Growing up  without growing old

I was born in Haarlem on 25 April 1978. Back then, just under 14 million people were living in the Netherlands. Virtually all grandparents of those days had lived through World War II. The country still counted 11 provinces, as Flevoland, a new province consisting almost entirely of reclaimed land, had not yet been established. There were just two Dutch television channels (now innumerable). The number of aircraft movements at Schiphol airport was around 185 000 per year (now around half a million). Home computers and mobile phones were still (practically) unheard of. The same goes for dog walking services. McDonald’s had already opened its first restaurant in the Netherlands, but it was nine years before the first drive-through was introduced. There were about four million passenger cars (now about twice as many). There was no pizza delivery. No e-mail. No Red Bull.

For most of my childhood, I lived in the north-east of Haarlem, with the nearest family of Grey Partridges Perdix perdix just 700 m away. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I did most birding by bike, predominantly covering c 3500 hectares between Haarlem and Amsterdam. About three-quarters of this area was farmland and so I grew up with the sounds of birds like Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus (in those days 43.8 territories per 100 hectares), Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (20.9), Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus (16.0), Common Redshank Tringa totanus (10.9), Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata (5.8), Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis (5.6), Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis (3.7) and even Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago (0.9) and Garganey S querquedula (0.2); the densities given here were found in the grasslands of those days near Haarlem (Geelhoed et al 1998). I would not describe the site as a birder’s paradise, but it certainly was a great playground for a young birder like me.

By 2018, however, housing, recreation and industry have transformed much of the place. Farmland now makes up for less than one-third of the area and farming itself has changed too. All the above species have declined or disappeared and I cannot help but feel sad about it. Instead of development and modernisation I see mostly deterioration. It is so bad that every time I now visit the local patch of my childhood it hurts. I wish I could still see the world through the eyes of a teenager. After all, I do not want to become a grumpy old man... 

Grey Partridge intobirding.com

The number of Grey Partridges in the Netherlands has declined with c 90% since 1990 (Boele et al 2017).

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Published 6 March 2018