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.
Part 1 -- Human occupation and management of a fertile DeltaCHAPTER 2 -- Prehistory and early history of the DeltaCHAPTER 3 - The Delta in the late middle ages (800 -- 1500)CHAPTER 4 -- Technical achievements in river management (1500 -- 1800)CHAPTER 5 -- River management after 1800: complete regulation and canalisation Part 2 -- The legacy of human interventionCHAPTER 6 -- Changes in the relation between man and natureCHAPTER 7 -- Land use: agriculture and use of woodCHAPTER 8 -- River fisheries through the agesCHAPTER 9 -- Floods and flood protectionCHAPTER 10 -- Human intervention in the SW DeltaCHAPTER 11 -- Human intervention in tributaries of the large rivers Part 3 -- History of industrial pollution and its controlCHAPTER 12 -- Changing Rhine ecosystems: pollution and rehabilitationCHAPTER 13 -- Changing Meuse ecosystems: pollution and rehabilitationCHAPTER 14 -- Pollution and rehabilitation of the aquatic environment in the Delta Part 4 -- Ecology of biota in a man-made landscape: deterioration and rehabilitationCHAPTER 15 -- River-fish fauna of the DeltaCHAPTER 16 -- Eelgrass wax and wane: a case studyCHAPTER 17 -- Exotics and invasions of plants and animalsCHAPTER 18 -- Changes in biodiversity: lower organisms, vegetation and floraCHAPTER 19 - Changes in biodiversity: birds and mammals and their use Part 5 -- An ecological story on evolving human - environmental relations coping with climate change and sea-level rise -- a synthesisCHAPTER 20 -- The making of the DeltaCHAPTER 21 -- The future of the Delta
Piet Nienhuis (Groningen, 29 October 1938) passed through an international career of 40 years as researcher (biologist, ecologist) and research leader at the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, and as professor and director at the Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands) and the Free University Brussels (Belgium). He was chairman and advisor of services of the European Commission and several Dutch governmental departments. He published hundreds of scientific publications, mainly devoted to ecology and environmental sciences, in particular to estuarine and river ecology and management. After his retirement in 2003 he continued his writing activities, together with his editorial and advisory work.