Dutch natural heritage body Natuurmonumenten wants a network of nature reserves not because it is sentimental about animals but because it makes sense, writes Jan Jaap de Graeff
Has the Netherlands lost the plot? Yes, says commentator Martin Sommer, especially where our relationship with furry wild creatures is concerned (the Volkskrant, January 11). Well-organised wildlife organisations are campaigning successfully for the reintroduction of beavers, wild boar and deer in our woods. Then, when their numbers get out of hand, they campaign just as successfully against culling by playing on people’s sentiments. Lobbying? Shell doesn’t even come close, Sommer states.
We thank him for the compliment but the truth is we still have a very long way to go. Natuurmonumenten wants large, uninterrupted nature reserves which form part of the surrounding landscape. In these landscapes people will feel at home and nature will flourish. Different plant and animal species will be able to spread over larger areas. This will create a healthy equilibrium between predator and prey and prevent some populations from disappearing and others from becoming a pest.
Wolves, for instance, will quickly dispatch old and sick deer, their favourite prey. They would be the perfect candidates for keeping the deer and boar population of the Veluwe in check. The Netherlands has a 100,000 deer which is more than enough natural prey to fill a couple of hungry wolves’ stomachs. People have nothing to fear from this shy animal and research shows that most would welcome the return of the wolf.
All the more reason then to support the formation of a nature network of large nature reserves. Both nature lovers and people who have suffered damage through animal pests will gain from it. For Sommer to label this philosophy ‘a romantic tract about free roaming’ is strange to say the least. There really is no pleasing some people.
Everybody knows Natuurmonumenten wants more space for big animals. There is not a country in Europe that has lost as much of its natural environment as the Netherlands. That is why we dedicate ourselves to the rehabilitation of biodiversity, and that includes large mammals. We would like everyone to have the mind-blowing experience of coming face-to-face with a majestic red deer. And why not have the wolf, too.
Natuurmonumenten is not turning a blind eye to what is happening at the moment. The national nature network is far from complete and we are not surprised animals are venturing outside of the nature reserves, or that their numbers are increasing for lack of predators. If traffic safety, gardens and agriculture are compromised we will not be afraid to choose. To put it politically incorrectly: if there’s no other way, we will shoot deer.
If the hype surrounding Johannes the humpback whale tells us anything, it is that the Dutch care for the fate of animals and nature. Natuurmonumenten feels supported by this knowledge in its efforts to establish a national nature network – not because we’re sentimental about animals but because it’s a matter of common sense.
Jan Jaap de Graeff is director of the Dutch natural heritage body Natuurmonumenten