In the heart of Europe’s most heavily developed country, scarcely 30 klms from the centre of Amsterdam, lies a miracle of wildness. Oostvaardersplassen is merely the crown jewel in a yet bigger concept – that of a network of ecological corridors linking natural habitat areas throughout Holland and into neighbouring Germany and Belgium.
Literally meaning “wetlands to the East” the 5,000 hectare Oostvaardersplassen was reclaimed at great expense from the sea back in 1968. Because of its central location the site was originally designated for industry. But its importance for wildlife, and particularly waterfowl migration, rapidly became evident. It was saved from development and has now been declared a Special Protected Area (SPA) for birds and a Ramsar Site.
I’m yet to have the pleasure of visiting Oostvaardersplassen, however I have spent plenty of time around the Netherlands. One place in particular where the mirror of Oostvaardersplassen is taking shape is the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen area near Zandvoort.
Between Zandvoort and Noordwijk lie the 3,400 hectares of the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen (Amsterdam Dunes). This varied landscape is internationally protected by the European Natura 2000 nature network and is extremely popular with the public. Every year, almost 1 million visitors follow the beautiful nature trails, play in the woods and dunes, take part in field trips or take pictures of the special flora and fauna the area is home to.
The Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen is also the main source of drinking water for the city of Amsterdam. You can tell that by the various supply ditches, infiltration ponds, weirs and water extraction canals the water company Waternet uses for drinking water production. There is enough pre-treated freshwater stored underground and in the canals here to last for several months. The “raw material” travels via the collecting basin ‘De Oranjekom’ to the treatment station at Leiduin for post-treatment. Waternet produces around 260,000 m3 of drinking water every day!
Nature conservation, recreation and water extraction go hand in hand at the Waterleidingduinen. By looking after the natural environment properly. Operated by Waternet, the area is leading the way in which industry an conservation can work together for a better future in all aspects. The 3400 hectare site is completely enclosed with a ban of cars and bicycles in place the only access to this great area is by foot. The whole project is a revolution to see working both for nature and the water company. The dykes and canals provided vital water for the city, whilst the surrounding grass land and habitats are allowed to be controlled by nature, and it’s thriving.
The area is famous for its friendly fox population (which was the main purpose of my visits), but a common sight of heron, egret, created tits, woodland birds, fallow & roe deer, kingfishers and many other waterfowl live happily side by side with the everyday workings of the company. Migrant species are flocking to the Amsterdamse also with whooper swans, blue throats and short eared owls now all visiting in abundance.
The reserve is winning for nature but it’s also a winner for Waternet as a company also. €2 for entry and €3 parking is a small price to pay, but with the average visitor numbers at almost 1 million visitors Waternet are making a beautiful little revenue too.
Could our industries in the UK learn a thing or two from a visit to the Waterleidingduinen of Netherlands? or are we too money focused to care!
If you want to visit the famous dune foxes of Waterleidingduinen check out my photography holiday at: www.wildexposures.co.uk