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General introduction & location
The Westhoek dunes are situated on the most western point of the Flemish coast, Belgium, and lay on the territory of the city De Panne. The dune area is about 340 ha in size and is one of the last unfragmented dune areas along the Belgian coast. The Westhoek dunes are linked to the ‘Dunes du Perroquet’ (225 ha) and ‘Dunes du Calvaire’ (25 ha) in France.
Since 1957 the Westhoek dunes are designated as a state nature reserve and the (nature) management is in hands of the Nature Department of the Ministry of the Flemish Ministry. The state nature reserve is bordered in the northeast by ‘Vissersdorp’, an allocated dune area of 60 ha. The east border is formed by ‘Calmeynbos’, an afforested dune area (105 ha). In the north a concrete dike (hard defence structure) between the beach and the fore-dunes forms the border. An asphalt road, along which several cultivated areas, buildings and camping sites are situated, forms the southern border.
The coastal dunes of Belgium can be divided into ‘young’ dunes, formed between the 8th century and the present, and the ‘fossil’ dunes, formed 2000 to 5000 years BP. (see Geology and Genesis). The young dunes have lime-rich, basic or neutral soils and, between the French border and Nieuwpoort, are characterised by sequences of very large parabolic forms. The Westhoek dunes and surrounding dunes of Calmeyn and Oosthoek are part of these young dunes. The fossil dunes are relicts of former coastal dune ranges that, along the greatest part of the coastline, were washed away by marine transgressions. They have lime-poor, acidic soils and a rather flat to slightly undulating aspect. Land inwards from the Westhoek dunes lies the fossil dune range of Ghyvelde-Adinkerke, which shows a remarkably well preserved undulating geomorphology.
Geographically, the Westhoek dunes are part of the north-west European coastal dunes, which form a long, very narrow dune strip from Calais (France) to north Denmark.
Tourism and recreation plays an important role in state nature reserves. Walking is the most important form of recreation in the Westhoek dunes. An important factor for sustainable tourism and recreation is information and education.
The Westhoek state nature reserve has important local, regional, national and international values and functions (see: Natural values and importance of the Westhoek Dunes).
The landscape of the Westhoek dunes varies from north to south: beach – fore-dunes – northerly parabolic dune belt – mobile dune complex – southern parabolic dune belt – inner dune fringe. The beach before the Westhoek dunes is one of the widest beaches of Belgium and has a low angle dip. The beach is affected by eolian and marine sand transporting processes. The fore-dune area is a 50 to 100 meter wide dune ridge with a height of about 10 meters. The weather side (beach side) is eroded into a cliff; the lee side (Westhoek side) is less steep. At several places the fore-dunes are severely eroded by wind and wave erosion and through blowouts, U-formed erosion channels have been formed. Land inwards of the fore-dunes (except in the west) several 100 meter wide dunes are present, which vary in height from 2 to10 meter. These dunes are young primary or secondary dune forms, more or less stable or slightly moving, with wind channels and pits. The fore-dunes and the beach together comprise 20 ha. The northerly parabolic dune belt (40 ha) consists of a complex of three asymmetrical parabolic dunes with a height of 10-15 m. Every parabolic dune encloses a blow-out. In the centre of the Westhoek state nature reserve a mobile dune complex is present (called ‘Centraal Wandelduin’). This dune complex is 120 ha in size and forms a 12 to 20 m high sand mass, almost without any vegetation. The north side (weather side) is subjected to high deflation and is actively eroded. The south side (lee side) has an angle of about 30-33% and sedimentation of sand is constantly taking place. The mobile dune complex moves land inwards with an average speed of 5-10 meter per year. This motion is not constant in time but happens by fits and starts. The asymmetrical parabolic dunes of the southern parabolic dune belt originated from linking of small, individual parabolic dunes. The northern arms of this complex connect to the mobile dune complex. There are two large, flat blow-outs with a total area of 140 ha. The southern dune ridge is relatively stable and is 1200 m long and 75 to 175 m wide (12 ha) and relatively high: 9 to 14 m and locally even 20 m high. The inner dune fringe has a very steep angle towards the polder and is afforested. The south-eastern part of this dune ridge has been dug off for sand supply.
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