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Nature: Flora & Fauna

by J L Putman & M Soenen

The area surrounding the Kemmelberg is rich in wells, seepage water, and stagnant water soils. The flora and vegetation are characterised by a variety of forest types with a remarkable diversity of species, including indigenous trees and shrubs.

Valuable wetland and grassland vegetation can be found at the well levels which occur in the area. The variety also provides additional shelter and food opportunities for numerous small mammals, birds, and butterflies.

Small well with typical well vegetation
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

Small well with typical well vegetation.


Beech and hornbeam are typical trees which grow on the Kemmelberg. The beech is a dominant species, one which grows high in the forest, while the hornbeam plays a minor role in the lower regions of the forest.

Autumn image with the town of Messines in the background
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

Autumn image with the town of Messines in the background.

The sweet chestnut was planted because it grows well on sandy soil and can easily be treated as coppice. The chestnut fruits can be eaten both fresh and roasted. Chestnuts are a staple food for jays, woodpeckers, and rodents, among others.

Flowers as a symbol

The poppies of the First World War Flemish fields, which flourish during the spring and early summer, have become a symbol of the memory of the fallen soldiers of that war. That use has been extended in many countries to cover other wars.

Poppies border in De Klijte, past De Zavelaar wine estate
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

Poppies border in De Klijte, past De Zavelaar wine estate.

The wood hyacinth is the essential symbol of the witness hills in Belgium. It is a late spring bloomer. When in bloom, the forest floor is covered with a fragrant blue carpet.

Bluebells splendour on the top of the Kemmelberg
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

Bluebell splendour on top of the Kemmelberg.

This wild hyacinth grows best in loamy soil and on an aquifer clay layer, meaning that the slopes are especially good ground for it.

Well bushes and sunken roads

Both can be found on the slopes, where they dispose of a very valuable and specific flora.

Well bush
Photo © Provincie West-Vlaanderen 'De Bergen'

Well bush.

The trees and shrubs along sunken roads often testify to the original planting before the First World War. Here and there old stumps survived the war.

Sunken road
Photo © Provincie West-Vlaanderen 'De Bergen'

Sunken road.


The wood pigeon and summer turtle dove are common and highly visible bird species hereabouts.

The cuckoo ensures its young are raised by some songbird or other, such as the hedge sparrow, robin, or reed warbler. Grain-eating field birds are helped by fields which have been planted with grain-bearing crops or herbs.

Flight of a buzzard over the French-Flemish plain
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

The flight of a buzzard over the French-Flemish plain.

The sparrowhawk and buzzard are today's birds of prey which can be easily seen, almost as frequently as the squirrels, whilst roe deer and foxes are more shy or cunning.

European red squirrel
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

European red squirrel.

Small game such as hare and pheasant are regular guests.

Hares on one of the green flanks of Heuvelland
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

Hares on one of the green flanks of Heuvelland.

Pheasant on the lookout from the terrace of the Hostellerie Kemmelberg
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

Pheasant on the lookout from the terrace of the Hostellerie Kemmelberg.



Text copyright © Archeo Kemmelberg. An original feature for the History Files: Kemmelberg.