'We must not take the soul out of this beautiful landscape'

René van Loon

Biologist René van Loon has been researching the original native (wild or autochthonous) trees and shrubs in the Maasheggen. "The authentic, varied and small-scale hedge landscape is one of the last somewhat intact examples of its kind in the Netherlands," Van Loon says.
Although he has seen appreciation for the hedge landscape increase in recent years, he is still concerned about its future. "Above all, let's not let ourselves be led by the delusion of the day or limp compromises. That takes the soul out of the area."

René van Loon has had his own ecological consultancy firm since 2002. For various clients, he makes an inventory of autochthonous shrubs and trees in the Netherlands and provides advice on how autochthonous populations of native species can be preserved and strengthened. He also harvests, on behalf of Staatsbosbeheer, seeds and cuttings of native trees and shrubs. "It is important that sufficient seed and cuttings are available annually for the restoration and establishment of new plantings. Robust conservation of natural genetic variation in wild populations is of great importance for ecosystems. Also in the Maasheggen."
Over the past twenty years, the seeds and cuttings collected by Van Loon and his colleagues have been used to grow hundreds of thousands of shrubs and trees for both the Maasheggen and other areas in the Netherlands. In addition, extensive samples have been taken from all special native populations in the Maasheggen. The plants raised from these have been safely housed in the National Genebank Autochthonous Trees and Shrubs.

Important growing site

The Maasheggen is, Van Loon said, "a very important growing site for numerous autochthonous (wild) populations of native species of trees and shrubs." The UNESCO site is home to species such as the one- and two-stemmed hawthorn, mock hawthorn, blackthorn, buckthorn, wild cardinal's hat, red dogwood, Spanish sycamore, common elder, dog rose, hedgerow rose, pedunculate oak and ash. "This is mainly due to the area's long natural and cultural history. 'Ancient woodlands' like the Maasheggen often still harbor the wild trees and shrubs that have already become scarce or rare elsewhere."

The Berg en Dalse biologist has seen much beauty lost in the past twenty years in the Maasheggen. "Among others, in the area of the Sweet Pass meadows, a lot of non-native plant material has been planted. Elsewhere, old hedgerows have been damaged or disappeared, in part due to poor management and clearing. It is important to preserve the original wild populations and, in restoration plantings, to strengthen them. Staatsbosbeheer, the municipalities involved, the water board and several private individuals have fortunately now adjusted their policies accordingly."

Integral vision needed

Van Loon is pleased that, especially now that the area has UNESCO Man & Biosphere status, appreciation and interest in the Maasheggen has increased. "The most important step for now is to create an integral long-term vision for the entire Maasheggen, in which all stakeholders work together. Only with an integrated approach can the area maintain its special character and richness. That means, as far as I am concerned, that excavation and large-scale industrial arable farming must be stopped as soon as possible. You will also have to banish the coarse equipment used to work the fields at Maasheggen. The old narrow paths are not designed for that. Arable farmers and farms must be bought out or strict agreements must be made for careful management of the hedgerows, combined with subsidies where possible and necessary. Grasslands should be extensively grazed or mowed and especially not fertilized so that they become flowery again.

The Maasheggen derives its authentic values largely from its green cultural history. So leave nature development projects with large pools of water and "wild nature" behind. The restoration of the old drinking water pools for cattle is more important, as far as I am concerned, than the construction of new large pools, which were not there before either.
It is fine that the area is accessible to people who want to walk and bike there. Provide good visitor information, but do not open it up further to motorized traffic. And leave out large-scale tourist and noisy facilities."

Experiencing Seasons

Van Loon enjoys visiting the Maasheggen not only professionally, he regularly visits areas such as the Meerkamp, the Bergjes and the Oeffelt Meadows. His tip: "Enjoy the seclusion of the historic landscape. You can experience all the seasons very intensely. Such as the massive flowering of blackthorn, hawthorn and roses in the spring and the beautiful colors of the shrubs and trees that come into fruit in the summer and autumn. And also take some time to watch the cows. A great way to de-stress!"

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