Cultural Entities 
(The Netherlands)


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1. Overview




The Lauwers region is located in northeastern Friesland and northwestern Groningen. The area consists of marine clay polders in the flood plains area of the River Lauwers and the former Lauwerszee, part of the Wadden Sea.


around 310 km˛

Location - map:

Province of Fryslân and Groningen

Origin of name:

Named after the river Lauwers

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Middelzee and Fivelingo, also former estuaries.

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Land reclamation: open wetland with dykes, surrounded by earlier reclaimed land. Former fishery villages, dyke villages, dwelling mounds, sluice villages, rivers and waterways.

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
Lauwers is sited on the northern side of the boulder clay plateau known as the Drenthe Plateau, where a low-lying area was created by erosion where the Lauwers River flowed through the region. At the end of the last Ice Age the climate became warmer and more humid, leading to the melting of the ice caps and a rise in the sea level. Groundwater levels rose at the same time, leading to the formation of swamps in parallel with the former coastline, in which peat formed. The continuing rise in sea level, combined with the deposition of silts, obstructed the formation of clay on the seaward side, whilst the peat-bog extended ever further inland. In the early Middle Ages the sea penetrated into the land ever more deeply and large tracts of peat were washed away. The mouth of the Lauwers was scoured out to form a broad estuary known as the Lauwerszee. Clay walls or natural levees developed along the rivers. With the subsidence of the peatlands on the other side, these levees came to assume a considerable height. In many areas these were subsequently cut away for brick production. In areas where the peat was not eroded away, marine clay was deposited on top of the peat. Part of these salt marshes and clay-on-peat areas were empoldered, thereby reducing the size of the Lauwerszee. In 1969 a barrier dam was constructed, putting an end to this inland sea.

Old map of Lauwerszee Dykes in Lauwers

2.2 Present landscape
The landscape is of an open arable land with dykes, which together with the field patterns tell the story of land reclamation. The heart of the entity, the former estuary of the Lauwers is still a wetland.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

The Lauwerszee has been in existence since the 7th-8th century. Until the 11th century most of the area comprised this inland sea. Many rivers like the Lauwers and the Reitdiep discharged their water in the sea. Inhabitants of the surrounding areas used the water for fishing and transport.

Photo: River Reitdiep

3.2 Early Modern Times
The sea defences on the western side of the former Lauwerszee, which protect the Oostergo area from flooding, date from the 11th century. To the south of the former Lauwerszee the dykes largely date from the 13th century and were mainly constructed by the Gerkes Monastery. A sea dike was constructed from Noordhorn to Grijpskerk in the province of Groningen and from there to Stroobos, and across the western levee of the Lauwers to Burum, Kollum and Wijgeest. Later a series of new dykes were constructed further to the north.

The Oude dyke

The land consolidation in the area ranges from irregular, block-shaped plots in the vicinity of Kollum and Burum, to regularly shaped rectangles in the most recent polders. Burum is the oldest part of the Lauwers region to have been brought under cultivation, the numerous winding ditches which form part of this landscape are the remnants of old creeks. The Lauwers region contains various kinds of villages.

Block shaped plots near Burum Rectangle shaped plots in recent polder (Kollumerland)

Burum and Gerkesklooster are earth mound villages, Kollumerpomp and Warfstermolen are dyke villages and then there are a number of villages that grew up near locks. Zoutkamp is a former fishing village which became a fortress during the Tachtigjarige Oorlog. The village was cut off from the sea when the Lauwermeer dike, a barrier dam, was constructed in 1969.

Old map of Zoutkamp

Other fishing villages include Oostmahorn and Lauwersoog, the latter has a new fishery harbour with a fish market.
Many rivers used to flow into the Lauwerszee: the Reitdiep at Zoutkamp, the Lauwers at Munnkezijl, the Dokkumer Ee at Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen and the Zuider Ee at Zumazijl.

Around 1580 a Spanish ruler (stadhouder) had a waterway excavated between Leeuwarden and Groningen, known as the Kolonelsdiep, which was expanded in the 20th century to form the Prinses Margriet Canal. In the mid-17th century the Strobosser boat canal was excavated between the Dokkumerdiep at Dokkum and the Kolonelsdiep at Stroobos. The Dokkumerdiep was traditionally an important inland navigation route. Nowadays, after straightening work and the construction of locks, it is known as the Dokkumer Grootdiep. Like the Lauwersmeer with its gullies, former salt marshes and flats, the Stroobosser boat canal and the Prinses Margriet Canal are important and prominent cultural-historical features that illustrate the origins of the area. After the Reitdiep was dammed in 1877, locks were constructed at Zoutkamp and in 1920 at Lammerburen, the latter in combination with a pumping station (the Waterwolf). The Lauwerszee barrier dam also contains an extensive lock complex. The Lauwerszee therefore contains numerous important hydrological engineering structures. The sea dykes, secondary dykes and lock complexes are important and prominent cultural-historical features.

3.3 Modern Times
The former Lauwersmeer estuary was sealed off from the Wadden Sea by a dam in 1969. It is kept at a constant level of one metre below Amsterdam Ordnance Datum. As a consequence the former salt marshes and sand-flats have dried up. The main gullies are however still navigable water. Part of this area is used for agriculture, part for military training exercises and the remainder for woodlands and nature conservation areas. A harbour was constructed near the locks, and this is also the site of the most recent village in the Netherlands: Lauwersoog. Clay continues to be extracted along the Dokkumer Grootdiep for brickmaking, where there is also a surviving brick factory.

