Science - March 31, 2010

Politics pushes out nature

The animals in the Oosvaardersplassen are to be fed hay to prevent them from starving. Minister Verburg made this decision under pressure from the lower house of the Dutch parliament. Is it sensible? Not according to Sip van Wieren, ecologist at the Resource ecology chair group.

'This is a regrettable decision; we are losing something unique. It may not look like it, as the Oostvaardersplassen is only a small area and has a fence around it. But every area has its boundaries, and the Oostvaardersplassen is tremendously rich in nutrients. It has been shown that the area has functioned perfectly well for the past twenty years without human interference. That was also the view of the international scientific commission that inspected the area about four years ago. The management approach has not been changed since then.
'The current government is clearly not interested in the scientific basis of nature management. The habitat is a bit one-sided and there are no predators, but the deer, cattle and horses are thriving. Food supply regulates numbers. That is true for the animals on the African savannah and for the redbreasts in our back gardens. But for political reasons it is no longer acceptable to let animals die of starvation. Political considerations have taken over nature management, without taking any notice of science.'
'The consequences of feeding the animals are enormous. The carrying capacity of the area will now be determined by hay. Populations will increase; animal numbers are now to be decided by government; nature has been pushed aside. We will now be forced to regulate animal numbers. They had some experience of feeding in the early spring on the Veluwezoom. They soon learned their lesson. They created an enormous problem. Animal numbers rose out of all proportion; social behaviour was disturbed and the animals got lazy. They have done a complete U-turn on that one.'