Let's discover the fauna of the Petite Roer nature reserve

Subheader : Naturalists have long known the Petite Roer valley for its varied birdlife. The site host typical species of wet meadows such as Common reed bunting and Grasshopper warbler. The extensive open pastures are also the home to the Meadow pipit. Isolated trees and bushes are used as look-out posts by Great grey shrike and Red-backed shrike. The first species can often be seen at the top of larger trees, which it uses as look-out posts, whereas the second usually sits atop of lower bushes. The local highlight of the valley is a small insectivorous bird: the Whinchat.


Insert : Whinchat

Over the last decades, the Whinchat has suffered a dramatic decline across Western Europe. The widespread use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture had dramatic impacts on the species. In the Walloon region of Belgium, the Whinchat is now almost fully confined to the Elsenborn military area and its immediate surroundings, including the Petite Roer valley. As an ‘umbrella’ species it is an excellent indicator of the good conservation status of the valley. If the local ecosystem is suitable for the Whinchat, many other animals can flourish as well. For a successful breeding, the Whinchat requires a varied flora, abundant insect food and many perches as hunting lookouts and song posts.


Insert : Bistort butterflies

In May and June, the valley is rose-coloured thanks through the mass flowering of meadow bistorts. The bistort is the host plant of 2 butterflies, whose caterpillars exclusively feed on its leaves: the Violet copper and Bog fritillary. During their flight season, both species are often spotted along the paths. Keep your eyes open!


Insert : Site protection

In the late 80s, several naturalists became aware of the high ecological value of the Petite Roer valley. During that period, drainage ditches and spruce plantations were still abundant on this type of low-productive terrain. It was also at that time that the NGO “Patrimoine Nature” purchased its first land parcels and entered into a lease agreement with the municipality of Waimes, to ensure the protection of the site. Today, more than 25 hectares are protected as nature reserve in this valley. Please help us protect this beautiful area. Stay on the walking paths, carry your waste back home and, above all, keep your dog on a leash! Thank you very much.

Flora of the Petite Roer nature reserve

Subheader : Between the Hautes-Fagnes highlands and the Elsenborn military camp runs a river unlike others: the Petite Roer.
Contrary to other local rivers that flow out of the acidic peatlands of the Hautes Fagnes plateau, the Petite Roer takes its source in the wet meadows near Sourbrodt. Its waters are therefore much less acidic than those of its larger sister, the Roer, which runs nearby but has much darker waters and is more acidic.

All along its course, the valley of the Petite Roer hosts an exceptional set of habitats with a remarkable flora.


Insert : Habitats and their typical plant species

The Petite Roer Valley is made up of various environments with high biological and heritage value.

Remarkable plants include:

  • species of raised bogs and mires, such as Hare’s-tail cottongrass, Marsh violet, Bogbean, High fen orchid, Thread rush, Arctic starflower, etc.

  • species of mountain hay meadows, such as Spignel, Great burnet, Wood cranesbill, Common lousewort, etc.

The savanna-like appearance of the Petite Roer (and the Hautes Fagne area in general) is due to the dominance of the Purple moor-grass. Management by extensive or late mowing grazing is limiting its extension, thereby promoting a higher floral diversity.


Insert : Interactions between flora and fauna

The dried stems of Wild angelica are abundant in the wet meadows of the site. They are used as lookout posts by the Whinchat, a ground-nesting migratory bird that feeds on insects. The varied flora of the Petite Roer ensures a high diversity and quantity of insects, which act as an important food resources for many other wildlife species.


Insert : Natural heritage

The NGO “Patrimoine Nature” became established in 1986. For several decades it has been purchasing and managing plots of high biological value in the Petite Roer Valley. Its objective is to protect the natural heritage of the municipalities of Waimes, Malmedy, Stavelot and Trois-Ponts. It also raises public awareness about the need to protect the environment, in particular amongst the younger generations.


Photos :

Flower (…) cottongrass

Petite Roer valley, general view (…)

Whinchat on wild angelica (Franck Renard)

Restoration and management of the Petite Roer nature reserve

Title : Restoration and management of the Petite Roer nature reserve

Natura 2000 site of the ‘Fagnes de la Roer’ (BE33036)

Subheader :

The landscape of the Petite Roer valley has changed significantly over the last three centuries. The site has been kept open for a long time, thanks to agro-pastoral practices and widespread peat extraction. However, from the early 1900s onwards, these practices gradually fell into disuse. In the second half of the 20th century, the wet meadow and boggy areas were gradually replaced by spruce tree plantations. Nevertheless, some part of the valley remained open, which has allowed the typical fauna and flora to survive there.

Insert : Restoration of the site

In 2007, the LIFE project ‘Hautes-Fagnes’ began, which enabled the removal of spruce plantations almost everywhere in the valley. In 2017 and 2022, further restoration measures, financed by the Walloon Rural Development Programme, were launched to remove the shrubs that had recolonised some of the clearcut areas in the meantime. The objective of these measures is to promote the Whinchat, an emblematic bird of the nature reserve. Tree felling and crushing work has been carried out to remove trees and shrubs. Fences were then installed to allow for extensive management. Some of the restored areas have been sown with seeds harvested in the Elsenborn military camp, whose meadows still have a rich plant diversity. Finally, drainage ditches were blocked with the aim of increasing the water table and restore peaty environments.

Insert : Did you say “extensive management”?

These rare and fragile environments are managed so as to enable the typical fauna and fauna to survive. This is why mowing is carried out later than usual in summer to allow the flowers to reach the seed stage. Extensive zones are kept unmown to allow the survival of insects. Grazing takes place with robust grazing cattle and horses adapted to the local conditions of humid climate and wet soils. The site management is characterised by a low density of grazing animals on a relatively large surface. The purpose of this type of grazing is to create a varied vegetation structure that include both low-vegetation open zones and more densely vegetated areas. Early-season grazing is intended to limit the re-growth of shrubs and bushes, when the fresh shoots are still an attractive food for the livestock.

Insert : Rour, Roer or Rur?

Different spelling exists to name this river or its small sister ‘Petite Roer’, according to the language used. For example, ‘Rour’ is used in French, ‘Rur’ in German, ‘Roer’ in Dutch and finally ‘Roule’ in Wallonia.


Credits :

Ed. resp.: Heritage Nature ASBL – Rue des Marronnonnaires, 11-4950 Waimes

Photo credits :

Above the logo of Europe: European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe invests in rural areas

Logos: PN, Commune de Waimes, Natagriwal, Wallonia, Europe, Natura 2000

Below the 4 logos: Project financed by EAFRD and Wallonia