Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

A Dutch experiment recreates nature red in tooth and claw

Skinny as nature intended

IN WINTER AND early spring commuters on the fast train between Amsterdam and Vlissingen are sometimes confronted with the sight of emaciated and dying cattle, horses and deer, and the carcasses of earlier victims being picked over by scavengers. The railway line skirts the edges of the Oostvaardersplassen, 56 square kilometres of Dutch soil that constitute one of Europe’s most remarkable conservation efforts.

The Oostvaardersplassen is the world’s most visible example of Pleistocene rewilding, the idea of reintroducing the megafauna that man wiped out as he spread across the globe. The idea is more popular in theory than in practice. There is a rewilding park in Siberia, with Yakutian horses, wisent, wapitis and muskox, but hopes to reintroduce America’s megafauna have got no further than releasing some large Mexican tortoises in a ranch owned by Ted Turner, a media mogul.

The Oostvaardersplassen was reclaimed from the sea in the 1960s and intended for use as an industrial estate, but in the gloom of the 1970s it lay vacant. The idea of reintroducing Pleistocene fauna came from Frans Vera, a government scientist. He got hold of some Heck cattle, a German attempt, under the patronage of Hermann Göring, to recreate aurochs (strong, wild creatures untainted by domestication or foreign stock) by breeding primitive cattle from zoos. From Poland he imported Konik ponies, said to be descended from tarpans, the last of Europe’s wild horses. He shipped in red deer, which were among Europe’s original inhabitants.

The population of horses and deer exploded: at the peak there were 1,200 horses. With so much grazing, the trees died, and the area turned into grassland and marsh. To Mr Vera, that offered support for his theory that pre-human Europe was not covered in forests, as has been widely assumed, but was primarily grassland. Vast numbers of birds arrived, including 29 endangered species. Sea eagles started to breed in the Oostvaardersplassen in 2006, and have since spread beyond its borders.

As the herbivore populations grew, food supplies became thinner, and so did the animals. That was when the political problems started. Animal welfare is a big issue in the Netherlands: Partij voor der Dieren (Party for the Animals) holds two seats in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate. A video clip of a starving red deer calf shown on prime-time television did not help. “There was an uproar,” says Hans Breeveld, the park’s warden. “People were asking how this could happen in a civilised society.”

The Oostvaardersplassen has twice been investigated by government committees. It survived, but with its freedom constrained. These days its managers are required to undertake “early reactive culling”—a polite phrase for shooting animals before they starve to death. The political pressure has lessened, partly because starvation brought herbivore numbers down sharply, but plans to expand the reserve have been put on hold.

As a sight, the Oostvaardersplassen is extraordinary. In one of the world’s most densely populated regions, Amsterdam now has a wilderness beside it that looks like a bit of African savannah, with herds of grazing herbivores and flocks of birds wheeling above them. Its scientific value is limited by the absence of the large predators that in the Pleistocene era would have kept herbivore numbers down. They would help settle the debate about whether ancient Europe was grassy or forested.

They may not be absent for long. In July a dead wolf was found in the Netherlands for the first time since the 19th century. More will follow: thanks to legal protection from the EU and to growing land abandonment, wolves are spreading through western Europe. If they get to the Oostvaardersplassen, they should provide added interest for the commuters.

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By Cara Mia DiMassaOctober 6, 2013

APELDOORN, NETHERLANDS — Dozens of black-and-yellow squirrel monkeys scampered around us, some running above on high ropes, others swooping in close to us as we walked.

This was one of the many delights of the Apenheul, a primate park in rural Netherlands where monkeys, apes and lemurs are allowed to run free.

The squirrel monkeys hopped easily onto the arms and shoulders of park visitors, who snapped pictures of the spectacle with cameras and phones. Our daughters, ages 4 and 8, squealed. Green-clad docents schooled them in proper primate behavior. (Keep your fists closed, for example, so the monkeys don’t think you are about to feed them.)

Our daughters moved in closer, carefully approaching one group of monkeys that had gathered on a low wall. Annika, our older one, stuck out a bent arm toward one of them. She cooed and coaxed. After a few tries, the squirrel monkey tentatively climbed onto her arm, then stayed there contentedly. Annika beamed.

Planning a family visit to the Netherlands often centers on Amsterdam and will, most definitely, include challenges and counter-programming. Yes, there are spectacular museums, canal houses and the ghost of Anne Frank, but a visit with young children in tow requires vigilance in certain districts and coffee shops.

But travel 60 miles southeast of Amsterdam and you will be rewarded with family-friendly destinations. On a recent trip to the Netherlands, my husband, daughters and I found elaborate climbing structures and playgrounds awaiting us at many tourist destinations, including the phenomenal Burgers’ Zoo outside of Arnhem and De Hoge Veluwe, the more-than-13,000-acre national park where a stable of bicycles provides the only form of transportation. “Pancake houses,” where menus include a variety of scrumptious pannekoeken from savory to sweet, were ubiquitous in most cities and towns.

