The Netherlands is a land of water. The country has been shaped by its force and largely exists due to sound water management. A major example is the Zuiderzee, a large shallow inlet of the North sea consisting of multiple lakes, marshes and channels. As rising sea levels and storms made it bigger over the centuries, surges and floods caused death and disaster. These perilous waters have finally been tamed by closing them off from the open sea in the 1930s, creating a manmade freshwater lake.
A big block of land has since been reclaimed for farming, housing and industrial development, but when the drainage of the lowest part was finally concluded in 1968, no one could have foreseen it would become one of Europe’s most important wetlands. Too wet for construction this part was planted with common reed, providing food and shelter for numerous (near) extinct species of waterbirds. Some of these species, as for example the Grey Goose (Anser anser), Great Egret (Ardea alba) and Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea Leucorodia), returned in such numbers that the significance of this area as a major nature reserve was soon recognised. With the extension of a so-called dry zone in the 1980s the reserve started to develop its current appearance, especially after the introduction of Heck cattle, Red Deer and Konik Horses, the latter present in spectacular sized herds of up to 1,000 individuals.
The Konik may be the most symbolic addition to what is now referred to as ‘The New Wilderness’, as this Polish horse is an effort to breed back the extinct Tarpan (Equus ferus ferus), a wild horse that once roamed the steppes of Europe and Asia like its cousin, the Przewalski (Equus ferus przewalski). Although the Konik possesses some primitive markings as a dorsal stripe and dun coat through strict selection of foundation animals, it still has traits of domesticated horses. However, physical appearance doesn’t make them tame, in contrary, these animals display the unpredictable behaviour one can expect of wild animals, including fierce battles between dominant stallions. Furthermore, the size of the herds fluctuates naturally during the seasons, adjusting to the availability of food sources and with a considerable number of individuals not living to see the end of the winter. The spectacle of nature has been restored in its full glory, a remarkable achievement in one of the most densely populated countries in the world.