IMG_1541Frans Vera

Frans Vera is a renowned ecologist and ornithologist and has been involved in the Oostvaardersplassen since 1979.

He finished his study Biology at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1978, and started his career as a civil servant at Staatsbosbeheer (the National Agency for Nature Management and Forestry). Later he went to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries, and then moved to the Wageningen University, where he finished his PhD thesis in 1997. In 2000 an updated and extended version was published as Grazing Ecology and Forest History, Published by CABI Publishing, Wallingford. In 1997 he returned to the ministry, where he worked up to 2003, when he joined Staatsbosbeheer (the National Agency for Nature Management and Forestry) again. Since 2012 he was on secondment at the Foundation Natural Processes. At the first of June 2014 he became pensioned.

The inspiration for his PhD thesis ‘Metaphors of Wilderness’ (Metaforen voor de Wildernis. Eik, hazelaar, rund en paard, downloadable via link) and later his book ‘Grazing Ecology, Forest History’ came from the developments in the nature reserve the Oostvaardersplassen.

In the marshy part of this nature reserve grazing Greylag geese drove the succession of the marsh vegetation and facilitated in this way many other marsh inhabiting bird species. This made him question the classical paradigm that large herbivores follow the succession of the vegetation. In places where according to climate, soil and hydrology trees can grow, this would result in a closed canopy forest. This forest became ultimately the baseline for the natural vegetation in Europe. Because the indigenous large ungulates such as Tarpan, Auerochs, Wisent, Moose, Red Deer, Roe Deer and Wild Boar can change a forest into grassland, their natural densities were supposed to have been very low, otherwise there could not have been a forest. Because of the baseline forest, the large indigenous herbivores became non-existent. He challenged this view and presented the theory that these ungulates drive the succession. They create a non-linear succession of grassland → shrubs → scrub → trees → groves and back to grassland again. This results in a park-like landscape consisting of a kaleidoscope of grassland, shrubs, scrubs, trees and groves. According to him, the modern wood-pasture is the closest modern analogue of this landscape. His book has caused a lot of debate among nature conservationists, forest ecologists, palaeaecologists and historians.

The Oostvaardersplassen was also the inspiration for a Plan, named Plan Stork that he and five other people wrote for the development of the agricultural used floodplains in the Netherlands into a system driven again by natural processes such as flooding and grazing by wild large herbivores. This concept is now applied in the Netherlands in order to give the rivers more room and in that way lowering the fluctuations of the water table. The result is a more divers and for the public more attractive riverine area, that offer a higher safety for the surrounding because of the tempering of the floods.

Picture above by: Annemiek Vera. For more information on Frans Vera visit the link of Foundation for Natural Processes.