Our greatest pleasure came from our visit to the Apenheul, the product of one man’s hobby-turned-folly that has become a major tourist draw for the city of Apeldoorn, which sits at the center of the Netherlands.

My husband’s great-aunt, who has lived in the area for decades, had been anticipating our visit, and when we arrived at her apartment she took a handful of newspaper clippings from a cabinet, her printed argument that a trip to her city would be incomplete without a visit to the Apenheul.

We took her advice and were rewarded with memories and photographs for a lifetime.

Wim Mager, a Dutch photographer from Rotterdam, bought his first primates — two pygmy monkeys — from a pet store in the 1960s. After the monkeys had a baby and Mager started taking in stray primates, his collection blossomed.

In the late 1960s he began looking for space to house them and in 1971 founded the Apenheul on a half-acre of property in the middle of the Apeldoorn park known as Berg en Bos, or Mountain and Forest.

At first the Apenheul focused on South American primates, but as visitors began to stream in, the park expanded its list to include monkeys, apes and prosimians — primates such as lemurs and bush babies.

Apenheul can be translated as “ape consolation.” The park’s name stems from the fact that the apes give comfort to the humans who visit them — and vice versa.

Mager envisioned a big, green, natural property where people could encounter primates free of the bars and cages that were typical of most animal enclosures. Such a property, he believed, would allow the animals to enjoy themselves more. And when animals are having more fun, he suggested, visitors can have more fun, too.

The concept was simple but compelling. The park began to expand, growing its space and its list of primates. Today the park, open from late March through late October, hosts about a half-million visitors a year. Placards, maps and other materials were available in Dutch, English and German when we visited. Although we tried to use our limited Dutch at the Apenheul, we found English speakers everywhere, eager to help us as we fumbled along.

Guidance from the green-jacketed park docents started as soon as we stepped through the Apenheul’s gates. We were encouraged to place all of our belongings in “monkey-proof” sacks, brightly colored messenger bags designed to keep curious primates out of our pockets and backpacks.

As we walked through the park, we felt as though we were circling the globe on a special kind of safari, spotting animals of all colors and sizes, many with behavior that seemed altogether familiar.

In the bonobo house, an indoor playground of rope, logs and baskets, a 2-year-old bonobo played what looked like a tickle game with two adults.

When a furry reddish creature crossed our path, we thought it looked like a combination of a raccoon and a possum — two animals that make frequent visits to our hillside neighborhood. A lemur, a nearby sign explained.

At the sight of a proboscis monkey — with its Muppet-like features and an unmistakable bulbous nose — our younger daughter, Giuliana, laughed out loud. “These are really ridiculous,” she said.

Throughout the park the Apenheul tries to underscore the similarities between humans and primates. Beyond the usual information about evolution, with skulls and skeletons making the physical argument for the relationships between our species, a series of playgrounds challenged young visitors to climb, crawl, walk and move like their primate cousins. A climbing wall near the Berber monkeys and a swinging rope near the orangutan exhibit were especially popular with our daughters.

So, too, were the presence of many baby primates. On our visit, during our daughters’ spring break vacations, the springtime effect was in full force. At the orangutan exhibit, a baby clung to its mother’s fur as she climbed in and out between the indoor and outdoor play areas.

At the pygmy marmoset space, a baby no bigger than my pinkie finger perched on a grown marmoset’s shoulder. The baby had been born less than two weeks before our visit, and as it huddled with three other marmosets under a heat lamp, I could only think of my own little family of four.

Five baby gorillas, four female and one male, had been born at the Apenheul in the previous year, a record for a zoo its size. And though the park’s gorillas spend much of the year on a small “island” at a distance from the other primates and visitors, they were still inside “Gorillas innen,” a special gorilla house where we could see the babies and their mothers up close.

We were instantly charmed. Save for their size and strength, the baby gorillas seemed to act like typical toddlers, banging their fists for food, enjoying games of tag and cuddling up to their mothers for hugs.

One baby gorilla in particular caught our older daughter’s eye. She patiently waited for other guests to clear the area and then put her hand up against the plexiglass in a sign of greeting.

She, and we, were floored by what came next: The young gorilla peered at our daughter for a moment and then placed its hand against the glass on the opposite side, mimicking our daughter’s greeting.

Our daughter turned to us, tears in her eyes, visibly moved. “I’ll never forget this,” she said.

