ZEELAND - To whom does the Dutch province of Zeeland belong? Partly to Belgians, who own up to a fifth of the agricultural land in the southernmost part of the province. The Dutch research collective Spit and the Belgian platform Apache went in search of the large landowners and answered the question: why are they active there?

Border farmers have been cultivating land in the neighbourhood for a long time, and old noble Belgian families still have an extensive real estate portfolio. But the decades-long expansion of the Antwerp port, with the accompanying nature compensations, has also left its mark on the Zeeland landscape. 

Flemish farmers who were expropriated cross the border in their search for land. This leads to concerns among farmers in the southernmost part of the Dutch province, as expropriated farmers often have a thicker wallet to buy Zeeland land. Because they often organise their business operations from Belgium, the local economy also benefits little. The farmers' organisation ZLTO refers to Zeeland Flanders as a 'winning region'. 

Moreover, Zeeland's agricultural land is not only in demand by farmers; port authorities and other entrepreneurs are also investing in large quantities of fertile polder land. If they do that with Dutch companies, they do not even appear in land registry figures of foreign ownership. 

The Dutch research collective Spit and the Belgian platform Apache asked the Land Registry for the 100 largest owners of agricultural land. They cross-referenced the data with business registers, other open data and sought context through in-depth interviews with stakeholders. 

Photo: ©Sky Pictures (Province of Zeeland)

Team members

Steven Vanden Bussche

Steven Vanden Bussche (1979) is an investigative journalist at Apache.

Steven Vanden Bussche

Hester den Boer

Hester den Boer is an independent investigative journalist and photographer. 

Bram Logger

Bram Logger is a freelance investigative journalist and co-founder of Investigative Collective Spit.

Salsabil Fayed

Salsabil Fayed is a Belgian journalist. 

€ 7.750 allocated on 13/12/2021.

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