Nature and landscape
From panoramic views over expanses of water to the dense shelter of the swamp forest, De Alde Feanen is home to it all. The enormous variety of habitats has created an equally rich array of flora and fauna, with many unusual inhabitants. In fact, De Alde Feanen is home to more than 450 species of plant and 100 species of nesting birds.
Each different part of the peat bog has its own inhabitants. The open water is inhabited by many species of fish, the extensive reed beds form an excellent shelter for all kinds of marsh birds, and the flowery wet grasslands are excellent breeding grounds for meadow birds. Those in the know rightly recognise De Alde Feanen as one of the most beautiful wetlands in Northwest Europe!
A large part of De Alde Feanen National Park has been designated a Natura 2000 site. Read more about it here.
De Alde Feanen contains approximately 425 hectares of surface water, about the same as 650 football pitches! It consists of ditches, canals, peat pit ponds, other ponds and lakes.
There are few water plants in areas connected to open water, but in the more sheltered waters, such as the peat pit ponds, the quality of the water is much better. This is where water plants such as the yellow water-lily and the white water lily flourish. 20 different species of fish can also be found in De Alde Feanen. Again, water bodies connected to open waters contain different species to more isolated bodies; the former contains lots of bream, whereas the latter also contains lot of tench, perch, and pike.
Where there are fish, there are birds, common examples being grebes, cormorants and blue herons. You may even spot a rare species, such as the purple heron or bittern! In the autumn and in winter, the larger ponds provide important resting and stopping places for waterfowl, as long as the water does not freeze over. The ponds are particularly popular with thousands of ducks, such as widgeons, wild ducks, gadwalls, tufted ducks and pochards.
One animal you’re unlikely to see but can smell is the otter.
The otter feels vibrations in the water with its whiskers, and uses them to cleverly catch fish, its favourite prey. You might not see an otter easily, but traces are easy to find: paw prints or ‘spraints’, a nice word for otter dung, the smell of which has been described as ranging from freshly mown hay to putrefied fish!
Three types of reed grow in De Alde Feanen. Firstly, the water reed, which grows in water up to 1 metre deep. Then the shallow-water reeds, which grow closer to land. Finally, there is the type of reed that grows on land.
The reed beds in De Alde Feanen cover a significant part of the total surface, with extensive belts occurring alongside the open waters of lakes and smaller water bodies. All kinds of fish use reed as spawning and hiding places. Reed marshes also provide a safe nesting and foraging area for water birds, such as the bearded reedling, reed warbler and reed bunting. Mature water reeds provide good nesting sites for a number of rare marsh birds, such as brown kite, bittern and rails. The flowery reed beds are very rich in insects.
Before peat extraction began, much of the Frisian peat area consisted of grassland. That area has now dwindled considerably, but De Alde Feanen still has large areas of grassland, except for blue grassland which covers just a few hectares.
The name probably comes from the blue sedge, which, together with a number of other species, gives the fields a blue-grey tint in the summer. In addition to the blue sedge, other characteristic species include the meadow thistle, flea sedge, carex hostiana and purple moor grass. Various orchid species also grow well in this rare grassland.
Where? On the Rûne Sâne and the Twa Sân Mêden
This grassland is named after the common marsh-marigold, and is home to the common marsh-marigold, ragged-robin and marsh ragwort. Marsh thistle, greater yellow-rattle, yellow loosestrife and marsh bird’s-foot trefoil, are other common finds. There are many breeding birds, including critical meadow birds such as the ruff, corn crake, common snipe, black-tailed godwit, shoveler and garganey. In the winter, the flooded grasslands are a popular roosting area for thousands of ducks and geese. In the autumn and early spring, thousands of waders, such as the black-tailed godwit, ruff, golden plover and lapwing use these grasslands for foraging and roosting.
Where? On the Wyldlannen, Laban and Lange Sâne.
Tip! In the spring, there are beautiful views of the bright yellow marsh-marigolds in the grasslands from the boat.
The blue grassland and the marsh-marigold meadows are mostly flooded during the winter. However, low-lying Polder De Bolderen is normally not flooded, so it is called a winter polder. This polder is an important area for meadow birds, and foraging area for geese and widgeons. There are lots of unusual flowers, such as ragged-robins, marsh thistle, and reed orchids.
The swamp forest in De Alde Feanen is still relatively very young in comparison to the millennia-old area. During the Second World War, almost all the forest in De Alde Feanen was cut down for firewood. However, valuable alder forests have developed as a result of subsequently leaving these areas untouched for decades. Besides the black alder, the grey willow is also common.
You will also find a lot of alder buckthorn and wild honeysuckle here, and beautifully-scented sweet gale growing around the edges, especially in the eastern part. The forests are rich in lichen, mosses, mushrooms, insects and forest birds, such as buzzards, hawks, and great spotted woodpeckers, which nest here. Small songbirds such as the bullfinch, spotted flycatcher and nightingale enjoy the rich diet of insects. Deer, and even the rare pine marten, also enjoy the safety provided by the tree cover.
A colony of cormorants
The swamp forest of De Alde Feanen houses a large colony of cormorants, with about 350 pairs, in De Princenhof on the north side of De Grutte Krite. It can only be reached by boat. Cormorants are brilliant divers; they can catch fish at a depth of up to 30 metres. If you see a cormorant with its wings stretched out, it’s probably drying out its wings after such a dive. It can only fly again when its feathers are dry.