The value and threats of cultural heritage in wetlands

Published on
September 4, 2018

Wetlands are one of the most dynamic types of landscape. They are strongly influenced by climatic, demographic, economical and political developments. They provide important ecosystem services, like flood mitigation and carbon sequestration. Wetlands are, at the same time, characterised by an unbelievable richness of cultural heritage, both material (like extremely well-preserved archaeological sites) as well as immaterial (for example specific practices and traditions, like peat cutting).

Remarkably, the picture sketched up to now has been far from complete and especially little is known about landscape changes that may take place in future, under the influence of the above-mentioned outside factors. Roy van Beek will, for Wageningen University, start leading an international project to outline value and threats of cultural heritage in wetlands.

Roy van Beek is a landscape archaeologist and a member of two chair groups: Soil Geography and Landscape plus Cultural Geography. He did his PhD research on settlements and landscape of the Eastern Netherlands between the early prehistory and the Middle Ages. At the moment he is also doing research (with a VIDI-scholarship) into the cultural significance of raised peat bogs in the Netherlands. And as of now, he is starting to lead European research on the dynamics of wetlands and the influence of environmental factors on this cultural heritage: ‘Wetfutures’, a European JPI-project (JPI = Joint Programming Initiative). This project has a budget of half a million Euros.

“Actually, no fundamental research has ever taken place yet into the impact on wetlands of the various climatological, demographic, economic and political developments,” says Roy van Beek. “I am going to examine this, together with Maarten Jacobs of Cultural Geography and a post doc and research assistant, both still to be appointed. The project is directed towards the most important wetlands of Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. These serve as trial locations in my research, to be able to explore which changes are taking place in these regions. I want to gain insight into how wetlands as heritage can contribute to solving contemporary social challenges. By combining of ethnographic research, literature study, map regression analysis with surveys and interaction between public parties and stakeholders, I want to map changing perceptions of wetlands and changing attitudes of people towards the use of wetlands.”

Many groups do have an influence on the wetlands. Their interests often are contradictory. Wetlands are, in this respect, ‘contested landscapes’. By determining these conflicting interests, Van Beek envisages to be able to influence the policies concerning wetlands positively. “Foremost, I am concerned with the physical survival of the wetlands heritage.”