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Be a wary Tourist – Things not to do while in Amsterdam

When it comes to being liberal, the Netherlands is probably one of the most liberal countries in the world. They were the first to legalize a lot of things that remain illegal or taboo in most countries of the world. Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands is home to many pleasures as well as dangers that a tourist may face on their trip there. Here are a few things of what not to do while visiting Amsterdam.

  • Do not rent a car: Amsterdam has quaint bridges and canals that meander through the city. If you want to travel outside the city, a car will be a great asset, but if you want to discover the city for yourself, leave the car behind and opt for cycles instead. You’ll notice nearly every other person there doing the same thing.
  • Advertise yourself as a tourist in the Red Light District: It is known as the Red Light District for a reason – and nobody wants their photographs clicked in taboo situations. Even if you are a tourist, this is a major mistake that could land you into a lot of trouble. Walking down the streets is not a problem – enjoy yourself and take in the sights as how you would do in any other city, but don’t stare at the prostitutes or try to take pictures – you may be asking for a lot of trouble.

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  • Stand in Queue for the Anne Frank Museum: Be a smart traveler. Standing in long queues is a thing of the past. This is a museum worth visiting, but you may be daunted by the really long lines that can be found outside the museum. Be a smart and savvy traveler and book your tickets in advance.
  • Do Give way to cyclists: Amsterdam is a city of cyclists – and give way or run the chance of being run over. The Netherlands is a bike oriented country with majority of its population using this mode of transportation to get around, especially in the city. Keep an eye out for them and don’t stand in their way.
  • Don’t buy drugs on the street: The Netherlands is a pretty liberal country, but don’t take it for granted. As with any place, anything you buy that seems like a dodgy transaction will turn out to be a dodgy transaction. Drugs procured on the street could be of dubious quality and can land you in hospital if you’re lucky. If you want to indulge in smoking up, head for the coffeehouses where it is legal and you know you will not get bad quality products.
  • Party like a mad hatter and go mad at night: Public Drunkenness is an offence here and you will be penalized for it accordingly. The capital city is a great party place at night, but there are people with bad intent who may drug you or pick your pockets. Be a smart traveler and keep your wits about you.
People shop at a Christmas market in the centre of Amsterdam during the last weekend before Christmas, in the Netherlands, on December 21, 2013. Retailers expect that the Dutch this year despite the economic crisis will spend a record amount on Christmas shopping. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN UTRECHT ***Netherlands *** (Photo credit should read ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images)
People shop at a Christmas market in the centre of Amsterdam during the last weekend before Christmas, in the Netherlands, on December 21, 2013. Retailers expect that the Dutch this year despite the economic crisis will spend a record amount on Christmas shopping. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN UTRECHT ***Netherlands *** (Photo credit should read ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Do go for a canal tour: Amsterdam is a city with kilometers of canals running through its veins. This is a must to experience. With many companies all offering great competitive deals to go for a tour on one of the many canals, you’re bound to get a good deal with a bit of research, especially if you could be offered a complimentary dinner.
  • Leave your common sense behind: True, Amsterdam is legal for marijuana, but there are many dangers in every street corner. Be wary of people offering free food or drinks as you don’t want to be a victim of having a spiked drink.

Being a Tourist in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is very often called Holland and is a very popular tourist destination and part of the country is reclaimed land with a large part lying below the sea level. Even though many visitors visit the country to head to Amsterdam, the Netherlands has much to offer. There are quaint canals that crisscross the city, a flat landscape that is friendly to the many cyclists that live in the city, historic town centers that will give you information on the past of the area, the symbolic windmills and other tourist attractions scattered all over the country.

There is much more to the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. There are miles of sandy beaches on the long coastline along the west and north and the flower gardens are a spectacular sight to see. Here are a few places to visit while in the Netherlands:

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  • Amsterdam’s canals: It’s a given that when you visit the Netherlands that you make at least a cursory visit to Amsterdam. The Dutch golden Age which was during the 17th Century saw the construction of its many canals with a length of over 100 kms of canals, decorated with 1,500 bridges.
  • Canals of Leiden: This is the region of Netherland’s oldest university and is also the place where the famous painter Rembrandt was born. Leiden is one of Netherland’s largest 17th century town centers.

