Agricultural activities in the coastal zone are in a constant balancing act with other user functions such as urbanisation, other economic development and nature. Nevertheless, agriculture in the coastal zone continues to have an important economic value (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries). In addition, many ecosystem services linked to agriculture offer significant societal added value. Coastal zone agriculture forms a green space with various recreational assets, it is important in terms of water regulation and it offers a unique landscape with a typical biodiversity.
However, because of the phenomenon of eutrophication, agriculture also has an inseparable but damaging connection to the sea. The run-off of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous cause large-scale algal blooms, leading to the destruction of habitat and an impoverishment of biodiversity. The problem of eutrophication is addressed at European level by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, Directive 2008/56/EC)) and the Water Framework Directive (WFD, Directive 2000/60/EC). Under the umbrella of the WFD, the Nitrates Directive (Directive 91/676/EC) aims to reduce the runoff of nitrates from agriculture. At the Flemish level, this directive has a translation into the Manure Decree, which in turn has a practical translation into the Manure Action Plan (Mestactieplan, MAP) (VLM).
Conversely, the sea also has an effect on the hinterland through the salinisation of the soil. This phenomenon is expected to play an increasing role in light of global warming and its effects on hydrology. The problems were recently mapped by the TOPSOIL project, in which a detailed description was made of the fresh-saltwater balance in the entire coastal and polder region. The results show that the fresh-saltwater balance for groundwater in the coastal and polder regions is relatively stable for the time being.
In the Belgian coastal and hinterland municipalities, 2,042 farms are active (31 December 2019). These farms provide employment to about 4,078 people and generate a turnover of over 500 million euro. The specialisation of these farms primarily concerns arable farming, cattle and cages (pigs and poultry). The utilised agricultural area in the coastal zone has a total surface area of 71,384 ha (2020), which comprises 11.4% of the utilised agricultural area in Flanders Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on the basis of FPS Economy - Statbel).
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