NWO Open Technology grant for research on the heritage of Dutch landscapes

Microscope slide of fossil pollen from Groningen. Image: Timme Donders.

The board of the Dutch Research Council (NWO) awards funding to develop software and a procedure for creating maps of past vegetation cover, through the Open Technology programme. Looking back to plan ahead: the results of this project will enable future-proof planning and management of landscape and international heritage.

Future-proof planning and management of landscape and national heritage is increasingly important in the Netherlands, but baseline information on past vegetation and landscape composition is lacking. Fossil pollen – pollen acquired from mud in lakes, mires and peatlands – can uncover those past compositions, but the available data are scattered, difficult to interpret and largely non-digital.

We are overjoyed and eager to get started with the project.

The research group, led by physical geographers Thomas Giesecke and Timme Donders, will produce a series of vegetation maps that cover the last 15,000 years in unprecedented detail, using newly developed software that models the past vegetation based on collected pollen data. With this information, they can answer questions on the relation between human habitation and vegetation composition and provide a baseline for landscape and heritage management.  

“This project allows us to develop a national atlas of past vegetation change,” says Giesecke. “That atlas can be used by archaeologists and landscape managers, and as a resource for research and education.” With this grant, the researchers receive the means to finally realise this mapping project. “This has been a dream of the Dutch and European scientific community for decades,” Donders says. “We are overjoyed and eager to get started with the project.”