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  • Keukenhof Gardens: This is the largest garden in the world and is a great promotion for the Dutch flower industry and is open to the public from the last week in March to mid May and is considered to be a huge draw for tourists from all over the world. More than seven million flower bulbs are planted every year which include flowers like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths apart from other spring varieties.
  • De Hoge Veluwe: This National Park is one of the largest continuous nature reserves of the Netherlands and has sand dunes, woodlands and heathlands to offer a varied landscape for its animal inhabitants. Visitors can use one of the free bikes that are kept for tourists’ use to tour the Park as much of it is inaccessible by other vehicles. The Kröller-Müller Museum is also a big draw which is situated in the Park, hosting the largest collection of Van Gogh in the world.
  • Kinderdijk: The Dutch landscape is incomplete without the windmills which dot the villages all over the country. There are over a thousand windmills in the country and most of them are located near the village of Kinderdijk which translates to ‘Children’s dike’ in English. Many of these windmills were built around 1740 and are still in great condition to this day and are a big tourist attraction. 19 of those windmills were constructed to drain the excess water from the polders which is below sea level.

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  • Rijksmuseum: If you are an art lover, this is the destination to head to. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum Museum is the most prestigious museum in the Netherlands and has many paintings dating back to the Dutch Golden Age with many works by Rembrandt and Vermeer present.
  • Delta Project: For those interested in structures, these series of constructions built between 1950 and 1997 have been declared to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. These storm barriers found in Zeeland and South Holland protect the country’s large coastline from flooding and the structures consist of dams, sluices, dikes and storm surge barriers.
  • West Frisian Islands: Also known as Waddeneilanden in Dutch, these islands are a chain off the Dutch coast in the North Sea. They divide the North Sea from the Wadden Sea with tidal mud flats. Under guidance, many of these islands can be reached by walking across the mud flats, but the tidal change has to be kept in mind. Cycling is a popular means of transport in many of these islands.

Discovering the Lauwersmeer National Park

The Netherlands is a beautiful country but more than 50% of the country is less than a meter above sea level, with 20% of its territory being below sea level. This type of geography, of course, gives rise to unique landscapes. After the North Sea Flood of 1953, many countries who were affected by the severe flooding took preventive measure to ensure that this would not happen again. The Netherlands had access to the Wadden Sea, but after this tragedy the Dutch Government decided against raising the existing dikes, and instead decided to build a new dam across the inlet, cutting off access to the Sea. While this meant that an existing natural reserve was lost, a whole new one was created that would draw bird watchers and nature lovers by the thousands.

Lauwersmeer National Park is located in the border of the provinces of Friesland and Groningen in the Netherlands, and at any given point of the year you are bound to be enthralled of birds in flight or as the balance of the bird population rest in calm waters. This national park is the highlight of many visitors’ trips to the Netherlands and is also part of the Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage area. This beautiful landscape includes forests, grasslands, mud flats, orchid fields, lakes and large reed beds that stretch from the Dutch island of Texel to the Danish Wadden isles. The Lauwers Sea became Lauwersmeer after it was separated in 1969, and it gradually became a freshwater lake which in turn became a national park in November 2003 to protect the new and young nature area.

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No matter what time of the year you decide to visit, you are guaranteed to see over a hundred species of birds in the National Park. However, if you visit in Spring, Summer and early Autumn, you will be treated to the view of waders. The time period of October – April brings in Geese and you will find raptors there throughout the year. Due to its unique landscape, Lauwersmeer National Park is a breeding ground for many birds and a refueling station for the birds’ annual migration.

