Hemelrijkse Waard: brand new nature reserve along the Maas
The canalisation of the Maas is a project that took place during the 1930s. During the canalization, bends in the Maas were cut off for the benefit of shipping. But as a result of the canalization, a lot of shallow and calm water disappeared and with it a lot of biodiversity. The quality of the water also deteriorated. Many plants, fish and other animals disappeared. But from about the turn of the twentieth to the twenty-first century, work has been carried out on a completely different project, namely the development of the Hemelrijkse Waard to return a piece of land to the Maas.
The Hemelrijkse Waard between the Brabant villages of Oijen and Litoijen (halfway the places Tiel and Oss) has become a beautiful new river nature area. What used to be an agricultural area is now a river nature area of 450 football fields. Numerous activities have been carried out such as:
- Construction of secondary channel from the ferry sidewalk in Oijen to the mouth of the Maasarm near Lithoijen.
- Construction of some sandy lands to delimit the channel.
- Construction of gently rising natural banks with sandbanks.
- A number of low parts have been made extra deep so that channels are created.
- Let it grow naturally from forest and not planted.
- Cattle have been released to keep the area sufficiently open.
- Partly removed stone cladding on the river side.
- Two existing higher parts have been further raised as a place of refuge for the animals when the water is too high.
Channel along the Maas
An important change in the area was caused by the digging of a three kilometer long channel along the Maas. This channel has increased the area where plants can grow and animals can live along the Maas. Fish can spawn and rest in the dug trench and plants can take root on the sandy islands of the trench. Dead trees provide river wood with a lot of life around it, which is an important link in the food chain.
Back to original relief
The Hemelrijkse Waard project has returned a piece of agricultural area with once extensive corn fields to the Maas as a nature reserve. One of the activities was to restore the original relief. This has created an attractive living environment for flora and fauna.
Recreation possibilities in Hemelrijkse Waard
Recreation options have also been considered in the development of Hemelrijkse Waard. Walking paths and ramps make the area accessible to walkers. A watchtower has also been placed. At the lookout tower on the Oijense Benedendijk there is space to store bicycles and there is also a parking lot for a number of cars. The Hemelrijkse Waard has thus become an attractive area for recreational walkers.
Floods no longer a hazard
More space has been created for river water, which has also made the area safer. At a high water level, the water is four to seven centimeters lower than before. Because it may rain more often and harder in the future, the water level of the Maas will increase and the risk of flooding will increase. But due to all the work on the Hemelrijkse Waard, the river will soon be allowed to flood again without the risk of wet feet for people in the area.
Visions during the opening
During the opening of the Hemelrijkse Waard on March 27, 2017, positive visions were expressed about the project, such as:
- Rijkswaterstaat: The Director-General of Rijkswaterstaat Jan Hendrik Dronkers stated that the residents of the area contributed ideas to the final design. The project can thus be set as an example of the way in which the living environment can be jointly organized in a sustainable way.
- Natural monuments: Area manager at Natuurmonumenten Fons Mandigers pointed out that a wonderful result has been achieved after more than twenty years of acquiring the necessary land and redesigning it. This project can serve as an example for other projects that will be tackled along the Maas in the near future.
- Municipality of Oss: The municipality of Oss, which includes the area, also expressed through an alderman that it was pleased with the acquisition that could also be important for tourism.
Brand new nature reserve favorable for animals
One year after the opening, special animal species were already spotted. Ecologist Jos Rademakers sees new birds nesting every day in the area that he can almost call his backyard. It makes him happy to look through his binoculars to see, for example, an avocet that previously did not exist in that area. Because he contributed to the design of the Hemelrijkse Waard, he sees this as an extra reward for all the work. Other bird species that have been spotted include shelducks, buzzard, geese, reed birds and kestrel. In addition to numerous bird species, special animals such as beaver and badger have also been spotted. It is expected that in the future a large-scale swamp will develop with floating plants such as the yellow plump. Flood forests and thickets can also develop. Some tree species can establish themselves spontaneously, such as alder, slippery elm, hawthorn, red dogwood and shrub hedge.