A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Now that summer is here, and hopefully all of the final exams and assignments are done and over with, it is time to enjoy the good weather and spend time outdoors. And what better way that in the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, located less than an hour away from Leiden, where you can see wild European bison as well as wild horses and dozens of other amazing animals and plants in an incredible dune landscape.
Zuid-Kennemerland is located next to the towns of Overveen and Bloemendaal near Haarlem in North Holland. Covering an area of over 38 square kilometres, the park was established in 1995 to protect and manage the nature, landscape and wildlife of the special dune area located between Haarlem and the North Sea, and to encourage local residents and visitors to enjoy and learn about nature.
With hundreds of species of flora and fauna such as red and roe deer, dune peal butterfly or sea buckthorn (and also some very funky mushrooms that grow directly out of the sand!), the park houses around 40% of all plant and animal species in the Netherlands. But definitely for me what’s more special about Zuid-Kennermerland are the bison.
The European bison (Bison bonasus), also called wisents, are the largest land mammals in Europe and have a complicated recent history of battling extinction. After intensive hunting for hundreds of years, wisents went extinct in the wild in the 1920s, surviving only in captivity. Over the following decades they were successfully reintroduced in their native habitat at the Białowieża Forest in Poland as well as in other European countries such as Germany.
In April 2007 three bison were introduced into Kraansvlak, an enclosed region of Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, as part of a project to help keeping the dune environment healthy and free form the overgrow of shrubs and trees through grazing, as well as study the relationship between these animals, the landscape and natural recreation areas. A year later three more bison were released to join the herd.
The enterprise has been as success. A dozen years after the start of the project the bison are thriving, as more than 20 calves have been born in Kraansvlak in that time. Now, the dune landscape is richer and more diverse thanks to the grazing bison and other introduced species such as Konik semi-feral horses and Highland cattle; and a wealth of information and experience has been obtained from the research carried out in the area.
How to get there and see the bison
Fortunately for visitors and nature lovers, there are mainly two ways to see the bison in Kraansvlak. One is from a viewpoint close to the national park’s visitor centre, and the other one is by walking a trail that crosses the enclosed area, which is only open from September to March due to the bison’s breeding season. Other than this, you can also join on monthly excursions into Kraansvlak led by park rangers (the next one will be on 13 July) or organize your own excursion.
Zuid-Kennemerland National Park is easily accessible from Leiden and The Hague. From Haarlem central station there are a number of buses that can take you to different parts of the park as well as one close enough to Kraansvlak and the bison trail.
So what are you waiting for? Get your hiking shoes, a hat, camera, water, sunscreen and maybe a nice picnic and go enjoy the natural outdoors at Zuid-Kennemerland!