Some of the species found here include the Spotted Crane, Golden Oriole, Montagu’s Harrier, Ruff and Bluethroat while rarer species like the Caspian Tern, Red Breasted Goose, Marsh Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope and the Osprey can be sighted here.

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No matter what your interests, if you are a nature lover, you can explore the rich flora and fauna by walking, cycling or sailing. This reserve is overflowing with activities for the adventurous visitor. There are various hiking and biking tours which can be explained at the Tourist Information Office. Some of the walks are 50 kms and the longest bicycle tour runs around the Lauwersmeer and is 45 kms in length.

There is also something for the history lover, with many characteristic villages dotting the path like Zoutkamp which was a fishing village. To know more about the history of the place, you could visit the Visserijmuseum which is the Fishery Museum, and be treated to a healthy lunch at the Paling Rokerji which is down the quay, which gives you a beautiful view of the multicolored buildings of Zoutkamp.

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For the sports enthusiast, there are plenty of water bodies in the National Park to canoe, surf, sail and motor boat. There are also many places where you can camp around Friesland and Groningen – either pitch a tent or park your RV – there is something there for everyone. You may just end up seeing many Konik horses and Highland cattle grazing on the open landscape to maintain it. Visit Pieterburen, a small village which is renowned for mud flat walking and is also a seal sanctuary. There is enough o keep any visitor entertained while being surrounded by the bliss of nature.

Experience nature at De Hoge Veluwe National Park

If you are planning a trip to Holland, you must visit the De Hoge Veluwe National Park. This is one of the largest continuous natural reserves in Holland and measures over 5,400 hectares. It is teeming with life with sightings of red deer, roe deer, wild hogs and mouflons being very common amongst the beautiful forests, sand drifts, meres and ponds and heathlands that make up this variable landscape.

History

This park can trace its beginnings to the couple – Anton and Helene Kröller-Müller when they started buying up land with the intent to launch a museum and to have a park so as to offer nature and art in one location. With this thought in mind, they started purchasing land bit by bit from 1909-1923 and brought in animals like deer, mouflons and wild boar to populate the land. This period also saw the start of construction of a building which was intended to be used as a museum.

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However, in 1923 the family hit an economic crisis and was not able to continue the progression and expansion of their plans. The property was transferred to a foundation to form the De Hoge Veluwe National Park, and the art that was collected by Helene was donated to the Kingdom of the Netherlands to be showcased in the museum.

Things to do

If you are a firs time visitor or even a frequent visitor, there is much to do in the biggest national park of the Netherlands. With so much ground to cover, free bicycles have been thoughtfully provided so that visitors can freely roam around and experience the beauty of the park for themselves in an eco-friendly and healthy manner. There are over 1800 bicycles for visitors, so you know there will be no shortage for the Parks’ guests. If you have children, there are smaller cycles for them too!

If you thought that safaris were only for guided tours in Africa, think again. The De Hoge Veluwe National Park offers some of the best safaris to acquaint the visitor with the abundant natural life in the Park. You will be guided by a forester for a four hour long walk so that you can catch the best parts of the park in your visit. For the people who want to truly experience nature can opt for the safari after dark where you can camp under the stars. The safaris are well thought of, with each one varying depending upon the wildlife that comes out in the different seasons.

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If you have time on your own, you could discover the wonders of the park for yourself by going wildlife spotting. Late afternoons and evenings are the best time of the day to spot wildlife, especially if you station yourself on one of the wildlife observation posts located all over the park.

The Kröller-Müller Museum

The wonderful combination of art and nature has culminated in the creation of the Kröller-Müller Museum which is nestled deep in the forest. Host to the largest Van Gogh collection in the world, the Kröller-Müller Museum also boasts of stunning sculpture gardens that are worth seeing. The Museum also is home to many paintings by Pablo Picasso, Odilon Redon and Piet Mondrian to name a few. There is another Museum at the visitor’s center that concentrates on the geology and biology of the Park to educate visitors on the treasures contained within the fenced boundaries of the Park. A small entrance fee is charged for the upkeep of the Park, but it is one worth it to get an overview of Dutch nature and wildlife at their habitat.

