Nieuws - 13 december 2012

Shell paths

I spent the autumn mid-term holiday with my family on the island of Schiermonnikoog, enjoying the gorgeous October weather, the wind, the sea and...

the rustling of the shells crushed by our bicycle tires as we whooshed through the dunes. It seems that this experience will soon be a thing of the past. Concrete cycle paths are already being laid on Texel island and it is only to be expected that the other islands will follow suit. Concrete paths require very little maintenance and are therefore cheaper. A fair argument in times of economic cutbacks, you might think. And yet... The shells are sourced from the seabed on the shipping routes between the mainland and the islands, but the national water board has put a stop to that for ecological reasons. The demand is now being met by mixing the lovely shells with clay. I cannot get used to the idea of cycling on grey concrete instead of white crushed shells. Besides, the chalk in the shells causes species such as eyebright (Euphrasia stricta) and the rare autumn gentian to grow along the paths. Overfertilization, acidification and desiccation have been the main problems for nature management for years. Later, fragmentation of the landscape and sedimentation were added to the list. I am afraid we have overlooked another factor: the gradual disappearance of local variety and distinctive natural phenomena. Old cattle breeds, from Friesland for instance, or the more than 60 varieties of cherry that used to be found in South Limburg. Each region had its own customs, calendar, building styles and machinery. This diversity seems to be evaporating slowly but surely. The shell paths of the Wadden islands are just one more example.