The Dutch lowland fen areas belong to the most important wetland ecosystems in Western Europe. These areas are young landscapes, formed during the Holocene geological period in the Dutch provinces of South Holland, North Holland, Utrecht, Overijssel and Friesland. The wetlands have been modified by activities such as mowing, grazing and peat extraction, which have enriched its biodiversity through the maintenance of different succession phases, from open water to acidic bogs and forests. Following the abandonment of the land, however, natural succession and eutrophication has occurred.
At the time of the project, the seven lowland fen areas that were the focus included a large area of well-developed, valuable habitat. Nevertheless, the surface area and quality of this habitat has declined in the past few decades, due mainly to hydro-ecological reasons. In order to maintain the rare habitats found in the succession from open water to wet forest, continuous management measures are needed. Threats to the valuable habitats include the dominance of older succession phases, sub-optimal hydrological conditions (e.g. water table set as a function of agricultural activities and the stronger influence of rain water than groundwater, leading to acidification), high nitrogen deposition, external and internal eutrophication (e.g. input of water from the polders, canals, rivers; mineralisation of the peat leading to a release of nutrients), fragmentation and isolation (due to urbanisation and intensive agricultural practices), changes in land use and management (e.g. traditional reed cutting, harvesting of peat and hay harvest), and increased pressure due to recreational activities.
Measures have been taken to improve the hydrology, reduce eutrophication and set back the natural vegetation succession (to younger successional stages) in the Natura 2000 sites. The measures led to enlargement and or improvement of the quality of the target habitats (listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive). This resulted in the improvement of biotopes of valuable flora and fauna species occurring in these habitats, and leading lead to enhancement biodiversity and of the connectivity in the lowland fen area.
The main objective of the New LIFE for Dutch Fens project was to restore, improve and/or enlarge the area of fen habitats, with an emphasis on the early successional fen stages (including water vegetation). The project would target seven different lowland fen habitats in the Netherlands. These habitats are listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive and included fens, wet heathlands, freshwater submerse habitats and wet meadows.
The main actions to be carried out included:
All the above mentioned measures per action have been carried out and all habitat restoration targets have been reached. The project New LIFE for Dutch Fens helped restore 506.43 ha of fen habitats, improving the environmental conditions for the development of young fen succession stages and other open waters with Chara vegetations (H3140), Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition vegetations, wet heath, Molinia meadows, transition mires and quaking bogs and fens with Cladium mariscus. It also enlarged the targeted habitats by 211.96 ha.
This also included measures on invasive alien species like cranberry. Most of the occurring invasive alien species are managed well however, the American freshwater crayfish remains a problem in different sites, having a negative impact on water quality and the growth of vegetation. Because it was not possible to create an extra compost facility the beneficiary is now looking into receiving subsidies from the Province of Zuid Holland to improve and expand the existing compost area. In the meantime we remove the extra biomass in an other ways. Research on fen terrestrialisation through artificial floating platforms has learned us a lesson about the practical applications of lowland fen restoration in the field. A total of 45 rafts (each sized 50 m²) were installed in nine peat holes at Oostelijke Vechtplassen, yielding insight into the factors that delay terrestrialisation of early fen succession stages and allowed the project team to develop solutions for future fen restoration projects. Furthermore, the project constructed a crane ship to facilitate management during and after the project. The know-how of the building process could be used in other locations.
The project developed three public information points (Rottige Meente, Oostelijke Vechtplassen en Botshol), purchased a boat for tours (in Nieuwkoopse plassen) and created a footpath with viewpoints. Contributions to the local economy and employment relate to tourism and the improved quality of the reed land and reed yield Moreover, the long-term, cyclical management has secured the future of reed cutters. The project also contributed to the nature directives, along with the EU Biodiversity Strategy (targets 1 and 2) and the Water Framework Directive. n all project areas monitoring took place.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).