Scarpe-Escaut Plains European Nature Park
Cross-border cooperation is a partnership between private or public players, separated by a State border, whose actions have repercussions at regional and local level on either side of the border. Within the European area, 360° mobility across the border, the projects and policies that accompany this mobility in territories close to the border, and the progressive cross-border integration that this cooperation builds and gives rise to cross-border territories, characterise different experiences. To illustrate the results of more than 20 years of cooperation within the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (MOT), 20 unique experiments conducted by MOT members in the service of the inhabitants of cross-border territories were highlighted. Sensitive natural areas don’t stop at the border! The nature parks are therefore involved and are developing ambitious projects. The Plaines Scarpe-Escaut cross-border nature park, comprising two nature parks on the French-Belgian border, is one of them.
The Hainaut cross-border nature park (institutionalised since 2022 in the form of the Plaines Scarpe-Escaut European nature park EGTC) was created in 1996. It comprises two nature parks on the French-Belgian border: the Scarpe-Escaut Regional Nature Park on the French side (created in 1968, it is the oldest PNR created in France) and the Plaines de l’Escaut Nature Park on the Belgian side (created in 1996).
The area covers some 95,000 hectares (950 km²), has 300,000 inhabitants and 130 villages and towns. It is located between Lille, Valenciennes, Tournai and Mons.
Cooperation between protected natural areas has a long history and is one of the most sustained in Europe. The formation of the Scarpe-Escaut Plains European Nature Park EGTC (European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation), bringing together the two parks, will enable greater account to be taken of the catchment area and will unite the players around a common strategy shared by both sides of the border.
The first steps in cross-border cooperation
On 7 October 1983, the Walloon and Nord-Pas-de-Calais regions signed a memorandum of understanding with a view to joining forces, in consultation with the departmental, provincial and municipal authorities, to promote the creation of a « cross-border nature park » for the Scarpe and Scheldt plains. The aim is to implement a comprehensive and harmonious development and planning policy based on local resources and activities that respect the natural balance.
Following on from this protocol, the Scarpe-Escaut Regional Nature Park (PNRSE) and the Intercommunale de développement économique des arrondissements de Tournai, d’Ath et des communes avoisinantes (IDETA), the body responsible for the Plaines de l’Escaut Nature Park (PNPE), have promoted local cooperation, in particular by taking concrete action.
The first cooperation projects were launched in 1989 between the French park and its Walloon partners as part of the Interreg programme (1991-1994). Cooperation then developed with the support of Interreg II (1995-2001). During this period, the park took on a new cross-border dimension: the creation of the Plaines de l’Escaut Nature Park in Wallonia in 1996, directly adjacent to the park, encouraged the union of the two parks, in an area with similar natural environments and landscapes, the same water resources and a shared abbey and mining past.
The two parks, affirming a solidarity of action, form the Hainaut Cross-Border Nature Park. After an initial phase of light cooperation, which led to cross-border hiking trails and school exchanges, dialogue and meetings between elected representatives and technicians increased, culminating in the drafting of one of the first cross-border charters for a European nature park.
In 2006, more than ten years of cross-border action and cooperation were celebrated at the first cross-border park festival.
In 2011, as part of Interreg IV, it won the « 2011 strategic project » award, considered to be one of the most « structuring and exemplary in terms of mobilising stakeholders and territories around a strategic theme in terms of cross-border cooperation ».
A number of conditions had to be met to set up natural cross-border cooperation:
the existence of a border with no real language barrier and strong similarities between the two border areas (population density, alluvial plains, industrial footprint, particularly mining, etc.),
the same concept on both sides of the border: that of inhabited nature parks,
two development dynamics that are very close to each other, with a tradition of working together since 1996,
the synergy fostered by the European Union, and the constant support of European programmes,
the similarity of their missions, as set out in the founding texts of the French and Walloon nature parks, which has facilitated the definition of a common cross-border strategy.
Numerous joint actions
Cooperation, facilitated in particular by the use of a common language, can be seen in a number of thematic areas.
Communication to the public, through the creation of a logo and a common name « Hainaut cross-border nature park », is illustrated by a unique tourist positioning: creation of cross-border circuits, common tourist maps, complementary reception points, joint events, publication of brochures and books, etc. This communication also involves permanent contact with the public and the local authorities. This communication also involves ongoing contact with associations.
The Hainaut Cross-border Park is working to harmonise the management of natural environments and to develop educational initiatives to raise awareness of the environment and landscape.
A technical and scientific partnership has led to numerous studies of the environment (flora, fauna) and development (particularly in relation to the management of watercourses).