Nor would we.

travel@latimes.com

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The details on Apeldoorn, Netherlands

THE BEST WAY TO APELDOORN, NETHERLANDS

From LAX, nonstop service to Amsterdam is offered on KLM, and connecting service (change of plane) is offered on Delta, United, Air France, British and Lufthansa. Restricted round-trip airfares range from $1,124 to $1,487, including taxes and fees. ArkeFly also flies nonstop from LAX, but service is seasonal (ends Oct. 20). Apeldoorn is about one hour and 10 minutes by train from Amsterdam.

TELEPHONES

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 31 (the country code for Netherlands), the city code and the local number.

WHAT TO SEE

Apenheul Primate Park, 21 J.C. Wilslaan, Apeldoorn, Netherlands; 55-357-5757, http://www.apenheul.com. Inside Berg en Bos Park in Apeldoorn. Open from late March to late October. Admission about $27 for adults, $24 for children ages 3-9. Children younger than 3 are free.

Other family-friendly destinations nearby include the De Houge Veluwe, a national parkhttp://www.hogeveluwe.nl/en/14 and the Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem, http://www.burgerszoo.nl.

WHERE TO STAY

Van der Valk Hotel de Cantharel, 20 Van Golsteinlaan, Apeldoorn; 55-541-44-55, http://www.hoteldecantharel.nl/en. A 10-minute drive from the Apenheul, with a children’s playground chickens and deer out back). A family room that could accommodate four begins at about $200 a night.

Linge Hotel Elst, 23B Dorpsstraat, Elst; 481-365-260, http://www.lingehotelelst.nl/en/index.html. The small town of Elst is an easy 45-minute drive from Apeldoorn. The 28-room has a special “family room” ( two adjoining rooms, with a bathtub in the children’s room) for about $TK a night with breakfast. We found it cozy, and the staff were helpful and cheery.

WHERE TO EAT

Restaurant ‘t Koetshuis, 2 Maarten van Rossumplein, Vaassen; 578-571-501, http://restaurant-koetshuis.nl/. A favorite of our family living in the area and a kid’s dream come true, mostly because it’s in the coach house of the nearby Cannenburch Castle. The restaurant serves a seasonal, three-course prix fixe menu, with a range of choices, about $44.

Hartelust Pannekoekvilla, 48 Dorpsstraat, Elst; 481-45-2789, http://www.hartelust.com. Pancake — or pannekoek — houses abound in the Netherlands and are a great choice when kids are in tow. I loved the apple pannekoek with ginger, and a version with bananas and whipped cream was a hit with our daughters. Dinner for four was about $68-$80.

It may be cold outside right now, but here’s a promise of good things to come. French photographer Normann Szkop snapped these amazing aerial photos of the tulip fields of Anna Paulowna in northern Netherlands.

BY / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2013, 3:12 PM

NORMANN SZKOP

Here’s a vibrant reminder of what makes springtime in the Netherlands so beautiful.

French photographer Normann Szkop took to the skies last year to capture these glorious aerial shots of tulip fields in Anna Paulowna, a town in northern Netherlands. For tulip farmers, this beauty is a business. The flowers are sheared off, and about 2 billion bulbs are exported every year. But for a fleeting moment, the angles and lines created by these tulips turn mass production into quite a lovely thing.

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The Dutch fields start working early, producing crocuses in late January, according to the National Geographic. Then come the daffodils, narcissi and hyacinths. The flower season reaches a climax in April and May, when tulips blanket the fields like a quilt of many colors.

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The Dutch have learned to capitalize on this spectacle, drawing tourists in with an annual Tulip Festival. This year’s festivities will begin April 17. 

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The first tulip arrived in the Netherlands from Asia in 1593, sparking a flurry of sales that would later be called “Tulipomania.” During the 17th century, one bulb could cost you what a Ferrari costs today, The New York Times reports.

The bulbs are destined for Dutch auction houses, where sales of tulips produce about $300 million every year.

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See more photos at “Flying over the Tulips Fields” Flickr page.

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Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/tulips-fields-full-bloom-article-1.1253883#ixzz2Jv8jXqYs

Original BBC article found here

By Katia MoskvitchTechnology reporter, BBC News

Floating house, Colombia
A floating house in Colombia, modelled on a Dutch design
The recent flooding across the UK has seen hundreds of householders desperately trying to prevent water from entering their houses.

Most use the centuries-old approach of piling heavy sandbags at their doors and windows.

But what if your house was buoyant – rising at the same level as the surrounding water?

Earlier this year, Baca Architects was granted permission to build Britain’s first amphibious house by the banks of the River Thames in Buckinghamshire – one that rests on land, but in the event of a flood rises with the water.

The Environment Agency is interested in the idea of such floating homes, says the agency’s flood risk engineer Tony Andryszewski who often works at a flood test centre, set up to investigate new technologies for flood prevention and control.

