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Dutch island goes back to nature22 February 2014, by Alexandra Gowling
Rottumeroog, one of the Wadden Islands that lie to the north of the Netherlands, is an inhabited island no more.
A serious storm in late December 2013 almost washed away the dunes around the last building on the island, leaving the structure exposed and liable to be washed into the sea at any time.
Accordingly, the building, which was a birdwatchers’ house used during the summer months, has been destroyed, leaving the island an uninhabited sand bank.
Returning it to the sea
While Rottumeroog has had inhabitants in the past, including an eccentric Irish earl in the early 18th century, it lost its last full-time inhabitant in 1965, when the island’s guardian left and was not replaced.
This demolition of the last building completes a process begin in the 1990s, when the Rijkswaterstaat decided to stop artificially enhancing the coast and let the island return to nature.
"Rottumeroog has slowly turned into a mudflat with young dunes," says Jorien Bakker, spokesman for forestry commission Staatsbosbeheer.
"From nature’s perspective it’s not that bad, but for those are attached to the existence of this Groningen island, it is a pity."
The house will not be rebuilt and for the first time in years there won’t be any birdwatchers there this summer. "It [the house] was on the highest point of the island," said Bakker. "If that didn’t work out, then what?"
It was only last month that the only trail on Rottumeroog was given an official name: Jan Brandspad. The island’s municipality, Eemsmond, had to give the trail a name as it is require by law. There were even plans to put up a street sign.
Future of tourism on Rottumeroog
In the long term, the Staatsbosbeheer wants to let birdwatchers camp on the island, perhaps with foldable buildings. At the moment, however, the money isn’t there. There have been funding problems for years and the demolition of the building cost 60.000 euros.
"It is a new point in the history of the island," says Dick Spijker, president of the Friends of Rottumeroog Foundation.
His organisation has campaigned for years for the island to be supplemented with sand to slow the sea’s progress, but not anymore. "You have to put up with things as they are," he said.