Mild winter weather disrupts Schiedam’s nature: ‘We expect a lot of mortality’

by Marcus Burger

Schiedam’s nature is under great pressure. The local nature associations are worried. Although it’s not fun outside, the real winter weather has yet to materialize. If you think that spring has already begun, the ecosystems are disturbed and the natural rhythm of nature is disrupted. KNNV describes it as ‘a symphony where musicians now play out of time’.

“Spring almost seems to have started,” explains forester Lisa Wassenaar of the Staatsbosbeheer. Carefully, she takes steps through Schiedam’s marshy nature in the Poldervaart recreation area. The birds are chirping loudly and several trees are revealing flower buds, uncharacteristic of this time of year. The forest warden states that a large part of nature, although disturbed, is resilient and will not simply disappear. Nevertheless, many species will miss a lot of offspring, such as e.g. butterflies. Pests will do well, though: “The oak processionary caterpillar has a chance for a major resurgence because of this weather.” She also believes that hayfever season starts earlier because trees like hazel are already blooming, weeks earlier than in previous years.

No flowers and therefore no bees

Beekeepers in the BeeSerious Foundation are worried. They see the bees’ situation worsening: “We expect a lot of mortality, they just don’t have enough to eat,” says Alwine van Winsen. Van Winsen notes that the bees are suffering because of the relatively mild weather this winter. The bees still think they need to gather food in preparation for winter, but that food is no longer to be found. Normally, parasites and viruses in the hive also die from the cold, which no longer happens.

Bees are of great importance, not only for human food production, but also for ecosystems that keep other animals alive: if one link is lost, the rest also suffer. According to Van Winsen, the consequence of this is a likely one: “impoverishment of Schiedam’s nature.”

Disturbed sleep

The local branch of KNNV (Royal Dutch Nature Association) sees that other animals are also struggling with the unpredictable weather. Every year they organize a toad walk. It is a moment in spring when toads are helped to cross the road as they crawl out of their hole to return to the water after a long hibernation. Chairman of KNNV Waterweg Noord Geert van Poelgeest is disturbed by the changes he sees in Schiedam’s nature: “30 years ago the toad migration was in March, now it is mid-February.” Such a difference may sound insignificant, but according to him it is not: “Nature consists of all sorts of processes that run together like rhythms in a symphony. If one person in the orchestra starts playing in a different tempo, things go wrong.” The amphibians lose a critical amount of energy when they wake up and return to their hibernation state.

The concerned chairman does not believe that the trend of warm winters due to climate change can continue: “It cannot be, because it has to be different! If this continues, my grandchildren’s children will have to move because of wet feet.” Unfortunately, climate change is difficult to remedy locally. Nevertheless, he tells the Schiedammers that they can work for the local nature: “We are still looking for volunteers for the toad migration, people can remove tiles from their garden and make messy corners with leaves. Toads and hedgehogs, for example, really like it.” Beekeeper Alwine van Winsen also emphasizes that Schiedammers can still do things themselves: “So bee-friendly organic flowers.”

Missing a Schiedam urban ecologist

When asked whether she advises the municipality on nature, Alwine van Winsen from BeeSerious replies that she would, but that the municipality has an urban ecologist for that. It seems he has gone to Groningen since last year. Schiedam has not had its own ecologist since then. A big loss according to nature lovers: “The urban ecologist is very important, he sees the connections,” KNNV supports the importance. Staatsbosbeheer explains that they work closely with urban ecologists in many cities and that they see this as promoting nature. The municipality says that although they no longer have an urban ecologist, they do have the ‘knowledge’. In the absence of expertise, investigations are carried out externally, says a spokesman for Schiedam municipality.

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