A visit to the Oostvaardersplannen sometimes ends in disappointment for people who have seen the film 'De nieuwe wildernis' (The new wilderness). Master’s student of Forest and nature management Floor van Gils discovered this during her thesis research. The film shows the unique wild nature in the area, but most of the territory is inaccessible to leisure-seekers.
The popularity of the Oostvaardersplannen has grown considerably since the success of the film in 2013. The state forest service Staatsbosbeheer is keen for visitor numbers to go on growing, so it asked Wageningen University to do some research among visitors. This was a nice opportunity for Floor van Gils, who had become interested in the area through the film, and through the controversy about the large ruminants which sometimes die of hunger there in the winter. For her Master’s thesis she asked visitors whether their visit to the Oostvaardersplassen lived up to their expectations.
Not a zoo
It was clear from Floor’s interviews that visitors really did experience the Oostvaardersplassen as ‘wild nature’. But there were disappointments as well. Some visitors, for example, thought the many dead trees were depressing and messy. Others were disappointed by the limited length of the footpaths. The film also had a strong impact on the expectations of people hoping to spot game. The close-ups of the Konik ponies in the film suggested that the animals in the reserve could be approached. ‘But the Oostvaardersplassen is not a zoo,’ says Floor. She found out that people were disappointed that they could only watch the animals from a distance.
According to Floor there are a couple of things Staatsbosbeheer could do to meet the needs of visitors. One would be to create longer walks. Another would be to make active use of the media to moderate the high expectations raised by De nieuwe wildernis, closing the gap between expectations and reality. Floor also considers it essential that Staatsbosbeheer focuses its efforts to attract more visitors on a specific target group, getting a clear idea of that target group’s wishes.
‘Big game is always a big attraction,’ concludes Floor. Staatsbosbeheer could play into that by expanding the number of excursions it runs. But it is important that the area remains ‘wild’, adds Floor, because that is precisely what people find so appealing about the Oostvaardersplassen.