Sunday, 3 July 2011

What the Heck?

A bull Heck Cattle, Great White Egret and a forest of Red Deer stags - it is summer, the bushes are dead.

Oostvaardersplassen in The Netherlands is often held up as a fine example of large, natural dynamics management; but is it all it's cracked up to be?

A few days in The Netherlands exchanging views with Dutch counterparts was a chance to recharge ecological batteries and become inspired again. Speaking with Dutch ecologists the air was thick with bird talk, of detailed bird ecology. Of Purple Herons, Spoonbills, Baillons Crakes, White-tailed Eagles, Eagle Owls and more. Fantastic. The key topics of discussion centred around the strategic management of freshwater and coastal habitats, with an emphasis on potential colonists for the UK.

So, back to the Oostvaardersplassen. The Dutch Ecological Networks Plan aims to create 160,000 ha of ecological networks throughout The Netherlands. The Oostvaardersplassen is part of this network and extends to 60 sq km. The aim is to have a ‘natural’ system controlled by grazing and fluctuating water levels. The wetlands (around half the area) support large numbers of key species, including the largest colony of Great White Egrets in The Netherlands. The drier, peripheral land is grazed by huge herds of Koniks, Red Deer and Heck cattle. We saw several hundred of the 1,000 or so Koniks in one herd. It is hard to come to any other conclusion than that these areas are over-grazed; there is remarkably little diversity other than large herbivores, Greylag Geese, Red Foxes and Ravens. There is so little food in these areas that Marsh Harriers have to forage up to 8 km from the nest to find adequate food.

However, for wetlands, there are some key messages to be taken from here: firstly, big is critical for colonising populations, and secondly, dynamic water management is essential to maintain populations of wet reed species. We need to take this on board in the UK.

We saw White-tailed Eagles with newly fledged young, the colony of Great White Egrets, Savi’s Warblers, Bluethroats, Bearded Tits, Spoonbills, White Storks, Montagu’s Harrier and Goshawk, but more of these later...

White-tailed Eagle and nest (nice turbines!), Koniks, view over the Oostvaardersplassen.

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