The nature reserve De Westhoek boasts an extremely rich vegetation. With more than 400 species of vascular plants, it is home to one third of all wild flora in Flanders. One in five of these species,moreover, is quite rare if not severely under threat elsewhere in Flanders (Red List types). Furthermore, a number of special mosses, types of liverwort, lichen and fungi are dependent upon ‘De Westhoek’ for their survival.
If you favour something more quiet, you can explore the ‘Flemish Sahara’. This name is given to the widespread dune areas at the Belgium coast. All in all De Panne is surrounded by four natural reserve areas, of which the natural reserve known as ‘Reservaat de Westhoek’ counts 345 ha.
The rural nature of ‘Reservaat de Westhoek’ shows you the origins and life of the biota near the coast. The reserve is made up of two dune areas which are separated from the sea by several sorts of plants. The 425 meter wide ’sahara’ is situated in the middle. If you are lucky you can photograph yourself in a scenery of all but sand, as if you are standing in the middle of a African desert. You will find many animals on your way through this area: the ermine, marten, short eared owl, frog, salamander and rabbit.
Experience the wonderful nature in the midst of large dunes and trees; enjoy the warm sunbeams. Explore the dunes of the ‘Westhoek’ (345 ha), the fossil dunes in ‘Cabour’ or the connection of the ‘Oosthoek dunes’ with the polders. ‘De Nachtegaal’ is a nature protection centre, which forms the perfect end station for a hiking trip.
Along the beach salt-tolerant pioneer plants grow, such as Sea Couch and Sea Rocket. Marram characterizes all white (mobile) dunes, while Sea Spurge is limited to the foredunes. Calcareous grey dunes are brightened up by mosses and short-living pioneer plants such as Stork’s-bill, Biting Stonecrop and Dune Pansy. The older and more decalcified grey dunes contain Grey hair-grass. The young and moist dune valleys show a dune marsh vegetation rich in species, including Centaury, Grass-of-Parnassus, Marsh Helleborine, Wintergreen and Creeping Willow. Older and drier dune slacks are characterized by flowery grassland vegetation with Rock-rose, Large thyme, Burnet-rose and fungi like Waxcaps. If grazing or mowing is stopped, dune scrubs with Sea Buckthorn, Elder and Sweet-brier, and later also Privet, Hawthorn, Blackthorn and wildshoots of trees will dominate. On the inner dune ridges as well as elsewhere in the dunes trees have been planted, a.o. Elm, Grey poplar, Ash, Abele, Maple and Alder.
Certain trees and scrubs carry a rich vegetation of bark-living mosses and lichens.