National Park Lauwersmeer
After the closure of the Lauwers Sea in 1969 the government commissioned the Rijksdienst IJsselmeerpolders (State Directorate for the IJsselmeer Polders - RIJP) to collaborate with Rijkswaterstaat (Directorate for Public Works and Water Management) in organising and managing the new area (more than 9,000 hectares). At that time approximately 7,000 hectares of new land was 'fallow'. Something like 2,000 hectares remained open water. The highest, most fertile parts were destined for agriculture; another part was set aside for military exercises and at various spots recreational facilities were put in place. But over most of the area nature was given free rein to develop.
An enormous operation
The closing off of Lauwersmeer from the sea meant an enormous blow for nature. In the early days there was still a great deal of salt in the ground. This meant that plants found in the Wadden region established themselves first - the so-called salt pioneers. It took a long time before fallow grassland began to appear. But once it did, the land was quickly overrun with plants. But, in contrast, scrubland was fairly slow to appear. Around 1980 Rijkswaterstaat started active management. In 1982 a decision was made to have 1,000 hectares grazed in the summer season. In this way it was hoped that the grassy and muddy terrain would remain. From 1989, this was replaced by year-round grazing. In places where no grazing occurred, plants were quick to appear, so that the mud flats were completely overgrown. Such developments caused changes in the animal kingdom. The first to colonise the area were - of course - the birds. Soon afterwards came the freshwater fish which, in their turn, served as food for spoonbills, cormorants and diving ducks. Deer, rabbits, hares, foxes, mice, moles and other small mammals came into the Lauwersmeer area from the surrounding 'old' land. In the course of time some of the early arrivals disappeared or their numbers were reduced. But they were replaced by a large number of new species.
Policy on nature
Large parts of the Lauwersmeer area come under the legislation on conservation. The area's designation as nature reserve does not mean that local inhabitants or users are allowed to do nothing more. Generally speaking, the designation of a nature reserve is aimed at preserving the actual situation. If the existing manner of management and current use do not damage the natural environment, then they may continue. In the Lauwersmeer area this applies to - among other things - traffic on the water. Of course, users and visitors must stick to the rules. Activities that cause damage but are necessary require a permit. Since 1993 4,700 hectares of the Lauwersmeer area has been entrusted to the care of the Dutch Forestry Commission (Staatsbosbeheer).
Nomination as National Park
The area was granted the status of National Park in 2003. According to internationally accepted definitions, a national park is a tract of land of at least 1,000 hectares, consisting of natural terrain, water and/or woodland, with particular types of landscape, flora and fauna, and where there are also good opportunities for recreational use.