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Area and inventory data

As no recent census was made of the whole Belgian territory, the total area covered by poplars may be still estimated as 40 000 ha. A forest inventory was made in 1998 in the Walloon Region, which showed that the block plantations of hybrid poplars cover 6.5% of the hardwood stands and pure poplar stands (with more than 70% of poplar) cover 8 250 ha (92.5% of which are privately owned).

Economic data

Poplar log exports have significantly increased from one year to another, mainly to France, Italy and the Netherlands; the amount recorded in 1998 (208.835 m³) was the highest ever recorded. But the amount of sawn timber exported slightly decreased during the reference period compared with the previous one. There are relatively low returns from poplars compared with agricultural production, which along with uncertainty concerning the future classification of land for environmental purposes and strong competition from softwood species imported from Eastern European countries, has reduced interest in poplar-growing in Belgium.

Policies and legislation

In both regions (Flemish and Walloon) planting of poplar can be supported by grants, with some differences between them. In the Flemish Region, afforestation and reafforestation is subsidised in the context of the forest decree of 1990. Since 1995, the Walloon Region has decided to offer grants to private owners for reforestation programmes if the chosen tree species are in accordance with an official list of suitable species. A review of the grants policy is planned in 2000, together with the implementation of the E.U. regulation on Rural Development, which will replace the 1980/92 Regulation.

Both regions are concentrating grant-support on close-to-nature methods of forest management, rather than on intensive types of plantation management characteristic of poplar plantations - except in the case of afforestation of agricultural land under the set-aside policy. Poplar plantations may be less acceptable, at least in the Flemish landscape, in future years.

Technical data

Two inter-American cultivars have been approved and another clone has been announced for 2000-2001. Important studies on water balance and vegetation diversity in poplar stands were carried out (references quoted). Bio-technological research on poplar mainly focussed on the possibily of decreasing the lignin content (for paper) and strengthening the resistance of cultivars to Melampsora sp. Molecular tools have been considered to assist the development of more efficient breeding strategies. The application of genetic modification, in general, is under discussion nowadays in Belgium, along with the need to move towards polyclonal poplar culture..

General information

The Belgian Poplar Commission is composed of two regional commissions, which are in fact working groups within the regional superior forest councils. Both commissions are independent in their activities and functioning, but cooperate to represent the Belgian Poplar Commission. In Wallonia 1999 was declared "Year of the Poplar" which was combined with a campaign of increased public awareness. The national report of Belgium records a large number of documents published during the period.

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