Ecology

The past 40 years have seen the emergence of a combination of a wetland and dryland ecology at the Oostvaardersplassen. Birds such as greylag geese did not take long to discover this newly created wetland and started adapting their trans-Eurasian migration routes. This means the OVP has had wider implications for birdlife in northwestern Europe, e.g. rare birds ‘returning’ to the UK. Birds that can be found at OVP are amongst others the Great Cormorant, the Common Spoonbill, the Great Egret, the Bearded Reedling, the White-tailed Eagle and the Eurasian Bittern.

Since the natural processes generated by a dynamic water level are lost in this polder, without intervention the area would have developed into a closed canopy forest. Instead, large herbivores (Red deer; Roe deer; Konik horses; Heck cattle) have been introduced as grazing tools to maintain a ‘shifting mosaic’ of woodland and pasture. These animals also function as part of an experiment to study a paleoecological hypothesis that this landscape was the predominant way that pleistocene Europe looked like. The idea is that grazers eat tree saplings keeping the field open until saplings protected by thorny bushes manage to evade them and grow into mature trees. Meanwhile the herbivores would debark trees which could produce forest clearings again.

Besides as grazing tools the herbivores perform ecological services through the impact of their cadavres on carrion eaters, insects, and by nutrients seeping back into the soil. Not all ‘native’ larger mammals of northwestern Europe are present at OVP: e.g.  wild boar; badger; squirrel; wisent; elk have not been introduced (yet). There are voices that call for the need to complete the ecosystem with some of these, and with predators such as wolves that would generate an ‘ecology of fear’ with the herbivores, changing their grazing patterns and reducing their numbers.

Greylag geese at the OVP

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