Biodiversity Focus Group seeks rest areas on campus

Last December, the Radboud Biodiversity Focus Group’s bi-annual meeting gave rise to a long list of dilemmas. During their tour, in which they assessed the amount of the greenery on campus, the group reviewed the pond in the forest near Berchmanianum. ‘Although it’s not a natural pond, it’s good for the toads and insects.’

Twice a year, the focus group meets up so that it can keep track of the adopted biodiversity policy and the annual implementation programme, and so that it can devise new plans. The group includes a selection of people with expertise who are involved in the field, both scientists and students as well as local residents, municipal staff, and people from the Hortus and a variety of nature organisations.

A large part of each meeting involves walking around the grounds so that the group can measure the proposed plans against the ‘yardstick’. It is not only the greenery that counts, but the biodiversity in particular. During the meeting in December, the seven members who attended were able to count a number of blessings. For example, rainwater on the east side of the campus is now discharged in a totally natural way, instead of flowing into the sewer system. The greenery in this area, around the Huygens Building, is now also much more varied, thanks to the planting of new trees, such as the fruit trees. The ‘green corridor’ is also set to become a reality, and will involve a pedestrian zone that will run from the city centre along the railway zone and beyond the campus.

Last week’s tour of the grounds included a review of the pond at Berchmanianum. Walking tour guide Guido van Gemert, who is Sustainability Advisor to the Department of Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Service (AMD), consequently explains the dilemmas that are often involved in interventions in the landscape. On the one hand, the pond was ‘artificially’ provided with a waterproof soil layer (to prevent the water from sinking straight to the bottom of the sandy soil), but on the other hand, it is thanks to the pond that the forest has now become much more attractive to certain plants and animals, including mosquitoes, toads and frogs.

Badgers or rats?

Guido van Gemert, who is also the chair of the focus group, refers to the biodiversity on campus as a series of dilemmas. For example, although the campus wants to become an attractive walking area for the university population and also for the local residents, peace and quiet are required for such wildlife as the foxes, badgers and buzzards. Putting up fences, which would allow the birds and amphibians to rest, would also create an eyesore. Van Gemert points out the wire that stretches around a part of the forest near Berchmanianum, which has been put there to keep people out and protect nature. During the walk, the news is announced that some setts have been discovered in the forest area behind the University Chaplaincy. Van Gemert will try to find out whether the setts are inhabited by rats or badgers.  

Another dilemma, which is also one of the action points for 2024, is the plan of action for the biodiversity in the Geert Grooteplein, which is still an organic one-sided grass area and is centrally located near Radboud university medical center. One area of concern here is the lime tree, which at 111 years old is the oldest tree on campus. The intention is to create a place for reflection around this tree, for all of the people in this medical hub who have worries and grief. “But this is a really busy area,” says Bea Peeters-Nillesen, who is a focus group member on behalf of IVN Nature Education, “so how could it be transformed into a place for reflection?”

Tree Tinder 

According to the group’s inventory, not all of last year’s intentions were realised. For instance, an education project on sustainability which was to be carried out through the Honours Academy has still not been set up, and the idea of providing on-campus rights to non-humans, at least to animals, has also been blocked. The biodiversity policymakers on campus were not entirely positive about this. “The plan was also discussed at the highest levels of authority at the hospital and university,” says Van Gemert. “But they felt that it was one step too far.”

The focus group will also briefly contemplate the implementation agenda for next year, for which the university and Radboud university medical center will join forces. The summary of activities for 2024 includes further sustainability of a few different buildings, a biodiversity & procurement plan and the creation of the nature area around the gazebo in the former Berchmanianum forest. The intention is to make the concrete kidney-shaped pond wetter, and subsequently more attractive to such amphibians as the protected alpine newt.

Although it bears no relation to the biodiversity policy, during the consultation Peeters-Nillesen drew attention to a somewhat older plan known as ‘Tree Tinder’, which involves arranging a date with one of the unique trees on campus. “Trees can tell you a lot,” says Peeters-Nillesen. “You just have to know how to listen properly.” 

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