scheldt | flanders / netherlands

Port: Antwerp
Length: 160 km

Who is who?

  • Rijkswaterstaat is a Dutch state agency managing rivers, canals and the sea.
  • The Flemish Ministry of Public Works carries out maintainance measures and management in the Schelde river bed and banks.
  • The University of Antwerp Ecosystem Management Research Group is a policy-oriented scientific institute with extensive experience in estuarine processes.


The Scheldt river estuary is shared between the Netherlands and Belgium (Flanders). Consequently, management challenges in the Scheldt have in large part stemmed from the cross-border nature of the management activities. In past years, The Netherlands and Flanders have negotiated the main policy topics concerning the estuary but many disputes have arisen. In the Netherlands, the main focus has been on nature protection, whereas in Flanders there has been large pressure to deepen the fairway to the port of Antwerp. This channel enlargement has been an important source of conflict between both countries.

From a nature conservation standpoint, land reclamation and the straightening of dykes has led to a substantial reduction in salt marsh and backwater areas in the estuary. Water quality is moderate to bad, although improvements have been made in recent years. This is a result of untreated domestic wastewater, industrial pollution with heavy metals and organic micropollutants and extensive nutrient load from agricultural sources.

Flooding is also an issue of concern in the Scheldt and this risk is only expected to increase in the future due to sea level rise caused by climate change.


In an attempt to reconcile the often competing interests of Netherlands and Flanders, the Scheldt Development Plan 2010 was created and published in 2005. It integrated goals for nature conservation, accessibility of the Antwerp port, and flood safety issues. It was also the starting-point for joint policy-making by the Flemish and Dutch governments, aiming at a more sustainable development in the Scheldt estuary.

In Flanders, environmental awareness on the part of the authorities arose later than in The Netherlands. There was traditionally also less attention given to flood protection. As a result, whereas in the Netherlands nature restoration and flood protection have been treated separately, in Flanders the opportunity arose to combine both. For example, the deepening of the Scheldt could have some negative effects on the Natura 2000 goals. However, new ways exist of disposing dredged material on tidal shoals which could have positive effects on Natura 2000 goals. In this way, there has a search for actions that could be beneficial to one or more of the different goals for the estuary (nature, fairway deepening, safety). To ensure that the actions included in the Scheldt Development Plan 2010 are executed, a Treaty on their implementation was negotiated between the Netherlands and Flanders.

In addition to the Scheld Development Plan, the following other management schemes are also in existence:
  • Natura 2000 Management Plans are in development in the Netherlands. They still have to be developed in Flanders. 
  • River Basin Management Plans according to Water Framework Directives in Flanders and Netherlands have been elaborated and are currently in public consultation.
  • Management plans for flood protection for both Flanders (SIGMAPLAN) and Netherlands. 

Challenges still lie in the coordination of these different plans and management schemes.

Mitigation measures and good practices

A number of efforts and measures have already been undertaken to develop the estuary in a more sustainable manner:
  • Conservation objectives for the Scheldt estuary have been elaborated in a quantifiable manner, making it less confusing from a policy perspective to develop restoration measures.
  • Long term monitoring (MONEOS) has been undertaken jointly by Flanders and the Netherlands.
  • The Scheldt Development Plan included a substantial public involvement program with a successful outcome.
  • The dredging disposal on the side/backs of the tidal shoals in an example of a succesful mitigation measure.
  • A pilot flood protectrion site with reduced tidal action (Lippenbroek) has been developed as a test site to study the opportunities of flood area design and sluice design, relating ecological goods and services with safety conditions. Many inundation sites will be installed and designed based on the findings of this pilot project. As such, the incorporation of scientific research in the management plans is another example of good practice.