The agency is keen on seeing how other countries approach the problem, he says, especially in the Netherlands.

The Dutch are widely acknowledged as having the best flood management technologies in the world.

Floating houses, Canada
Floating houses in British Columbia, Canada, are designed differently from the ones in Holland

 

Even the flood forecasting software used by the Environment Agency, Delft-FEWS, has been developed by the Dutch.

Flood-proofing

Such know-how is not surprising – much of the Netherlands’ land mass is below sea level, and even the country’s name reflects its low-lying topography,

Since the 12th Century people have been draining delta swamps and creating artificial dry land – polders – at first using pumps powered by windmills.

Currently, there are about 3,500 low-lying polders enclosed by dykes in the Netherlands. They easily collect water from rain, rivers and the sea, and are constantly being pumped to keep nearby communities dry.

“The Dutch have built dykes for over 1,000 years,” says Jos Maccabiani from Flood Control 2015, a Dutch government programme charged with developing better information systems for managing floods.

“Since the last major flood in 1953, in which more than 1,800 people died, this system has been upgraded to very high standards.”

According to computer simulations, today’s defences in the Netherlands are supposed to withstand the kind of flood so severe that it would occur only once in 10,000 years, he explains.

There are dams all around the country, guarding all main river estuaries and sea inlets.

The Netherlands
Many Dutch live below sea level so flood management technology is vital

 

“Nevertheless, with the ever-increasing urbanisation of our polders and flood plains, spatial planning is increasingly combined with flood resilience,” adds Mr Maccabiani.

“There are projects under way where urban revitalisation of a city is combined with the widening of the river bed, lowering the peak water levels, and others that look into flood-proofing the country’s highway infrastructure.”

Ready to float?One Dutch technology that the UK is observing keenly is the “smart levee”, designed in the Netherlands as part of an EU research project, UrbanFlood.

Amphibious house designAn amphibious house rises with the water level – and sinks to its original position when the flood subsides

Sensors are put inside flood embankments, as an early online warning system and for real-time emergency management. The technology constantly monitors the condition of the levee, and sends a warning when it is weakening.

Another innovation that Britain has already started to adopt is movable river barriers – installed in the ground, they rise with the water.

Dutch floating houses are also on the Environment Agency’s radar, says Mr Andryszewski.

Homes on stilts are common in flood-prone countries such as Thailand, Burma and India. Floating houses of different designs exist in a few places too, namely in Germany, Canada, the US, and even on Taggs Island in the UK, where some 60 homes are attached to piles driven into the riverbed of the Thames.

But creating an amphibious home – placing a house on a platform that makes the house float in case of a flood – has only recently been looked at in the Netherlands.

In 2005, Dutch firm Dura Vermeer built several buoyant houses in the village of Maasbommel, along the Maas River, about 60 miles (100km) from Amsterdam.

House on stilts, MyanmarHouses on stilts have existed for centuries in flood-prone areas – like this one at Inle Lake, Burma

They rise as the water rises, keeping occupants and their possessions dry. When the floods subside, the houses sink to their original position.

The houses float on hollow pontoons made of concrete and timber. All pipes and ducts for water, gas, electricity, and sewage disposal are flexible and keep functioning even when a house rises several metres.

Unlike boats, the houses can’t drift away, as they are kept in place by sturdy posts set deep into the ground.

Currently, Dutch architectural company Waterstudio is planning to build an entire apartment complex on water, which it says could accommodate hundreds of people.

‘Sandless’ sandbags

Even if the UK doesn’t build floating houses any time soon, there are some innovations that could at least replace the heavy sandbags.

UK entrepreneur Richard Bailey designed lightweight bags that expand on contact with water – and also absorb it.

“It was first designed for the Ministry of Defence,” says Mr Bailey, explaining that his company FloodSax was asked to create an easily portable alternative to sandbags for the army’s bomb disposal unit.

Floods, UKTraditional heavy sandbags are still common, despite existing alternatives

 

“We put the bag into a barrage unit, the water comes in, gets soaked into the bag, the bag expands, blocking the water at the door.

“Or unfortunately when someone has been flooded, you can put it down in the house, soak up the water and the mud as well, so that you can get back into your house a little quicker.”

There are other firms offering similar technology, such as Thailand-based Nanotec or another UK company, HydroSack, and FloodSax’s bags are now being used in many countries across the world.

“Unfortunately though, they are still not as popular as the traditional sandbags, because not everyone is aware of the innovation,” says Mr Bailey.

But Mr Andryszewski is confident that the UK will continue to use more and more innovative technology – there are already numerous places that use watertight submarine-type doors, he says, and the flood test centre is busy experimenting with other original approaches to keep the land – and homes – as dry as possible.

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