Located on the border of the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Zuid-Holland, the Biesbosch (Reed Forest) is one of the Netherlands’ larger national parks and one of the few remaining freshwater tidal areas in Europe. The park covers around fifteen square kilometres of river, creek, marsh and reed to the south and east of Dordrecht and divides into two main sections, north and south of the Nieuwe Merwede waterway. The undeveloped heart of the park is the Brabantse Biesbosch, the chunk of land to the south, while almost all the tourist facilities have been carefully confined to the north on a strip just east of Dordrecht, along the park’s perimeter. Being a wetland habitat, the park offers a perfect breeding ground for all species of birds such as kingfishers, bluethroats and waterfowls. Best explored by boat, the park makes for a pleasant day-trip from Dordrecht.
Inundated twice daily by the tide, the Biesbosch produced a particular reed culture, its inhabitants using the plant for every item of daily life, from houses to baskets and boats, and selling excess cuttings at the local markets. It was a harsh existence that lasted well into the nineteenth century, when machine-manufactured goods largely rendered the reeds redundant. Although protected as a national park, its delicate ecosystem is threatened by the very scheme that aims to protect the province from further flooding. The dams of the Delta Project have controlled the rivers’ flow and restricted the tides’ strength, forcing the reeds to give ground to other forms of vegetation incompatible with the area’s bird and plant life. Large areas of reed have disappeared, and no one seems to know how to reconcile the nature reserve’s needs with those of the seaboard cities, but vigorous attempts are being made.
St Elizabeth Day Flood
St Elizabeth Day Flood
On November 18, 1421, Zuid-Holland’s sea defences gave way and the St Elizabeth Day flood formed what is now the Hollands Diep sea channel and the Biesbosch (Reed Forest). It was a disaster of major proportions, with seventy towns and villages destroyed and a death toll of around 100,000. The effect on the region’s economy was catastrophic, too, with the fracturing of links between Zuid-Holland and Flanders accelerating the shift in commercial power to the north. Those villages that did survive took generations to recover, subjected as they were to raids by the wretched refugees of the flood.