Wednesday 22 February 2023 – Students and staff from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) joined local residents to plant 120 trees on Triomflaan in Elsene. The newly planted native species will be a green buffer zone between the city traffic and the university. At the same time, greening increases the robustness of the cooling area formed by the campus in the Brussels-Capital Region. The citizens’ collective Bûûmplanters supervised the planting campaign as part of a long-term collaboration with Colruyt Group.
Many green fingers make light work. In just one hour, they finished the job.
“A mix of various native species such as blackthorn, rowan, hornbeam, hazel and spruce were planted,” says VUB biologist Bram Vanschoenwinkel. “This increases their chances of surviving dry summers. We deliberately chose species from here to strengthen local ecosystems. They produce fruits and seeds that can be eaten by a lot of other native species. This isn’t the case – or is much less the case – with non-native species, which can sometimes develop into real pests.”
The non-profit Bûûmplanters was recruited by the Brussels and Flemish regions, with support from Colruyt Group, to increase climate resilience in the capital. Colruyt customers can earn points with the Xtra app and use them for various environmental projects, including those led by Bûûmplanters
“It’s great to see our sustainable savings programme delivering concrete results,” says Veerle Poppe, responsible for Eco-score at Colruyt Group. “The great enthusiasm of VUB and its community gives us confidence in the future. Clearly, a greener environment is important to students, staff and local residents, and that’s something we’re only too happy to support.”
Soon, another greening campaign will take place on campus, again in collaboration with Bûûmplanters.
“Our existing orchard between Buildings T and I on campus will get a dozen new unique half-standard fruit trees. They’re unique because they’re part of a project by Bûûmplanters to revive a 19th-century fruit tree collection,” says Vanschoenwinkel. This involves several varieties of pear (Virgouleuse, Fondante des bois, Marquise and Royale d’hiver), apple (Bosdorfer, Reinette grise de champagne, Reinette des carmes, Malingre and Grain d’or) and Saint-Cathérine plums. “This way, we contribute to the preservation of old indigenous varieties and can be surprised by forgotten flavours. These apples taste very different from a typical Jonagold or Pink Lady.”
Open and green
The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an urban engaged university. To build bridges with its community and the city and create connections, it adopts an open campus principle. The fact that students, staff and locals are rolling up their sleeves together for this project is something that rector ad interim Hugo Thienpont welcomes:
“It shows that the community cares. That students and staff, as well as local residents and visitors, feel welcome on our green campus. That they want to do everything possible to make our university a place where it’s pleasant to be, because extra greenery makes the environment healthier, more pleasant, cooler. At the same time, it shows their commitment to working for the future-proofing of our planet. So we are very grateful to everyone who contributed.”
The VUB campuses have great potential natural value with rare plant and animal species. They increase the quality of life for everyone who studies, works and lives there. For example, they capture fine dust, act as sound insulation and form a cooling area in the Brussels-Capital Region.
To protect this ecological habitat from the effects of climate change, the university has worked on a green-blue future vision. Smart measures will make campus green space more robust and future-proof. Grounds are mowed appropriately, lawns are converted into grasslands and native and fertile plant species are favoured. Sustainable water management should address the problem of recurring droughts, capturing rainwater in natural water reservoirs such as channels and wetlands for later reuse.
In early 2024, the university is planning a similar greening project near the dorms on Nieuwelaan and on the campus in Jette.
- Prof Bram Vanschoenwinkel (Biology): 0485 50 78 19