Fun Trivia on the Netherlands

There are many facts that you may not know about the Netherlands. Here are a few of them in a nutshell.

  • Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands is built entirely on wooden poles 11 meters deep. The thick layers of clay and fen in the coil content help the poles to be stable.
  • The Netherlands has a huge cycling population and has over 15,000 kms of bike lanes.
  • To give you an idea of how bike crazy the Dutch are, there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands.

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  • In fact, if you’re a pedestrian, you have to remember that cyclists have right of way in many lanes – there are specially designated lanes for cyclists where pedestrians are not allowed, and these lanes can be found all over the country.
  • Even though the Netherlands is very popular for the Tulips grown there, those flowers originally were brought into the country from the Ottoman Empire back in the 17th
  • This love for tulips has grown to making the Netherlands the biggest producer and exporter of tulips in the world.
  • They also supply up to 75% of the world’s flower bulbs.

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  • Keukenhof is the famous tulip garden and is considered to be the largest flower garden in the world.
  • Another famous symbol or landmark that is linked to the Netherlands is the windmill. These traditional working windmills are still in great condition and 19 of the existing thousand can be found in the Unesco World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk which means Children’s Dike.
  • Many people refer to the Netherlands as Holland. This is not the correct terminology as Holland comprises of the Dutch provinces of South and North Holland. This area used to be the strongest economic region of the Netherlands.
  • The Netherland is rich in natural beauty and landscapes with over 20 National Parks as well as countless wooded areas and water bodies.
  • The Netherlands is a liberal country and was the first country to legalize same-sex marriages which it did so in 2001.
  • The Netherlands is essentially a low lying country with half of its territory being only 1 meter above sea level, and a lot of the reclaimed land and over 20% of the country being under sea level.
  • You may be mistaken to think that only Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands, but Frisian is another recognized language that is commonly spoken in Friesland, a province of the Netherlands.
  • Amsterdam is Europe’s Fifth most preferred tourist destination with over 4.2 million international visitors reaching its borders annually.
  • Around 17% of Netherland’s area is reclaimed from lakes and the sea.
  • The only mountain and the highest point in the Netherlands is located in Vaalserberg and is only 323meters high. This is considered a mountain as the country is mostly flat and just at sea level if not below.

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  • In contrast, the lowest point in the country is the Zuidplaspolder which lies at an incredible seven meters below sea level.
  • With a massive intricate canal system that winds through the city, Amsterdam has over 1,281 bridges.
  • There are nearly a thousand museums in the Netherlands and 42 of them located in the capital.
  • Most tourists buy clogs, miniature windmills, cheese and tulip representations as souvenirs from their trip.
  • Although the country occupies only 0.008% of the world’s surface, it is the world’s largest agricultural exporter.
  • Cheese exporting is a major business with a dairy industry which is worth an incredible Seven billion Euros.

The Netherlands and Flood Protection: Creating New Natural Reserves

Being a country with such close proximity to water, as well as 20% of the country being below sea level, gives rise to concerns especially if there are chances of floods. With the planet undergoing massive changes due to global warming, floods have become a serious threat to the economy and future of many Dutch cities which are situated on the edge where land meets the sea.

The Dutch coastline has many levels of storm barriers and other construction projects to protect the coastline from the threat of flooding. These works include constructing dikes, locks, sluices, levees and storm surge barriers.

History

The Dutch realized that certain measures had to be taken as the estuaries of the Rhine, Scheldt and Meuse rivers were subject to flooding over the centuries. As the tides slowly eroded away the coastline, the first barriers also eroded, which meant that the dikes had to be constantly raised. This was turning into an expensive and impractical affair, and they decided to shorten the coastline which meant that fewer dikes would have to be reinforced.

