Are you someone who hates loud noises, who flinches from the perpetual sound of traffic, you cringe when people are shouting, kids whining, ambulances or boom-cars pass by… then this might be something for you: “Silence Zones”!
A Silence Zone, or Silence Sanctuary is an environmental protection area in which only the sounds of wildlife are tolerated. The word "silence" does not mean that no sound at all is perceptible in the region, but it stands for the absence of interfering, disrupting or disturbing sounds other than the sound of nature. These silence zones are essential for the flora and fauna to develop but are equally important for the frayed nerves of the nature lovers as ourselves. Activities that adversely affect the noise levels are prohibited in the area that is designated as a Silence Zone. Conservationists consider a zone as “silent” if the noise level stays between, or is constantly lower than about 35 to 40 decibels. 10-15db is the threshold for hearing, every 10db is an acoustic doubling of sound so 20-25db is twice as loud (about a whisper) and 30-35db is twice as loud as a whisper, still pretty quiet! An Area can also be considered as ’silent’ when the periods of natural sounds dominate the periods of non-natural sounds.
And we are so spoiled in our home region of Limburg. There were already four official silence zones in the province.
As a matter of fact, the very first silence zone in Flanders (2010) was Gerhagen (Tessenderlo)
Then there’s, on the border of both Limburg and North Brabant, the gigantic Kempen-Broek, a 250 square km area stretching across the Dutch and Belgian municipalities of Cranendonck, Weert, Bocholt, Bree, Kinrooi and Maaseik. Here you'll find marshes, river valleys, lakes, forests, heathland, meadows, pastures, fields and large agricultural areas. In short, something for everyone with water as a central theme. Did you know that there are few places in the BENELUX with as many species of dragonflies as in Kempen-Broek? Several years ago beavers returned to this area and with some luck you'll even see the red deer.
You can also unwind at the so-called “Zwarteput” at the Lieteberg, one of the entry Gates to the Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen (Bilzen, Lanaken en Zutendaal)
Or you can enjoy silence and the nature of Altenbroek: 127 square km of beautiful scenery, taking its name from the private castle domain with that name. Ravines, forests, source areas and orchards alternate. At night this is where boars and badgers roam and conservationists are particularly proud of the common midwife toad which you can find almost nowhere else in Flanders.
And now a new silence zone has been awarded by the authorities just over the provincial border from Limburg, in Antwerp. Since Saturday, October 29th the 37.5 square km “Kalmthoutse heide” has officially been granted the quality label “Silence Zone”
In all these areas there are countless fantastic hikes you can do on your own, with a group of friends or with pooch, guided or unguided. I will describe them more in detail in future blogs.
Unfortunately these sanctuaries tend to fall victim to their own success. Try to avoid visiting these parks during the weekends because it can get busy and .... yes, alas, noisy...
Although it's my experience that the decibel producing polluters with the whining & yelling kids, barking dogs, deaf grannies and loud smartphone ringtones usually only penetrate a few hundred meters into the sanctuaries. The noise producing specimen of our species tend to stay close to their cars, playgrounds and the cafe's at the entrance of the parks, being ill-equipped for hiking inside the parks and usually sporting a well developed pot-belly but much less developed leg muscles... So walk for 1/2 a mile away from the entry gates into the parks and you will be blissfully alone again and only meet the occasional birdwatcher!
Surf to the websites and you’ll be able to download the maps or use the apps. To prepare and execute our walks in this region and because we're hopeless at directions and would otherwise probably miss all the interesting stuff we use a free APP which you can find here www.wandelknooppunt.be and which is also available in the App Store or the ROUTE YOU for the Netherlands and Belgium.