Last month, I wrote about “reopening” as a trend, and used Faribault Woolen Mills as an example of the old made new. This month I want to continue on the “re” trend, but from the opposite direction; February’s story is about the brand new, made old.
We’ll travel to the Netherlands, to a place called Flevoland. I learned about Flevoland in a New Yorker article titled “Recall of the Wild,” by Elizabeth Kolbert. Flevoland is a brand new 15,000 acre province created “out of the muck” of the floor of North Sea, thanks to the intervention of Mother Nature and subsequent reclamation by man.
Much of the Netherlands is below sea level; the country has relied on an intricate series of dikes and levees to keep the sea at bay. In the 1930’s, and again in the 1950’s, freak storms of Mother Nature crashed through this system, flooding much of the area, killing thousands, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The Dutch government vowed this would never happen again and set about the herculean task of creating a manmade structure known as the Delta Works—the world’s most sophisticated system of flood defenses. When Delta Works was complete, land that for millennia had lain at the bottom of an inlet of the North Sea was transformed into a freshwater lake.
This lake was eventually drained to create a giant swath of fertile new farmland. Two new cities were built from scratch at either end of the province. In the center of this strip of new land “lies a wilderness—constructed, Genesis-like, from the mud.” Interestingly, the province’s coat of arms has the head of a lion and the tail of a mermaid.
This wilderness was originally slated for industrial development. Amazingly, a team of innovative Dutch biologists convinced the government to turn portions of the newest land in Europe into “a Paleolithic landscape” by ‘rewilding’ it.
The preserve, called Oostvaardersplassen, has become an experiment in conservation. Instead of merely trying to preserve what is disappearing, biologists are trying to recreate what once was by stocking this mostly flat new land with the type of animals that would have inhabited the region in prehistoric times. Red deer were brought in from Scotland, wild horses from Poland, and foxes, geese, and egrets from various other locales. Most of the imported animals thrived, and “other animals found their way to the Oostvaardersplassen on their own,” including muskrats, buzzards and herons, and even a pair of eagles. Today, “visitors pay up to $45 to take safari-like tours of area,” now called “the Serengeti behind the dikes.”
In the case of species that were extinct, scientists originally tried importing the next best thing. Heck cattle, a beast genetically similar to aurochs (a large extinct bovine), were brought in from Germany. Currently, scientists are working to back breed a new-old auroch by sequencing a small subset of the beast’s mitochondrial DNA, using a 7,000-year-old bone. (Jurassic Park, anyone?)
In their quest to engineer a world before humans, these big thinkers believe that “what is lost is not lost forever.” Their groundbreaking work has spawned a growing movement called “Rewilding Europe.” While followers admit that it’s true that genuine wildernesses can only be destroyed, they believe that “new wildernesses,” what the Dutch call “new nature,” can be created. The concept isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. According to the author, depopulated expanses of our American Midwest have been named candidates for rewilding.
If they build it, will the once-extinct reemerge? We shall see.
Flevoland Coat of Arms