Living in the Netherlands and having the opportunity to live so close to the beautiful long sandy beaches and rolling dunes, I have learned that most of the world is unaware of the vastness and beauty of the Dutch shoreline. It seems similar to me as the way that people who haven’t seen the Great Lakes can’t comprehend the size and amount of fresh water these lakes have. Today, I am going to attempt to provide a better idea of the value of the Dutch dunes and beach to both the Netherlands and the world for those who have not yet had the opportunity to see them.
In addition to being spectacularly beautiful, the Dutch utilize the beaches in great ways. Some are wide open and empty, such as the beach around the Zandmotor, but others have beach restaurants set up for several months of the year, surfing shops, and kite boarding areas. In Scheveningen there is even a pier with a zipline, Ferris wheel, and bungee jumping, all done over the water.
The Scheveningen, one of the many beach resorts along the Dutch coastline.
Even in the winter you will see surfers venturing out.
Beyond the beach, the 254 km of the Dutch coastline is made up of coastal dune systems. What that means is that the sand from the North Sea that is brought up onto land first forms the beach and the wind then moves the sand inland creating a hill or a mound. With time and more sand, these mounds grow and become dunes. The dunes tend to be active, moving as the wind moves the sand. Salt tolerant, drought resistant plants with deep roots are all that can grow in the dunes closest to the sea, but these plants trap more sand helping the dune grow. This is the only place these plant species can grow. Moving inland where there is less movement, less wind and salt, the vegetation changes and the variety of plants increases as well as the size of the vegetation, all helping to stabilize the dune further. On the land side of a dune complex marshes can form and a completely different variety of flora can grow.
Blue Sea Thistle and dune grasses are some of first plants to grow at the sea side of the dunes.
Sea buckthorn is used to prevent erosion, create wildlife habitat, and enrich the soil. The birds love these berries in the fall. Given the strong smell of fermentation at that time of year, I question if they are attracted to them because of their alcohol content.
The dune complexes along the Dutch shoreline provide a vast amount of the country’s flora and fauna diversity.
‘These dunes form only 1% of the total surface area of the Netherlands. Despite that fact, at least 75% of all Dutch plant species grow in the dunes and of the 190 species of Dutch nesting birds, 140 make their nests in the dunes.’
In addition to birds, the dunes are also home to sand lizards, foxes, and deer, though I have yet to see anything but foxes. The Dutch government also uses Scottish Highland cattle, sheep, horses, and goats to keep the dunes free from invasive flora such as the yellow holly.
You wouldn’t say so if you live in the Netherlands or Belgium, but seen on a global scale, coastal dunes are rare. Rocky coasts are much more common. Due to the rarity and the richness in species, dunes are valuable nature areas.
As a result of the large amount of the Netherlands flora and fauna in these dune complexes, many of them are protected as parks to help retain the diversity.
A Scottish Highlander, one of the animals used to keep invasive plant spieces out of the dunes and a grey herron, one of the many bird species found in the dune ecosystems.
The Netherlands also uses the dunes for another important reason, it is where a large amount of the drinking water is stored and filtered. River water is pumped into the dunes. The sand stores the water and performs a treatment function. Some of the most densely populated cities in the Netherlands rely on this drinking water, such as The Hague and Amsterdam. This process has also resulted in some of the most densely populated areas of the Netherlands being maintained in a more natural manner, simply for ensuring clean water.
The first map is of Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland, you can see the dense population around the park, but the 38 km² park is part owned by the PWN (the Water Supply Company of North Holland) that uses some of the land it owns to provide drinking water and maintains some of it as a protected area that is also used for recreation. Meijendel is part of the Hollandse Duinen National Park and is also used for drinking water extraction, again a 20 km² area located just north of the most densely populated city in the Netherlands, The Hague. Looking at these maps it is apparent how important the dunes are for the Dutch population when so much valuable land is used to store and treat drinking water.
In addition to the need to preserve this space to ensure safe and abundant drinking water, the dune area also provides the Dutch with vast recreational areas. The areas are used by cyclist, hikers, walkers, bird watchers, and animal and plant enthusiasts. In a densely populated country, these areas account for a lot of the available nature.
Another very important aspect to the dunes systems is their coastal defence against rising sea levels. Over the past few decades, one of the main focuses in the Netherlands has been restoring and maintaining the natural barrier between the sea and the low-lying land here. One of the major innovations that the Dutch are using is in this challenge is the Zandmotor (Sand Engine) to help replenish the sand and provide larger beaches, which will lead to larger dunes between the sea and the land humans are utilizing.
To sum it all up, the beaches and the dunes provide the Netherlands with biodiversity in their flora and fauna, natural areas, recreational space, a filter for drinking water, and protection against a rising sea. The Dutch coastline is really a fantastic place to explore and is nothing like the canals and bridges of Amsterdam, the windmills of the Netherlands, or the modern architecture of Rotterdam.