Agriculture has shaped the peatland into the most typical Dutch landscape. The agricultural plots are elongated and the windmills and the water pumping stations on the horizon allow black-and-white cows to graze all summer long. Here and there is a cheese factory with each area having its own kind of cheese. It is the landscape that we like to cycle through or make an ice-skating trip. However, the survival of the peat meadows is strongly under pressure due to soil subsidence and CO2 emissions the size of one coal plant. The question is how long it can continue to exist in its present form.
At the moment there seem to be two schools that offer a solution to this problem. The first one is an approach that allows the peatlands to keep their function and land-use. Here and there a technical measure will do the work, with the largest solution being underwater drainage or pressure drainage by which the peat cushion is wettened during dryer periods. However, more and more points out this is not going to save those landscapes. If we stand back, we can see the peat is already gone in some places at the end of this century, like the Lage Midden in Friesland. This area has relatively thin peat cushions compared to the peat landscapes in the West of the Netherlands.
A second school appears here. One that is visible on the exhibition Places of Hope in Leeuwarden, where in the past months a large atelier on the Frisian peatlands has taken place. The results are exhibited at Places of Hope, an exhibition on spatial issues at Leeuwarden Cultural Capital of Europe. Here, we see an approach for the Lage Midden area which proposes a regional development in which climate change, the transition of agriculture, biodiversity, cultural history and scenic experience go hand in hand.
Nowhere else in the Netherlands are the peatlands so deeply drained than in the Lage Midden in Friesland. The low water levels have been good for agriculture and large dairy companies, but it poses typical problems. These include soil subsidence, sagging of old houses, high CO2 emissions, disappearing biodiversity (Landschapspijn, Jantien de Boer), insufficient space for water storage and buffering, and salinification coming from the Wadden Sea. Quite a problematic list. In combination with climate change, this asks for a radical system change in this area. A big challenge, but this atelier presents a cool perspective regarding solutions.
The guiding principle is that, in the light of climate change, more room for water should be created in the future. It is about water buffering and storage, but also to counteract the collapse of houses. This is already an interesting thing in Friesland, because along many ribbon villages there are water circuits to keep the village ‘on current level’. In addition, the region is divided into four study areas; the edges with clay on peat, inbetween the lakes (thin clay layer), pure peat polders and the deep peat polders. Here, the water level is proposed to be heightened in four different ways to counteract the peat oxidation.
Throughout the atelier, these four areas are leading in making choices and future perspectives. For example, in the Frisian clay areas with peat beneath the top layer of clay, it is proposed to heighten the water level up towards the clay layer. This ‘seals of’ the peat layer, even remaining intact during dry summers when clay cracks appear. A clever and durable solution.
Furthermore, a future-proof boezem system was studied, as the Frisian water management run against its borders due to climate change. Friesland as a water sports province has little space to allow the water to fluctuate vertically. It is developed in a tight corset of bridges and aqueducts. Therefore the room for water is found horizontally in broader boezemlanden, developing more space for streams coming from the Drents Plateau and wetter deep peat polders.
But, what about the farmers? The atelier presents four new revenue models for dairy farmers, in collaboration with Wageningen Economic Research. The soil becomes wetter, so the vegetation has to be adapted accordingly. Think of new species as bulrush, reed and duckweed. In the wetter areas the keeping of livestock will shrink. However, that does not mean farmers are going to deteriorate financially. Feed from soybeans does not have to be purchased anymore but is being rebuilt on new to form haylands. Another hefty cost item, the manure surplus, is also diminishing. The manure can now all be driven out over their own land. All four options, linked to the four defined areas in the atelier, provide the farmer between €58,000 and €61,000 per year in revenues.
The exhibition in Leeuwarden outlines more than just a story about agriculture and water. Important added value is also that nature, spatial quality, biodiversity and the landscape itself are advancing. In the form of haylands, which are mown later in the season and can therefore be wetter, extensive habitats for meadow birds arise. Natura 2000 areas that are currently being dehydrated by strong drainage from lower polders are being made more robust and future-proof.
The confluence of various solutions about the water system, the peat cushion or climate change builds a story about the landscape, the outdoor experience and also around the Frisian pride. It builds up a strong story that appeals to a broad group of people and can show them interest in the topic. The exhibition hopes to leave inhabitants, local residents and visitors of the Lage Midden looking forward for the future and to present a broad shared story for a robust future of the peatlands.
Interested? Places of Hope, Leeuwarden: placesofhope.nl. The exhibition is open until the end of November 2018 and is part of the programme Leeuwarden Fryslân Cultural Capital 2018.
Maris, W. (1895 - 1904). Weide met koeien aan het water [Painting]. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Boer, J. D. (2017). Landschapspijn: Over de toekomst van ons platteland. Amsterdam: Atlas Contact. Ruyter, P. D. (2018). Naar een nieuwe aanpak van het veen in het Lage Midden van Fryslân [Digital image]. Retrieved from https://peterderuyterlandschap.nl/weerbaarder-guller-en-attractiever/