The independence of nature in the Netherlands, where “doing nothing” often does not seem like an option, is smaller than many Dutch people think. This is understandable in the “intensive care” that many nature reserves now enjoy. But around that particular there is room for a more natural approach. PONC stands for Maintain process-oriented naturealso Rewilding Called the restoration of natural processes in nature in human-dominated landscapes. Abandoning traditional management measures and a number of target species requires courage, space and time. Trusting that nature is self-reliant – and at its strongest and most resilient – is something the person in charge must learn and sometimes get used to.
The unbridled practice of managing nature
In practice, restoring natural processes can be complex. Especially in Western Europe, where people have something to say about every place. Or want it to be. Economic or other social interests and the goals of nature can get in the way of each other. Even ecologists and nature managers often have divergent views. What to do with obstacles such as insufficient space and densely populated areas. Or the fact that some keystone species has long since disappeared from the system, or that the surface area of nature is too small to bring them back, or that the species in question has even become extinct? Therefore, realistic concessions are important, and sometimes the only way to resume normal operations.
Grazing is a natural process and this case is an illustrative example. Take extinct species such as the aurochs (cattle) and the aurochs (horse) and the lost functions in the ecosystem. These species never return, but the ecological role they play is not lost: thanks to so-called proxies, such species and natural processes can be imitated. The use of konic horses in a nature reserve is an agent that restores the process of natural grazing by wild horses and thus countless interactions between plants and animals. The result is an organized and diverse scene. One of the most important results of this natural trend is the many transitions that arise between open areas, sandy places, shrubs, and denser forests. This cannot be imitated with mowers and machines. Otherwise, the result will be hard borders and destroyed ant nests. In rewilding areas, this has led to the natural return of rare species, such as the red-backed shrike in the Mashurst River and the reflex butterfly in Groene Wood. Or tree frogs, as in Kempen ~ Brook. Or, less dramatic but at least ecologically interesting: gnawing on the bones on the carcasses of dead red deer, which are allowed to remain in Veluvi, for example.
Every reduced natural process is a step towards a more self-reliant nature. In fragmented landscapes, it is difficult to find an area large and connected enough to accommodate all these processes. A compromise here – adhering to the example of the big herders – could be to work with several smaller areas and move the herd from one area to another. In this way, nutrients, minerals and seeds are transported, and the disturbances caused by the herds to the soil and vegetation create gradients and variations in the landscape in each area. To prevent inbreeding in a small herd, bulls can be exchanged between different herds. More about that can be found there A process-oriented nature conservation handbook (PDF: 2.4 MB).
Grazing is not the only natural process worth improving. Large grazing is sometimes difficult to use, especially on small plots of land. Leaving dead animals lying around or returning them (for example, traffic victims such as deer) can be another measure. The law in the Netherlands allows this, but this is not the case everywhere. Corpses stimulate new life, especially in predators such as crows, foxes, beetles and fly species. The latter two are often so specialized that they depend on the corpse to complete their life cycle. Furthermore, the corpses return nutrients and minerals to the cycle, and soil and plant life also benefit from this.
By making agreements with local site managers and hunters to leave dead wildlife lying around, the associated natural processes occur almost automatically. ARK has been working to provide information about the valuable role of dead animals in nature for decades, and other organizations have increasing experience in this matter. The audience often reacts with great interest. The story that death brings life is now well understood by most people.
Bears on the road? Communication helps!
There are obstacles standing in the way of widespread application of “process nature”: from environmental, landscape, economic, legal and social barriers to human-animal conflicts. For example, how do you deal with culturally and historically special orchards or ancient plot boundaries that are still clearly recognizable? Or do riders from the region not want to give up an acquired right? Experience shows that if you want to start a project to restore natural processes, it is important to make an initial inventory of the existing obstacles. Some obstacles can be mitigated or even prevented through open communication with participants in the area. Thinking together often produces better results than communicating. People from the region are often proud of the project they are involved in, can contribute ideas or can take action themselves. In this way, the community, even in a country as densely populated as the Netherlands, is still able to guarantee a wild and self-reliant nature.
Download the process guide
Are you a nature manager, forester, ecologist, volunteer, nature guide or involved with nature in the Netherlands? Then provides the evidence Maintain process-oriented nature Your access to a special world of natural processes. The guide is available in English via the ARK Rewilding Holland website.
Within the PONC Erasmus+ project, project partners from Sweden, Romania, Belgium, England and the Netherlands worked together to share knowledge and experiences and learn from each other. Given the different backgrounds and (environmental) systems in which everyone operates, a number of different barriers arise. The lessons learned during this project are summarized in a final product – the PONC Guide – and serve as a form of guidance and practical support for implementing process-oriented nature restoration.
Text: Lucie Dottig and Lars Soerink, ARK Rewilding, Netherlands
Photos: Esther Lennarz (main image: red walnuts and reed orchids in Sliecken van de Haen); Rob Lugex; Sabine Wolters; Leo Lennartz
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