Future of the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve under scrutiny – again

Photo: EM Kintzel, I Van Stokkum via Wikimedia Commons

Nature reserve Oostvaardersplassen may be turned into a tourist attraction with cycle and walking routes if the Flevoland provincial council gets its way, broadcaster NOS reports.

A majority of local councillors, led by the VVD and SGP, are looking to force a decision on the management of the reserve which was turned over to the provincial authorities in 2016.

The management of the reserve – situated between Almere and Lelystad – has been a bone of contention for decades. The plans, which will make the Oostvaardersplassen part of the Nationale Park Nieuw Land , have provoked furious reactions from bird protection organisation Vogelbescherming Nederland as well as nature lovers who fear more tourism will disturb wildlife and destroy the character of the reserve.

Foundation Dierbaar Flevoland (Cherished Flevoland) has started a petition against the plans. The proposal puts nature at the service of purely economical interests and will turn the area into a playground, the association claims.

At present the wetland is home to 31 species of protected birds and large mammals  such as deer and Konik horses. Human interference in the reserve is kept at a minimum and only small groups of visitors are allowed in.

Natural enemies

According to the VVD and the SGP, this has meant that the number of large mammals is getting out of hand because they have no natural enemies. They also claim the welfare of the animals is at stake.

‘Animals which feed on grass and shrubs are needed to keep the vegetation in check but we don’t need this many to maintain the landscape,’ the NOS quotes the SGP’s Sjaak Simonse as saying.

In 2013 the reserve was the subject of a much-praised film but according to some critics it glossed over the fact that many of the large animals are culled or starve in winter.

In balance

But according to ecologist Han Olffs, a professor at Groningen University, there is nothing wrong with the natural balance at the Oostvaardersplassen. ‘The deer and horses are making the land attractive to geese which then maintain the wet reed landscape which functions as a landing strip for protected species,’ NOS quotes him as saying.

A complicating factor – and potential future conflict – as far as the geese go is that Vogelbescherming Nederland’s appeal against the extension of Lelystad airport has been turned down on the ground that it poses no threat to the birds at the Oostvaardersplassen.

The organisation commented that it trusts the geese in their turn will be not be considered a threat to the airport and will therefore be left alone, NOS writes.

Provincial councillors will vote on the plans on February 8.