As the sun rises above the waterway at a quarter past seven, the ice sings and the easterly wind is biting. Yet chirping peewits are already declaring the arrival of spring. Feeling somewhat awkward on my skates, I am reminded that there was once an entire culture around hunting, collecting and eating their eggs. Those days are long gone. No more peewit eggs in our cookery books.
But the nest hunters carried on — and started to protect the increasingly rare field birds. I used to accompany such field bird conservationists sometimes as a schoolboy. Only now do I realize how important those Wednesday afternoons were in my decision to study at Wageningen.
Every now and then, a pair of greylag geese flies above the frozen floodplains. The greylag goose is certainly not the most popular bird species in our fields but at least it is one that is doing well. So well that we could even ‘harvest’ some of the population. The most approachable method is to regularly collect their eggs, a strategy that has been gaining ground for some years.
Could that take on the status that gathering peewit eggs once had? I imagine us learning to love the greylag goose. King Willem-Alexander gratefully receiving the gift of the first goose egg every spring. A tradition being invented in which enthusiasts go off into the fields in search of goose eggs, accompanied by curious people who learn in this way to see the countryside in a whole new light.
It must be the cold; I hurry off to my lecture.