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.

Oostvaardersplassen

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.

Lauwersmeer
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,