640 pages, Figs
This book presents the environmental history of the Delta of the lowland rivers Rhine and Meuse, an ecological story on evolving human-environmental relations coping with climate change and sea-level rise. It offers a combination of in depth ecology and environmental history, dealing with exploitation of land and water, the use of everything nature provided, the development of fisheries and agriculture, changes in biodiversity of higher plants, fish, birds, mammals, and invasive exotics.
The book is unique: it is the first book written in English on the integrated environmental history of the Delta, from pre-historic times up to the present day. It covers the legacy of human intervention, the inescapable fate of reclaimed, nevertheless subsiding and sinking polders, 'bathtubs' attacked by numerous floods, reclaimed in the Middle Ages and unwittingly exposed to the rising sea-level and the increased amplitude between high and low water in the rivers. The river channels, constricted and regulated between embankments, lost their floodplains, silted up, degraded and incised.
Cultivation of raised bog deposits led to oxidation and compacting of peat and clay, resulting in progressive subsidence and flooding; arable land had to be changed into grassland and wetland. For millennia muscular strength and wind- and waterpower moulded the country into its basic form. From 1800 onwards, acceleration and scaling up by steam-power and electricity, and exponential population growth, resulted in the erection of human structures 'fixed forever', and severe pressure on the environment.
The present-day Delta is a large wetland several metres below sea-level, where humans keep their feet dry only by the application of advanced technical means. The synthesis presents a blueprint for future management and restoration, from progressive reclamation of land in the past, to adaptation of human needs to the inevitable forces of nature.
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