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Although these plans were made early in the 20th Century, WW2 put the plans on the back burner. The 1953 flood caused unmitigated disaster on a massive level where over 2000 people lost their lives and many cities were devastated after storms caused the water level to rise to a height of 4.2 meters. This increased the determination to get the barriers up and the Delta plan was developed. This entailed that the estuary mouths of the Oosterschelde, Haringvliet and the Grecelingen to be blocked. This also meant that the coastline would be shortened by 700 kms.

The Delta Works

The Delta Works project has ensured that the chances of flooding are reduced to once every 4,000 years as opposed to more frequent chances which they faced earlier. The acceptable risk was set to once every 4,000 years after the initial acceptable risk level for once every 125,000 years was found to be too expensive. The dams are considered by many to be the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and are amongst the best and largest storm barriers worldwide. The construction of all the dams and the entire project was finally completed in 2010.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has declared the Delta Works to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The structures of this project are scattered over Zeeland and South Holland. If you want to see the structures for yourself and know more about them, you can stay overnight and hire a car the next day to drive out to the structures. It is easier to travel to the Delta Works by car, but winter brings limited services.

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The more impressive storm barriers are:

  • Oosterscheldekering: This is one of the most spectacular storm barriers in the area. The process of starting the damming of the area caused artificial islands to be created and 5 kms out of the projected 9 kms was banned with the remaining 4 kms to be an open surge barriers that would close only when required.
  • Deltapark Neeltje Jans: This is the most common point of entry into the Delta Works and this is the first choice for many visitors if they are curious about the storm barrier project. Here, the visitor is treated to knowledge about the whole Delta Works project, with the opportunity to see one of the barriers from inside, apart from giving an overview of Netherland’s water works. There is a theme park and an aquarium to entertain the family.
  • Expo Haringvliet: You could grab a drink while enjoying the view and also watch a movie about the 1953 flood.
  • Maeslantkering: This is one of the largest moving structures in the world. You can go to the free visitor’s center where you can learn about the history of this storm barrier as well as have the choice of going for a guided tour for the price of 4 Euros.

Treasure of the Netherlands – The Oosterschelde National Park

National Parks are one of the treasure troves of nature – they are valuable reminders of the nature that surrounds us. The Netherlands is one of the few countries that are abundant in Nature reserves and National Parks, especially when you consider its size. With an area of 41,543 km2, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but one which has learned to live side by side with trade and nature in close proximity.

That being said, the Oosterschelde National Park is the largest National Park in the Netherlands with an area of over 35,000 hectares. It has an open connection with the sea that allows tides to enter which gives rise to a dynamic environment. The combination of salt water and fresh water attracts a very diverse set of flora and fauna. The tide causes large tracts of land to be visible in low tide which gets flooded over at high tide. This causes a lot of sediment to form on the sand banks that ensures that there is food present to attract thousands of birds as well as sunbathing seals.

This National Park is not only interesting on land. It has an exceptional underwater world with seals and harbor porpoises that can be seen frequently.

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Exploring the Oosterschelde National Park

If you are curious to see the underwater world of the National Park, you can sign up with one of the several diving schools that dot the Dutch coast. You will be amazed at the underwater treasures like oysters, lobsters, flatfish, clams, crabs, shrimp and other species of fish and shell fish. Many fish species like anchovy, garfish and pout hatch in this area and are also a mating ground for Cephalopods that travel from the south east coast of England. You can take that opportunity to see up close for yourself the different world that exists in this National Park. The crystal clear waters gives ideal conditions for swimming and over a million dives are made each year in this Park alone.

The Park is also known for its rare plants and mosses as well as sea lavender, glasswort and sea aster. For the avid bird watcher, this park is a treat for the eyes as thousands of birds flock here which include oystercatchers, eagles, gulls and wigeon. Birds like redshank come here to brood, and this offers a rare sight for birdwatchers to catch glimpses of their young.

