2023-08-23 | By Joanna Bouma | Photo by Andy Chilton
We live in a small, densely-populated country, criss-crossed by roads, motorways, railway tracks and canals, and interspersed with villages, towns, and industrial zones. So how has such a land managed to contribute so much to the world of nature?
It is a wonder that there is any nature in the Netherlands at all, being the 27th most densely-populated country in the world. And indeed, many newcomers may look around and – because they do not see acres of forest, imposing mountains or lots of wild animals roaming about – think there is no nature here at all.
But while nature in the Netherlands is limited to specific areas and certainly needs a helping hand, as it does everywhere, only a few of us are perhaps aware of what flora and fauna are living – and thriving – across the country and in our coastal and inland waters.
Dutch in support
Did you know that the Netherlands was instrumental in repopulating the seal population of Europe after the Phocine morbillivirus (PDV) nearly wiped them out in the late 1980s? Or that the Netherlands is a hugely important rest and recuperation place for many migratory bird species in early spring and early autumn? That a huge colony of cuttlefish come here to feed and breed every year? That there are banks of wild oysters and soft corals in the waters around the land? That the country has a population of wild cats? That orca, humpback whales, sperm whales and a few dolphin and porpoise species swim off its coast? That there are otters and beavers rollicking in some of its inland water bodies? That the country has played – and is still playing – an important role in the breeding and releasing of large grazers like the Przewalski’s wild horse and the European bison? And that the Netherlands is again becoming home to returning predators like the sea eagle, wolf, and jackal? And that it has 19 species of bats?
Love of nature
The Netherlands is also home to many groups that work in nature conservation. There are branches of international organisations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Rewilding Europe, and lots more. There are also a lot of national organisations – too many to list here – that work for nature. This article looks at just one of them Natuurmonumenten (loosely translated as nature monuments) but its official English language name is the ‘Dutch Society for Nature Conservation’.
Life in parallel
Natuurmonumenten is a society of almost 900,000 members and donors which manages 110,000 hectares of nature in the Netherlands. These figures mean it is one of the largest non-governmental nature organisations in the Netherlands and can thus exert some degree of influence at local and national level. In a nutshell, Natuurmonumenten protects nature and the cultural heritage of its sites, promotes new nature, influences the protection of nature outside its own sites, and advocates on behalf of ecosystems and biodiversity at local and national level. It is a highly-respected organisation in the Netherlands. Many conservation organisations try to keep nature and humans separate and while this has its merits, Natuurmonumenten actually encourages people to go out into nature and experience and understand it. This may be a different stance to some other nature organisations that try to protect nature by keeping humans away, but Natuurmonumenten argues that when people experience nature first-hand, they will start loving it and take a more active part in protecting it.
There is, of course, something to be said for both positions, but in a small, densely-populated country, it is hard to keep people ‘away’ from places. Famous oceanographer, filmmaker, author, and inventor of the aqua lung Jacques Cousteau is quoted as saying, ‘People protect what they love’.
Map it out
So, leave museums and city sightseeing behind, go on a voyage of discovery and visit some of the Natuurmonumenten sites. The Natuurmonumenten website has a map showing all its sites around the country. On another map, you can choose the activity you would like to do – walking, animal spotting, visiting historic sites, cycling. There is also a list of activities like guided walks, clean-ups, boat trips, etc. Many of the activities are suitable for the whole family and wheelchair users. And if you want to get away from predictable hotels and conference centres for corporate activities, you can always hold a meeting in a quiet place surrounded by nature.
Seek and explore
While there could be more nature in the Netherlands – as there could everywhere else – there is still enough here, but you do need to keep your eyes open to spot it. In terms of animals, look out for different species of birds and count them – you will be surprised how many you see depending on the season. Look up at twilight – even in urban areas – to spot bats fluttering around. Look down on paths through woods to see the tracks of animals that have passed before you. Look aside through the forest to see if you can spot where wild boar have been rooting around looking for grubs. And on beaches and the shores of large lakes, scan the horizon for those elusive sea eagles and see what kind of shells lie along the water’s edge at low tide.
You are very unlikely to see animals like wolves, jackals, and wild cats as they shy away from people, but you might be lucky to capture them on film. Good luck. And enjoy!
About the author:
Joanna Bouma and her dog Cinta (which means ‘love’ in Malay) live in The Hague. Joanna is a freelance writer/editor/translator and enjoys nature, hiking and playing badminton (which she plays very badly!). Cinta enjoys walks and food.
Did you know?
The Natuurmonumenten organisation was founded in 1905 in Amsterdam. It protecs over 300 natuurgebieden (nature reserves) across the Netherlands. You can support the organisation by becoming a member (membership fee is €3.25 a month), making a donation, becoming a volunteer, purchasing items from their website, and just getting out there!
Want to learn more about how aware is the Netherlands about the importance of preserving and protecting its natural resources and environment? Click here.