In the past, man had a big hand in shaping this labyrinth of channels, lakes and tiny islands. In the 12th century, they put up dikes to restrain the influence of the sea and dug ditches to drain the land. Slowly it became inhabitable. In the 15th century, De Wieden took on the characteristic appearance of a peat extraction site:
Alternate lanes of water and land lay parallel to each other. The channels measured up to 30 meters wide and 2-3 meters deep and were interspersed with so-called peat banks of 3 meters wide. From mid-March till the end of July, peat workers in small barges wielded long dredging poles and dredge hauls to drag and dredge peat from the channel beds and then lay it on top of the peat banks to drip dry in the sun and wind for a couple of weeks. Next, it was cut into turves which were taken away and stacked for months of further airing and drying until they were ready to be sold as fuel: Turf was a welcome alternative to firewood for household heating and cooking. There was always a shortage of trees and firewood in this country but no shortage of peat! Turf from this area was shipped to towns in the west of the country. For centuries, peat harvesting was the principal way of making a living in this area. Over time, as new dredging channels were dug, they were made wider and wider and the peat banks narrower and narrower in order to extract more and more peat to meet the great demand for turf. Water in the wider channels started to make waves. The waves washed away many of the peat banks and large lakes developed in De Wieden. In 1776, a whole village was even washed away into a lake after a series of storms. In neighbouring Weerribben, peat extraction started later. Peat workers had learnt important lessons from the problems in Wieden. In Weerribben today you will see fewer lakes and longer dredging channels.
After 1920, peat extraction in Weerribben and Wieden was replaced by small-scale agriculture, fishery and reed harvesting.
Visitors can explore Weerribben-Wieden, by bike, canoe or electric boat or walking. You can still make out the long dredging channels and peat banks, now overgrown. Moreover you will enjoy flowery hay meadows and basically all the stages of wetland succession from open water to reedbeds to woodland. (misschien kun je zelf een verduidelijkend tekeningetje maken?!). In the Visitors’ Centre there’s an exhibition and a film on local fauna and flora and the area’s history.