The Netherlands: Living Below Sea Level
What Does It Mean: Living Behind the Dykes
In my country, Holland or more officially The Netherlands, we have been living behind the dykes forever and ever. Half my country's land is laying 1 - 7 meter (1.09 - 7.66 yards) below sea level and that's quite low I can tell you.
However the Dutch have become famous worldwide for building their dykes which protect the land for flooding. We haven't always succeeded, because from the Middle Ages down, there have been a lot of floods, but 5 major floods are known for that have changed the shape of my country a little bit each time.
In this article I'll show you some common knowledge and some photos I made throughout my country of Water, be it the sea, the rivers or the old creeks. I hope you'll enjoy your visit.
What If the Netherlands Had No Dykes at All
Half My Country Would Be Flooded by the Sea
If there were no dykes in The Netherlands, half my country would disappear under water. In this part of the Netherlands the big cities have swallowed the smaller towns and villages, resulting in a string of smaller and larger cities very close to each other. Almost looking like the beats on a necklace
It's crowded and the roads are overloaded. Half the population is working in this area. It's not my favorite part of my country, although you can still find some quiet nature in there when you look for it.
Floods in The Netherlands
Documented Floods in the Netherlands
It's bound to happen with a land that sits so low below sea level that in major storms, the sea will try to conquer the land again. We have lost some land, but we also gained some land and we learned a lot about the whims of Nature as it comes to water. In Wikipedia I counted 61 bigger or smaller documented floods in the Netherlands from the year 838 - 2006.
Flood of the Year 1134
This flood too mainly hit the South West of The Netherlands where the many creeks the storm of 1014 had left were enlarged which gave the sea more influence which resulted in changing the province of Zeeland into an archipelago. Many of those old creeks still exists in my area of the woods. It is also at that time that The Zwin was formed, which today is a beautiful nature reserve area.
Flood of the Year 1287
The year when in the North of the province Friesland, the Waddenzee* was formed by the catastrophic St. Lucia Flood.
Also by another major break through the Zuiderzee* was formed, separating West Friesland for ever and always from the mainland of Friesland.
After they closed the gap with a dyke, called the Afsluitdijk (Closure dyke) up North, the Zuider Sea was no longer an open sea and they changed its name to IJsselmeer
* You can search these words in Wikipedia to get more information.
Flood of the Year 1421
This flood is called the St. Elizabeth Flood because it happened on the name day of St. Elizabeth.
This flood is known for forming the beautiful nature reserve called the Biesbosch, an area East of the city Dordrecht which played a big role for the resistance in WW2.
Flood of the Year 1530
Saturday November 5th 1530, a day that will be remembered as 'Evil Saturday'. On this day a big storm flooded most of Flanders and Zeeland, 100.000 death were counted and about 18 villages disappeared into the sea. Not all of them were recovered again and the area is now known as 'Verdronken land van Zuid-Beveland' (Drowned land of Zuid-Beveland). Floods have been given the name of the Saint who's birthday it was on the day of the flood. This one is called Saint Felix Flood.
Flood of the Year 1953
This storm I remember, not as a victim, but because we lived in the city of Eindhoven and we got refugees from the flooded area in our neighborhood. I was 9 years old at the time. This storm was a combination of severe wind, high tide and low pressure, which caused the rising of the North Sea to an unexpected level of 5,6 meters (18.4ft) above mean sea level at some places. Some dykes at that time couldn't resist the overwhelming flood of water and broke, resulting in an all devastating flood of salt water mainly in the South of Holland, the province Zeeland. 1836 people died in this flood.
This flood resulted in major studies to make the coastal defenses stronger and higher and the plan for the Delta Works was born and executed as you can read down below.
The Wadden Sea
The Wadden Sea - a Most Beautiful Water Reserve
As you could read above, the Waddenzee or Wadden Sea was formed after the major storm in the year 1287. It stretches out over three countries: The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. The Dutch and German parts are on the UNESCO's World Heritage List. If you want to read more about its history, then click the picture.
It is an area where the tides can come and go quite rapidly and where you'll find extensive mud lands. You can mud walk with a guide when the tide is low, but sometimes people and even animals are surprised by the incoming high tide. Below you find two stories, luckily both with a happy ending.
Rescue of 200 Horses That Were Trapped by Spring Tide
The Mud Flats at Marrum in Friesland
Mud flats are salt marsh/meadows that will disappear below water at high tide. You can see them as a hilly landscape with higher parts and deep trenches and at high tide only a few of the highest tops will remain above water. On these wetlands grows grass and are often grazed upon by farm stock like horses.
Normally when high tide rolls in, the animals seek higher grounds, but in November 2006 a group of 200 mares and foals got trapped during a storm by the spring tide and suddenly found themselves cut off from the main land.
Miracles Do Happen at the Rescue of 200 Horses
Surprised by a severe storm in November 2006, a group of more than 100 horses got stuck for several days on a little island in the Waddenzee near the village Marum. Different rescue efforts failed and18 horses had drowned already when on the third day a group of 4 women decided to try another, rather dangerous trick. They went over on horseback and tried to lure the 100+ horses to follow them back to the main shore.
As I recall, both the owner of the land and the owner of the horses got prosecuted for negligence, because they had failed to get his horses out of the wash lands on time. Before you watch, grab a hanky because I'll tell you, it's an impressive sight.
Amazingly Brave Horsewomen
Rescue of About 200 Horses During Spring Tide in Storm
From North to South in the West the Netherlands Is Bordered to the North Sea
The North Sea at Zandvoort
Did You Know That Half the Netherlands Is Below Sea Level?
