'The Maasheggen has its own beauty every season'

'Patron' Piet Hopman

The Maasheggen area of Brabant has gone 'into the heart' of Piet Hopman. So much so that when he retires from Staatsbosbeheer, in April 2024, the native Limburger was appointed 'patron of the Maasheggen'. "Although I have known the area since childhood I only found out later, when I started working there as a project manager, how special and unique it actually is."

As the son of a farmer with leased land near the Genneper House, Pete already saw the hedges, on what was then called "the other side.
Pete did not take over his parents' business, but went to study Forest and Nature Management at the Higher School of Forestry. After his studies, he was able to start work at Staatsbosbeheer. Initially in Groningen, later in Tilburg, Oss, Arnhem, Deventer and finally in Nistelrode. In those years, Piet got to know an important part of the eastern Netherlands. In his first years at Staatsbosbeheer he wrote plans for forest and nature management. After two moves (Westervelde and Loon op Zand) Piet returned to his native Gennep. From then on, he was already returning regularly to De Maasheggen, but his connection with the Brabant part of the area became really strong when in 2012 he was asked to become project leader for the recovery plan Maasheggen and later for the recovery of the Natura 2000 area Oeffelter Meent.

Initial distrust
Pete recalls that his start was not easy. "Especially among the farmers in the area, there was a lot of distrust about what others like Staatsbosbeheer were planning with the area. That made cooperation difficult."
Yet Pete soon saw a turnaround. "Especially the way in which the parcel exchange was shaped in the area played an important role in this. Plus the realization that we need agriculture to manage the Maasheggengebied. The Maasheggen cannot do without the farmers - just as the farmers cannot do without the other parties who help maintain the Maasheggengebied. You sometimes have to give in on both sides to get something done. And that's getting better and better."

Beauty of The Maasheggen
Pete came and comes a lot in the Maasheggen area. As a former employee of Staatsbosbeheer, but also privately. What makes the Maasheggengebied special to him? "The landscape has its own beauty every season. The beauty of The Maasheggen is that you are surprised every time there. Sometimes you suddenly see a roe deer walking or special plants in bloom. The most beautiful spot? The Oeffelter Meent. With the horses that walk there and the unique views from the dike towards the Meuse and the Monastery St. Agatha. But I also enjoy coming to the Vortum and Groeningse Bergjes. There are very beautiful thicket hedges and gems of pollarded trees in a number of places and beautiful, flowery meadows. Still, if I really had to take someone who does not know the area on a voyage of discovery through De Maasheggen, I would walk with him or her from Sint Agatha to the Veerhuis in Oeffelt. There is a lot to tell about that part of the Maasheggen. Not only about the plants, animals and landscape, but also about the history of the area. About the Monastery St Agatha, the Genneper House, the Duchy of Kleve and the German Line."
Pete then likes to refer back to old maps that show what De Maasheggen used to look like. Like a map from 1731 on which a much larger Oeffelter Meent is depicted, but on which you can also see the hedge landscape that has remained intact for centuries.
Yet Piet is also concerned. For example, about how the hedge landscape will recover from the clay excavations, such as in the Meerkampen and Oeffeltse Weiden. "Fine that new, different nature is developing there, but in this area the restoration or bringing back of hedges should be a priority. After all, hedges are characteristic of the Maasheggen area."

Pete may have retired from Staatsbosbeheer due to reaching retirement age, but the Maasheggen will not let him go for the time being. He continues to enjoy coming there, regularly organizing excursions and tours and helping to weave the hedges. In addition, he is going to join the board of the Collective Delta Landscape Plan. He sees his main task as ensuring the quality of management and maintenance at De Maasheggen. "I hope that my knowledge about that will come in handy," he said.
To add the deed to his praise of De Maasheggen, Pete has had as many as six hundred meters of hedges planted at his childhood home in Gennep. "I attended a presentation by Kenneth Rijsdijk some time ago and was impressed by the many positive effects that hedges have. Not only for nature experience and biodiversity, but also for people's health." With the construction of six hundred meters of hedges on the Limburg side of the Meuse River, Piet wants to make his own contribution to that.

Wishes for the future
Whether the 'patron of The Maasheggen' has any other wishes for the future? "I hope that the attention for the area remains and that De Maasheggen keeps the status of UNESCO Man & Biosphere even after 2028. I also call for more attention to the linking zones in the Maasheggen. The nature cores are already pretty much in order, but there is still profit to be made with the linking zones. This is also a great opportunity for agriculture to give 'nature' a place along their property boundaries, thus removing barriers for animals and plants.
I am also in favor of making local farmers responsible for the maintenance of this area. I know tenders have to be made but the risk of that is that work is awarded to parties who have no involvement in this area. That involvement is precisely crucial to the proper maintenance and management of The Maasheggen.
Finally, I would welcome more youth involvement in De Maasheggen. Also from the schools. Children influence what their parents think and do. They sometimes say that the youth have the future, but I would say it more strongly: 'the future is determined by the youth of today'. So let's start there to increase support for The Maasheggen."

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