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16 juli 2021

Biodiversity cannot be WASTEd | An interview with Franke van der Laan

“Nature doesn’t produce any waste,” says Franke van der Laan from Stichting MEERGroen. “All of us can learn a lot from nature, and not just on thàt topic.”

Franke van der Laan is an ecologist in every cell of his body ànd a happy camper. His words about nature flow like an inspiring and educational wave. Biodiversity loss has been left, right and center in his entire career. However, his never ending passion to counter that threat, bumped into both political and business inertia, slowing down the process. “Enough is enough. I’ll do it myself then!”

You’ve received a closed door in your face a lot of times, in your quest for ecological balance. Most of us might have given up. You haven’t?

“De time to debate about whether our habitat is in a good OR bad shape for whatever reason is over. In fact: we have just about 20 years to turn the tide and biodiversity loss  and the climate crisis are our biggest challenges. Full stop. I, and many others like me, would like to leave a livable planet behind for my kids. It became my leading motive for the rest of my live: create beauty, together. Every day feels like a holiday to me, working on my projects. A closed door just presents me with the challenge to find another door that will open! 

in 2011 you initiated Stichting MEERGroen. Tell me more about the projects you’re running at the moment?

“Currently, we’re working with 1.000 volunteers at 40 locations in Heemstede and Haarlemmermeer, in the Netherlands, roughly subdivided into nature management and urban agriculture. Think of unique place with flower meadows, vegetable gardens, nature playgrounds or estates (with tree orchards). In addition we organize ‘plant a tree’ actions every year. This year’s action flows like a watering can, as it has been picked up nationally by farmers and Urgenda. We’ve received over 1.000.000 orders in two days, partly due to the magic words: for free. People can order a tree, for free, on our website www.meerbomen.nu. Our volunteers help with planting and advice on how to take care of the tree best. That’s how we aim to make the neighborhoods greener as well. At the end of the day, I want to attract 7.5 billion volunteers, as all of us can honestly only turn the tide if we work together on this one.

The municipality turned a former waste-site in Heemstede into a nature playground, Speelbos Meermond, which -in my recollection- was a rather impenetrable site. Now, it even appeals to the child inside me! What did you do with it, and what do you offer children?

“We aim at giving children their space so they can get the best out of themselves. Love for nature, for example; via a path through high flower fields and the marsh, orchards, living huts and Kingfisher walls. Manmade nature also needs management, so we removed the thistles, reeds and the surplus of blackberry branches. We make playground equipment from natural materials. And we’ve made our own bee hotels with wasted (natural) materials. For the record: those aren’t just there as a design object; the varieties of bees we have, need the variety of flowers we have. We even created a ‘Witches Path’ right through a swampy area. We’ve got faith in children; they still dare to rely on their own feet, walking on unstable soil, and enjoy it to the fullest. Their parents also learn.”

Isn’t it incredibly expensive to pull these projects off the ground?

“That’s such a business minded question! NO. If you cooperate with nature, everything flows much easier and cheaper. In Hoofddorp we’ve create a lush vegetable garden for the owner of a business park. We take care of the soil, use a few bags of seeds and cuttings and voilà: lots and lots of vegetables or trees. Nature really isn’t concerned about business models. Businessmen can learn a thing or two from it.”

Where can we find more information about your projects, opening hours and the possibilities for volunteering?

“If people want to participate in MEERGroen, they can find all information needed on

https://stichtingmeergroen.nl/ Our team of volunteers is amazing. Without them, we could not offer all this, and above all: without them we could not guarantee biodiversity in the region. All locations are freely accessible 24/7, for people who know how to behave. Anyone in need of some R&R or the desire to learn from nature is welcome with us. Believe me, you’ll come out more enriched than you entered.”

TEDxHaarlem 2021: WASTE(d)

TEDxHaarlem 2021 takes place on Wednesday September 29, 20.00-21.45 hrs (entrance from 19.30 hrs) in the Large Hall of Philharmonie Haarlem. This year’s theme is WASTE(d). Tickets can be bought as per mid August. More info about this event More info about this event: https://www.tedxhaarlem.com/article/tedxhaarlem-2021-wasted/ 

Tekst & photo: Brenda Smeenge

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