Schiermonnikoog is the northernmost inhabited island of the Netherlands, positioned in the Waddenzee. It was chosen the first future National Park in 1984, becoming a definitive government protected nature area in 1989. The 5,400 hectare large National Park is maintained by an organisation called Vereniging tot Behoud van Natuurmonumenten in Nederland (translated this means Society to Preserve Nature Monuments in the Netherlands).
Almost the whole of the island is designated protected area. Outside the National Park boundaries fall the village, the Bancks Polder and the dune area north of the inhabited section (containing an ice rink, a campsite and a recreational pond). The island consists of dunes and inland salty waters (called kwelders) mostly, with a large beach on the North Sea side. Although about 300,000 tourists visit the island annually, Schiermonnikoog is known for its peace and quiet. Except for a few permit holders, cars are not allowed on this cyclists’ and hikers’ paradise.
The island owns its name to the nearby Cistercian monastery in Friesland. The monks used the island as agrarian settlement until 1580. Schier is old Dutch for grey, which was the colour of their outfit. Monnik is Dutch for monk. Oog is Old Dutch for island, literally meaning eye. So Schiermonnikoog actually means island of the grey monks.
The National Park contains some characteristic, sometimes-protected landscapes:
The muddy sand plates south of the islands are called wad. Twice a day these dry up and get flooded again. This makes most of the islands in the Waddenzee accessible by foot from the mainland, but only between certain hours, and under guidance. Of the existing fauna, the seals attract most visitors. The relatively nearby Zeehondencrèche Pieterburen provides an excellent presentation of these playful animals.
The Schiermonnikoog kwelders lie on the Waddenzee side of the island. These water areas come into being because the wad gets higher and higher because of sand and mud carried from other places during flooding. This creates special circumstances where salt and freshwater collide. The constantly developing flora represents this: salt-liking plants are quickly but naturally replaced by their freshwater associates.
On the beach on the north side of the island, dunes are formed naturally. Water and wind carry sand that descends near the coastline as the flora causes the wind to surrender. The vegetation varies enormously here, as the influence of salt and wind is huge on the chances of survival of plants. Every few meters more land inwards show a whole other biological environment. The dunes are an excellent territory for rabbits.
The Schiermonnikoog woods consist of leaf trees and planted pines. The pine trees were placed for commercial ends in the beginning of the 20th century, but the extreme conditions (especially the strong and salty sea wind) caused the forests to grow very slowly. Also, the trees on the island fall down quickly because of their short roots: in the dunes the trees do not have to reach far for the groundwater. The forests tend to travel eastwards on the island, because the wind comes from the west most of the times. Therefore the west side trees get ravaged, while new trees spontaneously grow on the east where they are covered by the rest of the wood.
The North Sea beach is one of the broadest and cleanest beaches in Europe. Some of the sandbanks before the coast are protected animal zones. Parts of the beach produce special grasses, which leads to ‘green beaches’ and subsequently small dunes (because the sand finds grip there more easily).
Some of the many special protection projects in Nationaal Park Schiermonnikoog include the Eendenkooi (quiet area for ducks), grazing (on some locations, sheep and cows graze the grass that dominate the other special flora too much), water maintenance and wood maintenance. Visitors centre De Oude Centrale provides public relations and education on the National Park.
'De Oude Centrale'
Torenstreek 20 (under the white water tower)
9166 ZP Schiermonnikoog