high water safety. As a result, summer dikes have been excavated and banks have been lowered. The Meuse can then occupy a wider bed at high water (after a lot of precipitation), as a result of which the Meuse loses strength, which is necessary for the safety of the villages and dikes. The consequence of this is that a great deal of waste can also be deposited on the banks and therefore remains behind at low water. “This litter problem is also why I am involved in the LIVES project,” Sofie continues. “Since 2012, we have been mapping out the litter problem on the Meuse on the Flemish bank. Together with the Meuse municipalities, area and nature managers and the waste intermunicipal company Limburg.net, an annual clean-up campaign is organized: Maas.net. For this purpose, we bring the partners together twice a year, inform about the activities and communicate externally. We also collect the information.
Since 2017, this has been happening across borders with the Netherlands and the Schone Maas project and now also within LIVES. Schone Maas also organizes training courses to count and analyze the waste on the banks of the Meuse. Together with Schone Maas and the partners of the RPMV, we inform the residents of the RPMV, visitors and policymakers. In addition to raising awareness, cleaning up and waste research, we are also working on raising awareness. That fits completely within the LIVES project, with which we also want to work towards a joint approach to the litter problem as much as possible, but also work on increasing the awareness among citizens that something needs to change in our behavior.”
More attention for waste along and in our rivers
It’s great to see how people volunteer to clean up other people’s waste. It would be great if this could be done on a larger scale and supported further. But also that the press and media attention goes to all our rivers. Sofie: “It’s not just the problem at the sea, not just the Schelde, not just in Antwerp. Sometimes we forget what the Meuse means for both The Netherlands and Belgium. That it all starts with the drain at the school, where a cigarette butt disappears, the tennis ball in that small stream behind the sports club, the smelly butt wipe to flush down the toilet ( read more about the effect of butt wipes in nature here) or leave a can just next to the waste bin. All inflows and weirs on the Meuse should also receive more attention. Instead of clearing the waste at certain times, more attention should be paid to maintenance and collection of the bulk of the waste. In addition, we must ensure that we gain more insight into the different waste channels to see which ones we can ‘control’ and tackle. It is important that we continue to communicate about what is found and what we definitely need to change our behavior on. Most important for this is that there is sufficient capacity and budget available to be able to continue working on this with the various partners across borders. We must continue to invest and innovate in a sustainable and feasible society in all areas, in terms of policy, approach, awareness-raising, etc. We are not there yet, but fortunately the will is there.”
If you want to know more about the River Park Maasvallei and the Regional Landscape Kempen and Maasland, click here!