Finally, agriculture and the craft industry have been the subject of numerous cooperation initiatives, particularly in the field of promoting local farm produce and in the comparative study of agri-environmental measures. Protecting and promoting local crafts and forms of agriculture is one of the objectives shared by the two parks.
Examples of joint projects
In 2014, the two parks jointly hosted the 6th « TransParcNet meeting », an annual meeting of Europe’s cross-border protected natural areas. This event brought together managers of natural areas from all over Europe who were confronted with cross-border issues, to discuss the development of tourism and the management of natural environments.
The « Terre en Action » project, coordinated by the Hainaut cross-border nature park, provides a framework for support, pooling different practices, encouraging short circuits and promoting local citizen initiatives, with the aim of reclaiming everyday life to live better together and with nature. The initiative has been supported since July 2016 by the European Union as part of the Interreg V France Wallonie Vlaanderen programme.
Other projects promoting local products and environmentally friendly practices are being carried out within the PNTH, such as the « Cross-border gourmet jury », which awards prizes for local products, the « Prairies Fleuries » competition and the « Grassland technical days », which are designed to raise awareness among farmers of the benefits of maintaining grasslands, and the « Territorial events » project, which organises information sessions on various topics relating to agriculture.
The cross-border photographic landscape observatory was designed as part of the preservation of the landscape of the cross-border park. This tool makes it possible to observe changes in the park’s various landscapes using the technique of photographic reconstruction over time. It is also a tool for mobilising citizens, who can contribute to this landscape discovery and analysis project by sponsoring a landscape.
In its educational facilities, the park offers activities for schoolchildren and holiday courses to develop their curiosity and open-mindedness about the environment, from the age of 3. To develop cross-border eco-citizenship, « Ecosystems without borders » educational days have been devised. The aim is to make them realise that ecosystems on both sides of the border are similar and that everything is interconnected.
Joint management and a cross-border charter
In 2005, the two management bodies, the Syndicat mixte du parc naturel régional Scarpe-Escaut (PNRSE) and the Commission de gestion du parc naturel des Plaines de l’Escaut (PNPE), confirmed their commitment to a joint territorial project when the PNRSE Charter was renewed.
In 2010, a charter with a cross-border dimension, valid until 2022, was approved. Although the scope of the charter review concerns the French part for the « Regional Nature Park » classification, this is a cross-border project. In fact, the diagnosis of the area includes the Belgian park and the issues and strategies have been defined with the elected representatives of the PNPE. The renewed charter, which represents the fourth generation of charters for this area since 1968, is based on a dual commitment to :
Continue, develop and adapt the missions undertaken,
Strengthen the fundamental missions of the Regional Nature Park to meet the new challenges and the need to open up to act on the best possible scale.
It is the Syndicat mixte du PNRSE that is leading the implementation of the charter in a spirit of mission at the service of its territory and its inhabitants, in liaison with the signatories and other partners.
In carrying out its missions, the Syndicat mixte has a threefold role as a facilitator, initiator, accompanier and operator.
The two parks share the strategic objectives of this charter and wish to implement the various operational objectives at three levels:
The cross-border approach,
Coordinated implementation of the measure,
joint management of the measure.
The current governance of the Hainaut cross-border nature park is based on consultation between the two parties, while respecting the autonomy of each. Described in the Partnership Agreement signed between the two Nature Parks in 2010, this governance is reflected politically in the existence of a cross-border Bureau bringing together representatives of the decision-making bodies of the two Nature Parks. On a technical level, regular meetings are held between the teams on both sides of the border to ensure the exchange of information, coordination and management in the implementation of actions (the partnership agreement).
The « cross-border office » is made up of the elected members of the three offices:
Bureau of the Syndicat mixte du PNRSE
Bureau of the Syndicat des communes intéressées du PNRSE
Board of Directors of the PNPE Management Commission. It has met at least twice a year since 2010.
On the other hand, a plenary assembly of elected representatives of the cross-border park is held once a year. At a technical level, meetings between the two teams, at both directorate and project manager level, have become a daily occurrence.
Today, the two sides are expressing a new ambition: to merge into a single nature park with no real borders.
As part of the Interreg V project « PNTH Objectif 2025 » (2019-2022), the two parks have worked to structure and perpetuate the political and technical governance of the Hainaut cross-border nature park around a multi-partner governance of the territory in order to erase the « border effect ».
This governance has now been institutionalised with the creation of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) of the Scarpe-Escaut Plains European Nature Park. The EGTC will strengthen the role of the two parks as an assembly point, particularly for forest and waterway managers, while becoming a laboratory for experimenting with new responses to ecological, climatic and societal transitions.