excursion: Ecology of the rhine floodplains
For Seriously Sustainable week of Wageningen University we wanted to show the beauty of nature close to our homes. Therefore we organised an excursion to the floodplains of the Rhine in Wageningen! Our special guide, inspirator and professional-friend from ARK Natuurontwikkeling Caroline van der Mark showed us around these ‘uiterwaarden’ (dutch for floodplains) and treated us with her wonderful stories. She started her story about why Wageningen University was based in Wageningen. After that we had learned that Wageningen is the only spot in the Netherlands with all the five soils types in less than 30 km distance, we started our trip through the floodplains of the Rhine.
Although it has been raining almost the whole week, we were delighted with some sunlight. The muddy river clay soil (as we just learned!) made the paths very slippery and some student had hard times keeping walking vertically. I was relieved to make my shoes dirty again after being inside all time working from home. Wandering through the river area (which Caroline made clear was not ours, but the rivers’!) we learned more about the willow trees and how they perfectly survived flooding (only when the water came from above, not from underneath) and about the food preference of the wild (or not-so-wild?) grazers. When we passed the wooden bridge, we were ready for the next challenge: searching for the beaver!
Yes ladies and gents, if you did not know yet, a beaver is living in Wageningen! We, very slowly, approached the “castle” (not to close!) of the beaver. It was very well hidden, but eventually, when we saw it, it was huge and super well structured! Caroline explained that the beaver babies were allowed to stay in the castle for at least a year, but eventually, they had to leave to prevent inbreeding. Also, when the water of the rhine would get higher than their caste, they would just climb the tree and find a dry little spot in the branches.
Eventually, when the excursion was almost finished, it was time for some critical questions. A lot of the participants had courses about how to manage an area like this (by, for example mowing) but they were a bit surprised by the ‘’let nature be’’ and ‘’rewild!’’ perspective of Caroline. Very fundamental questions like ‘’what is more important for you: wilderness or biodiversity?’’ came from the audience. Caroline told them that, in her opinion, they go hand in hand. Another comprehensible comment of a student: ‘’We cannot just let nature be, as we don’t have top predators here’’ was also answered by Caroline. She had a dream plan of connecting all the floodplains with other big nature areas in the Netherlands and even with nature in Germany! This way there would be one big nature network so animals can spread around eating, predating and reproducing.
When arriving at our bikes again, everybody went home very happy (infected by Caroline’s enthusiasm and passion) and with some new fresh perspectives. The take-home message was: Are we the leaders of nature? Are we partners? Or are we actually only guests to nature?
By: Sem van Loon