“What if I told you that birds were already circling high up in the sky when our machines were still finishing their work? It took us 4 years to create this brand-new archipelago and even before the machines were taken back to shore, birds and fish had already started to colonize the place. They couldn’t wait for us to leave. An island in the middle of nowhere with lots of food – perfect for birds.” – quote from our guide, one of Marker Wadden founders.
Welcome to Marker Wadden, indeed the newest piece of land in the Netherlands. The Dutch are famous for fighting against the water and creating new land instead (that started hundreds of years ago) and these 1000 hectares of land in the middle of the large Marker Lake is the most recent example.
Before we (a group of 20 nature and landscape photographers) head out to explore the flora and fauna on the island, our guide continues. His enthusiasm results in a lengthy explanation of how the island came about, but his story is remarkable and worthwhile.
The biodiversity in the Marker Lake (one of the largest freshwater lakes in western Europe) was low and needed a boost, as the lake was cut off from sea by a long dike connecting the east and west part of the country. Hence the plan from Natuurmonumenten (Dutch Society of Nature Conservation) to create a new, artificial group of islands to stimulate the growth of bird and fish population.
Starting from scratch, sediments from the bottom of the lake were used to create the islands, marshes (swamps) and mud flats, in total corresponding the size of the inner city of Amsterdam.
With a budget of 75 million Euro, the work started in 2014 and finished at the end of 2020. As you can see on the image below (found on the website of the project designer, Vista), there are in total 5 (or 6, depends on how you count…) islands of which only the upper left one can be visited by us humans. The rest is fully dedicated to Mother Nature; a unique wetland and bird paradise (or bird love islands – ).
On the main island (called Haven Eiland or Harbor Island because yes, it has a harbor) the 12 m high birdwatching shelter called the Steltloper, is attracting attention. Climb the structure to enjoy an all over bird view on the area. As you can see on some of the pictures, there are more birdwatching shelters with all different look and feel.
Storm, seeds and bones
It’s not uncommon for the wind to play the leading role when you visit Marker Wadden. Prepare for some sand blasting. It’s for a reason that the western part (which suffers most from the wind) of the island has a stone rim or border. The rest is sand. Within the borders 7 layers of sediment have been applied already.
Our guide continues with another remarkable fact: do you know that seeds that were encapsulated in the sediment have come to life once ashore? New plant species have already been spotted. Or do you know that they found bones (maybe from prehistorical mammoths) that recently made a group of archeologists go crazy?
More islands will be added where Natuurmonumenten aims to create 10.000 hectares (10 times the current size) of new land. It’s totally worth it. Birds that had left our country now return. Lots of fish spawn here. New plants and insects have found the place and thrive. Researches already counted 170 bird and 120 plant species. On this small piece of land only!
Trees will be banned from the island, as that will attract again different birds (the ones we already find on land). Same goes for the fox and the rat – no way they will ever set foot on the island. Fingers crossed.
When we walk the island, we pass by a dozen or so holiday homes. Indeed, one can book an overnight stay where the house does not have a television and uses renewable energy. If you are interested, I found a (Dutch) blogpost where you see how the interior looks like.
In 2019 already 20,000 visitors enjoyed the archipelago. Bird watchers, nature lovers and people who just look for peace and quiet will have a fabulous time. I totally loved the landscape. I let the strong winds play with me and my equipment, but I didn’t care. I considered myself lucky to be able to visit, to see how nature developed so quickly. It also made me smile when I realized that serious efforts and money are being spend here, in full dedication of Mother Nature. It’s worth it, big time.
I was invited by Natuurmonumenten (Dutch Society for Nature Conservation) and Rijkswaterstaat (Dutch Ministry of Water and Infrastructure) to visit Marker Wadden. Thanks for this opportunity!
If you want to visit Marker Wadden, check this website for details on the ferry from Lelystad.