News - July 5, 2012

It Eilân

We are in a small motorboat on course for It Eilân in Friesland. The only way to reach our destination is by boat, as It Eilân is a real island. It's a short trip, which is just as well as the thunderclouds are piling up rather threateningly. I didn't know the sky could get so dark on a summer's day in Friesland.

The proud owners of It Eilân are Theo and Josefien, and they are turning it into a private nature reserve. Thirty hectares of grassland reserved for brooding birds and six hectares of swamp. They prefer to describe it as 'water and land', which sounds less gloomy than 'swamp'. They describe their collaboration with It Fryske Gea and with the agricultural nature association. From their home we look out over the swamp, where spoonbills are sweeping the water with their long beaks in search of food. Suddenly we hear the call of the bittern, like a distant foghorn. It's been a long time since I heard this mysterious bird. There are also spotted crakes brooding in the swamp, Theo tells me with a broad grin.
Two weeks ago I wrote that nature conservation will have to look for a new balance, whatever the outcome of September's elections. The big organizations should swap their pursuit of as much land as they can get their hands on for a search for genuine collaboration. On the island I see that this is not just a theory: a new course is being set and there is a seismic shift going on. Private nature conservation, nature-friendly farming and organized nature conservation. They can be successfully combined: the proof is here.