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If you’re wondering what you could do in such a large area – you can explore the Oosterschelde National Park by biking it or hiking it – the choice is yours. There are activities for the entire family or just for a solo traveler. You could go beach combing or even cross the mud flats and tidal marshes in low tide. This type of an adventure is possible only in areas like this in the Netherlands. You could even visit a mussel farm or go pick mussels yourself form the park. There is a limit of 10 kgs per person per day – but that is a lot of mussels! When the tide flows out, the oysters, mussels and ‘krukels’ are visible at the bottom of the dikes – so you can eat mussels to your heart’s content, all you have to do is pick them yourself.

A fishing enthusiast will be delighted with the fishing and the sports enthusiasts can paddle, canoe or snorkel their way through the numerous water bodies in the National Park. The tides are what rule in the Park with the tides changing every six hours with over 800 billion liters of water coming in and leaving the Park every single tidal flow. To protect the Zeeland from floods, the ‘Stormvloedkering’ which a storm barrier dam was constructed in 1986 as part of the Deltawerken project.

Rewilding Europe – The Dutch Experiment for New Nature

The notion of taking old wilderness and turning it inside out has hit the Dutch – and hit hard. Flavoland is a province in the Netherlands that owes its existence to a few biologists only a short while back. If you turn back time a century or two, Flavoland was buried under an inlet of the North Sea. However, the 1930s brought massive change, especially since the move towards damming many outlets was made and steps were slowly being taken to make that happen. In that time period, a series of dams were constructed which turned the inlet into a freshwater lake. Fast forward twenty years and another massive drainage project was undertaken that enable Flavoland to emerge from its watery depths.

Born from the bottom of the outlets, the soil is fertile and rich and is considered to have some of Europe’s richest farmlands. The fields there have a constant crop of potatoes, barley and sugar beets. Even the cities that have erupted from the sides of this new province were built from scratch. Almere and Lelystad lie on two sides of a wilderness that was created from the Earth.

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The reserve is known as Oostvaardersplaasen, a rather tough word for many English speaking visitors to pronounce, and the reserve occupies over 15,000 acres of flat land. Why we say its creation is thanks to biologists because fifty odd years back when the drainage project was well underway, biologists went to the Dutch government and convinced them that a new landscape could be created instead of converting the area into a region for Industries to develop.

The Biologists had the idea to recreate a Paleolithic landscape and fill the newly emerged land with animals similar to what used to roam the land millennia ago. As most of the animals from then did not exist, substitutes were brought in like Heck Cattle which replaced the extinct aurochs and the red deer imported from Scotland and also the horses, brought in from Poland. A situation a bit like Noah’s Ark, the animals reproduced prolifically and soon the area resembled the plains of Africa where herds by the numbers would graze and roam.

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To experience this landscape, visitors would be required to shell out up to forty five dollars to go on a guided safari. The mating season which falls in autumn proves to be an important season and draws in many tourists. Many people feel that converting potential farmlands that are needed for crop production are taken out of the running to be ‘rewilded’.

Although many people played their part in transforming the marshy land into a Nature Reserve, one man is in particular credited for the vast changes brought about in the Oostvaardersplassen. Frans Vera has worked for many branches within the Dutch government and is know with a private foundation. In the late 70s, fresh out of university and unemployed, he wrote an article about the region arguing that it should be turned into a nature reserve and soon found employment with the Dutch Forestry Agency.

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Even though back then, nature was seen as something to be managed – so a large reserve was seen as a bit of a liability, with constant plantings, pruning and mowing to be required for its upkeep. It was Vera who came up with the idea of using grazers to keep the check on the growth of grass. He received some funding to procure the animals and brought in Heck Cattle, red deer and more. With a flourishing landscape of natural rich flora and fauna, other species of animals started trickling in like foxes and muskrats.

Birds like herons, buzzards, kingfishers amongst others also turned up and soon this place was transformed into a living landscape of natural beauty that was teeming with life. This is the legacy the Dutch wish to leave for future generations – a world teeming with life, and nature that coexists with civilization.