Lauwers Lake (Lauwersmeer)

Not only in the southwest of Holland (Deltaworks), but also in other places, measures have been taken after the flood disaster of 1953 in order to protect the land and population against the sea. A good example is Lauwers Lake. In 1969 the Lauwers Sea, a bay of the Wadden Sea on the border of the provinces of Groningen and Friesland, was dammed off. Since then it has been called Lauwers Lake.

The damming off

At the end of the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth century, plans were made to dam off the Lauwers Sea. But these plans were not carried through due to economic and political reasons. After the flood disaster of 1953 the city council of Groningen agreed that it was high time to dam off the Lauwers Sea. The most important argument was the safety of the people of Friesland and Groningen. The risk of the surrounding land flooding during a storm tide was too high. There were two possibilities to close off the Lauwers Sea: the embankment of the surrounding seawalls or the construction of a dam. The embankment of the seawalls was more favourable to nature and fishing, but the inhabitants of Groningen and Friesland preferred a dam as it would be safer. A dam was chosen under pressure from the population. In 1960 the ‘Reclamation order of the Lauwers Sea’ was ready.

They started in 1961. A dam of 13 kilometres in length with outlet sluices and a lock was required. The work was carried out in a similar way to parts of the Deltaworks: caissons were used and later on enormous permeable caissons were brought in to close the gap. The permeable caissons were built on the artificial island of Lauwersoog. On May 23rd, 1969, in the presence of Queen Juliana, the last caissons were sunk down and secured. Two days later Lauwers Lake was irreversibly dammed off: Lauwers Sea became Lauwers Lake.

National Park

The damming off of the Lauwers Sea had major consequences for the environment. Because it was closed off from the sea, the water slowly became brackish, which changed the environment. This process can be compared with what happened to the waters of Zeeland after the completion of the Deltaworks. Furthermore, the seals who loved to abide in the Lauwers Sea, lost their home. They had to leave for other parts of the Wadden Sea.

When the damming off was finished, the Rijksdienst IJsselmeerpolders were put in the Lauwers Lake. It grew into a beautiful nature reserve, in spite of the huge influence on the environment and the fact that the area was neglected for the first couple of years. It wasn’t before 1980 that an active nature policy was set out. For instance cows and sheep were led out to pasture on pieces of land; at first only in the summertime but later on the whole year round. New species of birds and freshwater fish were attracted to the area. The freshwater fish made the area attractive for other birds such as spoonbills, cormorants and diving ducks seeking their prey. The nature reserve also became home to other animals such as moles, roes, rabbits and foxes. Where a unique piece of wadden area was lost, a beautiful new nature reserve arose. This was confirmed when a large part of Lauwers Lake officially became a national park on November 12th 2003.

Recreation

Lauwers Lake is not only a unique nature reserve, it is also a well visited recreational area. The former artificial island of Lauwersoog has grown into a port with a fishing port and a ferry to Schiermonnikoog. Also the village of Zoutkamp, which partially lost its function to Lauwersoog as a fishing port, is worth a visit. There are many recreational facilities such as holiday parks, camp sites and sailing schools. The area is a paradise for watersports: one can sail, surf, cross the mud flats, cycle by pedal boat and row.