Huis den Berg

Huis Den Berg in Dalfsen. Example of a country house in a park like settings. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When thinking of national parks most people think of famous examples like Yellow Stone and Yosemite in the United States or the Serengeti in Tanzania. These parks are large in scale with an emphasis on wild life conservation and the preservation of scenic landscapes. Human activity and presence are restricted and regulated and people are visitors.

In smaller and densely populated countries like Britain or the Netherlands, the creation of large national parks is complicated. In these countries landscapes are far from natural and humans are part of the fabric of the landscape. For this reason, it is difficult to restrict human access and activities to create national parks.

NSA estates map

Map showing Nature Scenery Act estates, ca. 1950. Source: VU Geoplaza

In the Netherlands nature and human activity are almost inseparable because about half of the country is at or below sea level and is reclaimed or drained. Consequently, the landscape of the Netherlands is mostly the product of human intervention and can therefore be described as a cultural artefact. As a result, formal protection of landscapes and wildlife came late. One of the early attempts to create protected conservation areas came in 1928 with the Natuurschoonwet, freely translated as Nature Scenery Act. This Act was mostly about protecting country houses set in park like settings.

Wybren Verstegen, Senior Lecturer in economic, social and environmental history at the Free University Amsterdam has researched the Dutch Nature Scenery Act. On this episode of the podcast he discusses the Scenery Act and puts it in an international perspective. Wybren suggests that as an area of study, landed estates have been overlooked  by environmental historians.

Further reading and resources

Wybren Verstegen, “The nature scenery act of 1928 in the Netherlands”, Forest History Today (spring/fall 2015), 4-12. Download from the website of the Dutch Foundation of Castles, Country Houses and Rural Estates

Map sheets showing Dutch estates according to the Natuurschoonwet, ca. 1950. The original maps are accessible as images in the Free University Library Image Base collection.

Jan Oosthoek, Nature vs. culture or cultured nature?, Environmental History Resources Blog.

The Forest History Society

Staff page Wybren Verstegen

Music credits

Southern Delight” by Stefan Kartenberg, available from ccMixter

soaring” by urmymuse, available from ccMixter