Reclaiming Land from the Sea
Short History of the 12th Province in Holland: Flevoland
After another big flood in 1916 the Dutch Government decided to enclose and reclaim land from the inner sea called the Zuiderzee (South Sea). Short timeline:
1924 - Dyke to the island 'Wieringermeer'
1930 - Finishing land reclamation of the 'Wieringermeer polder'.
1932 - Closure in the North by the 'Afsluitdijk'.
1939-1942 reclaiming the land of the 'Noordoostpolder'
1955-1957 reclaiming the land of 'Oost Flevoland'
1968 - Finishing the land reclamation of 'Zuid Flevoland'
1975 - Finishing the 'Houtribdijk' also known as the Marker Dyke.
1986 - Flevoland Province becomes the 12th Province of the Netherlands.
The 'Zuiderzee' Works in the Netherlands
The Oostvaardersdijk (Oostvaarders dyke) runs from the city Lelystad and Almere
The Dutch Delta Works
Looking Back on the Start of the Delta Works
The famous Dutch Delta Works is one of the most ingenious and impressive waterworks. We Duchies have learned how to deal with water.
The video below is Dutch spoken, but it gives you a live report of the Delta Works which started by the approval of the plan by the Dutch Government. The video consists of a range of old films. Very interesting even if you don't understand what is being said.
On the map below the dotted line Is the place of the Oosterschelde Bridge.
Local Television: Looking Back April 22, 2011: Delta Works
Not Only the Sea Is a Threat, but the Big Rivers Are Too
We Have Some Major Big Rivers Flowing Through Holland
Despite the fact that Holland is bordered by the North Sea at the North and West, it's not only the sea that is our concern when it comes to flooding the land and villages.
We have: the Waal, the Maas, the Nederrijn, the Lek, the Merwede and the IJssel to worry about when it comes to flooding.
We have created lots of wash lands along both sides of the rivers to catch the surplus of water when rivers overflow their banks. Along those wash lands we have built dykes, some even very high, which you can see in the photo below, which I made in the area what we call 'the land of Maas and Waal'.
Living Behind the River Dyke
In this photo you can see how high the river dykes can be in The Netherlands. On the other side are the wash lands to the big river. They graze cattle there, but when there is a serious flooding alert, all animals have to be removed from the wash lands.
Not so difficult to see this man's profession: he's a Thatcher. Thatched roofs are still very common in certain parts of Holland.
Thatching Roofs - a very old, but beautiful skill
Roof thatching is a very old skill, but in some parts of The Netherlands all the original farmhouses have thatched roofs. In some villages you're not allowed to put tiles on your newly purchased old house. It's fascinating to see a Thatcher at work.
Below some photos of the big rivers in the Netherlands, where at some places you can cross over by ferry boats.
Restoring and Adapting the Height of the Big River Dykes
After the disastrous flood in 1953 where so many people died because it all happened so fast and in the night, great concern aroused about the safety of the river dykes. A commission was formed who's only task it was to come up with plans to reinforce the main dykes in the big river areas.
The plans were tight and no pardon was given to the old houses which happen to be in the new safe area. The first project (near the city Brakel) contained the demolishing of some 140 houses and the historical valuable town hall. Of course the local population and nature reserve organizations protested loudly against these plans. Result was that new research had to be done and new plans had to be made.
In 1993 a commission came with new plans where more consideration was involved to hold on to historic valuable buildings and nature reservations.
But....those plans were quickly overruled after the big threat of river flooding in 1995, when about 250.000 people had to be evacuated from the big river areas. They found a bit of a compromise, like give some and take some, because something had to be done fast. They started in 1997 and finished the river dyke reinforcement projects in 2007.
However with the ongoing change of the climate, it was not enough because you just can't go on making the dykes higher and higher. They started to look at the problem from a different angle and if improvement in height was a problem, it should be done in the space width and so the plan Room for the River was born and executed. This plan included dyke relocations, lowering the wash lands and groynes and the digging of side channels. The plan Room for the River will be completed in 2015.
Creating a safe environment in the river deltas will be an ongoing item on the agenda of the Department of Waterways and Public Works.
Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is the most South part of the Province Zeeland in the Netherlands.
Regaining Land from the Sea in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen
Zeeuws-Vlaanderen originally consisted of a lot of small islands with a lot of water in between. In the course of many centuries much has changed since 1621. Piece by piece small polders were regained from the sea by building a dyke and draining the water. That's why you see so many dykes in my neck of the woods. It's typical for this landscape. Below is how the same part of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen looks today.
The Old Creeks in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen
During the impoldering in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and part from what is now Belgium a lot of water sources remain in the form of creeks. Some in my area go way back to the 13th century. They are beautiful natural reserve areas. You see them here and there in the midst of agricultural land. Those creeks are protected, farmers are not allowed to drain them. Sometimes they're just little streams, sometimes they're quite big.
Luctor Et Emergo - I Struggle and Emerge
The Dutch people have always been fighting the sea. Living below sea level you just have to. Giving to the sea and taking from the sea has been an ongoing process in the Netherlands. Maybe that's why our Water Engineers are the best in the world and has been consulted all over the globe.
Luctor et Emergo - I struggle and emerge. The Coat of Arms of the Province Zeeland in the Netherlands. You would think that has to do with our fight against the sea, but there you're wrong. This spell has to do with our struggle against the Spanish oppression in 1585.
- Home - Zuiderzeemuseum Enkhuizen
The Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen revives the stories of people who once lived on the shores of the Zuiderzee.
- Deltapark Neeltje Jans
The work isle of the Delta Works became a famous and very interesting museum,
- Home - Watersnoodmuseum
An impressive museum about the big flood of 1953.
© 2013 Titia Geertman