Map of a Steenbakkerij (brick factory)

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
Agriculture is an import sector in the local economy. In this area farming is still profitable but there is a continuing need for re-strucuturing and enlargement. This process can threaten the typical patterns of land use and the farm yards and buildings. Parts of the area are managed by nature organizations.

4.2 Settlement development
The settlements are small in the region and there is a tendency for the young people to move away and the houses to be bought by elderly people.

Villages and settlements in Lauwers

This has an impact on the viability of the villages. The sub region is an area with a small economic base. Tourism is concentrated around the Lauwerslake, at several locations there is overnight accommodation (bungalows and even complete new-build semi-historical style houses) and facilities like yachting-marinas and restaurants. In the surrounding area the appreciation of the area is rising, but there is only a very small tourist economy.

4.3 Industry and energy
The wide open space of the Lauwers area is conducive to industries like telecommunication towers and windfarms. There are already wind turbines beside some farmhouses in Lauwersoog; in Groningen wind turbines are restricted to harbour areas. Near Grijpskerk and Anjum gas extraction sites are located, where gas is extracted from beneath the Wadden Sea. Business is mainly local oriented and is concentrated near the villages, with the exception of the shrimp industry in Zoutkamp.

4.4 Infrastructure
The dykes are used for transport. There are mainly only local roads, with a single major road on the barrier dam.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

The centre of the entity, the Lauwerslake, is a national park, with a separate management plan. The Lauwers straddles two provinces, Fryslân and Groningen.
The regional spatial plan for the province of Fryslân, called the Streekplan, is an important document for integrated management of landscape and heritage. This plan provides objectives for regional and local policy, as well as covering issues of landscape and heritage. The Fryslân Streekplan is currently being updated. The essential qualities of the different landscapes of Fryslân are described and those qualities which are seen as important and should be taken into account in all kinds of decisions are identified. This recognition of the essential qualities in the landscapes, is an objective of the spatial plan. The plan (Streekplan) emphasise the need for protection and protection by development. A document called Nota Erfgoed (Heritage Plan) covers the responsibilities for the different aspects of cultural heritage.

The regional spatial plan for the province of Groningen, called Provinciaal Omgevingsplan II, is an important document in the integrated management of landscape and heritage. This identifies objectives for regional and local policy, as well as covering issues of landscape and heritage. Part of this regional plan for the province of Groningen is called ‘Karakteristiek Groningen’. In this section the main goals for integrated landscape and heritage policy are formulated. The actual (historical) landscapes are so-called ‘starting points’ for new developments and the diversity of landscapes should be recognizable. These main goals are translated in other plans, dealing with specific parts of the province.
For the sub regions ‘regioperspectieven’ (a long term perspective for a region) have been developed.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Settlement
The range of settlement types are vulnerable to change or expansion. The increase in tourism brings pressure for new development within the historic cores or on the edge of existing settlements.

6.2 Agriculture
Agriculture is still a profitable industry but there is continuing pressure to increase production. This process can threaten the historic patterns of land use and the farm yards and buildings.

6.3 Tourism
There is only a very small tourist economy but this is beginning to expand. In and directly around the National Park Lauwersmeer, the recreation facilities for tourism are expanding rapidly. On the borders of the area developments in tourism and recreation, mainly on a small scale, are occurring. For example, alongside the village of Oostmahorn a large holiday home park with new historical style houses and layout has developed, called Esonstad. If the cultural heritage of the area is not integrated into these initiatives negative impacts on the landscape and heritage can take place.

6.4 Industry and energy
Gas extraction, wind turbines and large buildings can have an adverse effect on both the visual amenity of the historic landscape and the buried cultural heritage. The qualities of parts of this landscape are its openness, its quietness and its darkness and these are at threat from continuing industrial growth.

7. Potentials

7.1 Settlement
The range of historic settlements, including earth mound villages, dyke villages, lock villages and fishing villages provide an important range of settlements which have the potential to promote the diverse occupation history of the Lauwers entity.

7.2 Agriculture
The cultural history of the settlements and landscapes of this area are identified in different initiatives, regional and local, and the potential for both promotion and management of the area should be exploited.

7.3 Tourism
The visible history of water management through the ages is an important strength of the landscape. The Lauwers is still feeding the (former) sea bay Lauwers sea. The Lauwers is the border river between the provinces of Groningen and Fryslân. The lake is still a significant element in the water-management of both provinces. The many dikes, and the natural and manmade waterways demonstrate the history of habitation and cultivation of this area. The historical development of embanking and reclamation of the sea estuary throughout the centuries is still visible. As with the contrast between the natural landscape in the former sea area and the historical developments on the banks, these provide an important part of the history of the area and could be promoted via tourism. The story of the monastery of Gerkes Klooster is an important example and could be used as a focal point interpreting the story of this area.

7.4 Nature conservation
There are opportunities to improve the relationship between Lauwers and its former sea estuary by promoting the historic landscape and cultural history of the area in an integrated manner with nature conservation and tourism.

7.5 Industry and energy
Development of traditional industries such as fisheries, brick and pottery manufacturing, provides opportunities to strengthen the economy and encourage local tourism.

8. Sources

Marrewijk, D & A.J. Haartsen, 2002, Waddenland Het landschap en cultureel erfgoed in de Waddenzeeregio, Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuurbeheer en Visserij / Noordboek, Leeuwarden
Provincie Fryslan, 2006, Streekplan. Leeuwarden
Provincie Groningen, 2000, Provinciaal Omgevingsplan, Koersen op Karakter, Groningen