Student - September 1, 2011

Messing about in boats at the Biesbosch

Who? Stijn van Gils, MSc Forest and Nature Conservation and ex-columnist with Resource
What? Research on aquatic vegetation
Where? In the Biesbosch nature reserve
Why? 'To identify the best way of managing aquatic plants'

'Every day I took the boat out on the rivers and creeks. At 350 locations I threw two rakes tied together into the water and brought up plants, algae, river crabs and now and then a fish or an empty wine bottle. I stayed with two students from Utrecht, on De Dood polder, which belongs to the Forestry Commission. In the evenings I entered my data, and went canoeing or to watch the barn owl in the nearby barn fly off. We didn't have TV or internet in our hut.
The last research on aquatic plants in the Biesbosch, in 1986, didn't produce anything significant. I hope I will discover a relation between vegetation and location. During internships and my BSc thesis at Van Hall Larenstein, I was involved in management more practically; now it's more a matter of figures. There are fewer concrete decisions to make. Research is often a matter of trial and error. Sometimes I think: Is this all there is to it?
I was alone on De Dood for three weeks. If something goes wrong then you feel lonely. Like when the 250-euro sounding pole fell in the water. I jumped in, but to no avail.
But there were plenty of good moments too. One evening I saw a beaver swim under my canoe. I spotted a black stork and I saw a fish eagle attack a white-tailed eagle. And a roebuck pushed a rival into the water four metres from my boat. Very impressive, from so close.
At the same time, there are big pleasure boats with loudspeakers and French fries. If you wave, everyone on board waves back. The Biesbosch serves many purposes. It provides Rotterdam with drinking water and attracts half a million visitors per year. It is exactly that tension in nature management in the Netherlands that interests me.
You don't have to go to A frica to see unusual species. Dutch nature is fine. Yet I wouldn't want to write columns about beautiful nature. Stunning romantic scenery is lovely to see, but I am more interested in the insignificant. I like it precisely when something doesn't quite make the grade.'

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