Blog 1 – Diversity


For this weeks theme I’ll stay quite close to what I worked on for the last five years: diversity. This time, however, it will be about diversity in a broader sense than biodiversity. In a way it is funny that I pick a topic I am so familiar with, since the landscape I am cycling through is also very familiar, in the broad sense. It often n feels like I’m cycling through Friesland, Groningen or Zeeland. Memories from Ferwert coming back… Actually, the only part I’ve cycled so far and am literally familiar with, is the harbour of Wilhelmshaven. I’ve been there six years ago for a course about – you might guess it… – biodiversity (and ecosystem functioning).

Well, that was the introduction, but before I dive into the blog, I’ll just give some general information on the tour so far.

Following the NSCR

Up to Fedderwardersiel

Day 1 – 67 km Erm to Bad Nieuweschans – so hot my speedometer broke down

Day 2 – 66 km to Knock – still too hot for my speedometer to work

Day 3 – 115 km to Schillig – Wind in the back (mostly), awesome! So glad I chose to cycle counter clockwise…!

Day 4 – 75 km to Sehestadt – Wind in the back is awesome, but my legs are not ready for strong headwind. I guess my “day 3” hit me on day 4. Time for an easy day.

Day 5 – 40 km to Fedderwardersiel – A I said, an easy day.

Getting warmed up

Starting a trip also comes with the getting organised on the road. It takes some time to have the perfect evening and morning routines of pitching the tent and breaking it down. As of today, I think I have the mornings figured out. Evenings are also on the verged of being not too chaotic. I’ve managed to pitch my tent now in a strong wind, without anything blowing away. The final test will come of course, when it is raining. Will I keep dry what needs to stay dry. So far, it seems my warming up is over. Maybe I just need to get into a rythm with writing this blog…

Usually, my legs also need some warming up during the trip. Day 3 is always the worst day. Muscle aches from the days before kick in, and there is a general dread of having to continue, while my legs feel like lead. This week, though, my day 3 was awesome! Maybe it was because of the wind in the back, or maybe it was because I took it slow the day before. A suggestion to anyone out there who is going on a short cycling trip: start preferrably AFTER the heatwave is over… So yes, especially those first two days, it also literally was warming up nicely… And that is one part where I noticed that some diversity could help in cooling down the environment a little.

Well-deserved break

Campsite heat bubble

The worst part of following a cycling route during a heat wave, is that it brings you directly through suburban areas. The type of suburban area you might know from Harry Potter. Very tidy streat, neatly trimmed grass, and absolutely nothing else. Gardens make up a large part of land use (8 % in Belgium). Besides the fact that a more biodiverse garden may also help countering the insect decline, a more diverse garden can help with cooling of an urban area. And in extent: me on my bike. Everytime I cycle through such a place, I really feel extra heat coming from the tarmac and from the houses around. And there is no blocking of the sun. Plant a tree! Give so much cooling…

And talking about planting a tree… I don’t understand why, but apparently the Germans here love their caravan sites to be hugh and without shade. Every single patch is surrounded by some plastic wall. And there is not a single tree in sight… Okay, it’s not that strange that no trees are growing on campsite situated at salt marshes, which is another subject all togehter, but even the non-salt marsh campsites are “all-you-can-see” caravans. It is almost as bad cycling there as cycling through a suburban area. Again: plant a tree!

Shade and a diverse set of trees: love it!

Outbreaks and hitch hikers

Starting cycling trhough Drenthe made me realize how little diversity in trees there is along the road. Almost every single tree was Pedunculate Oak (yes, one of my study species, also known as Quercus robur or zomerkeik). And almost every other tree had a warning on it. It was in the news a lot: oak processionary caterpillars are on the rise. They originate from the south of Europe. As it becomes warmer here, they find it more suitable here too. One of the suggestions that has been made, is that by diversifying the trees that are planted along the road wil reduce these outbreaks of caterpillars.

It is a very general idea that a more diverse habitat reduces the chance of outbreaks. Outbreaks of species, or also invasions of non-native species are expected to increase world wide due to biodiversity loss. Anyone who wants to know something of biodiverisity and habitat loss, go read my thesis. Here, however, I want to focus on another human contribution of biodiversity loss or increase, which I can relate to my bike ride: passive dispersal.

Everytime I time I ride somewhere, I take part of passive dispersal unwillingly. These can be seeds trapped within my tent, a spider who decided to build its web during the night on my bike, or a fly that figured out that landing on my bike is a nice break from flying. And with the bright colour of my panniers, hitch hikers guaranteed! Over small distances, taking these hitch hikers with me might actually promote diversity, by enhancing gene flow between populations. Everytime we travel, we take some foreign enteties with us. At some point, these organisms end up in an unfamiliar community. Free of their pathogens and predators, there is a chance that if they settle successfully, they may cause local extinctions of other species or turn invasive. For the chance to become invasive, there is the tens rules. One of 10 introduced will appear in the wild. Out of ten of those one will establish itself and out of 10 of those, one will become a pest. More global transport will only increase the number of invasive species.

Brining this back to my cycling route, it is estimated that in the North Sea over 80 species have been introduced. The main causes are marine transport (ballast water) and aquaculture. Some of these non-native species you might know are the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas, Japanse oester), Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis, Chinese wolhandkrab) and Atlantic jackknife clam (Ensis leei, Amerikaanse zwaardschede).

Hoverfly hitching a ride

What’s next…

I wanted to include some more on the diversity of the agricultural landscape, but I feel like it’s getting a bit long. So I’ll leave it for now. I might discuss some parts next blog. I think it’ll be up within a week. Since the route so far – but also the coming week – follows mainly dikes, I think my next topic will be sea level rise and how to protect the land behind it.

Tomorrow (Day 6) I’l be cycling through Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven. So the day after I’ll probably arrive in Hamburg, finishing my first NSCR-book.


Ready, get set…

Getting ready for the North Sea Cycling Route was never the problem. My bags have been packed since winter and my “fernweh” has never been stronger. However, before I could go, I needed to finish this “little” bump on the road: my PhD thesis. And with that finished on Wednesday, saying goodbye to my friends and collegues in Belgium, I am now FINALLY ready to go on this journey. Well, ready… I have focussed so much on finishing my thesis, that I may not be physically as much in shape as I want. However, the first part wil be flat. Very flat. So I guess I’ll get in shape on the road.

What can you expect from this blog?

Every week I need to rest my legs for a day. This seems the perfect day to update you all on how this journey is going. Every week I will write about the journey itself, but also discuss a topic related to ecology, climate change or any other environmental issue. Some of the topics I will discuss are sea level rise, the climate movement, transport, and waste. There is so much to write about. So who knows, I might add some blogs during the week as well. If you have any suggestions for topics, or nice facts about the area I’ll be cycling in, let me know! Any input is welcome!

Although I have my camera with me, I won’t be able to post those photo’s until I am home again. You can definitely expect a lot of photo’s once I’ve finished cycling. I will post photo’s made with my phone to illustrate the weekly topic.

What do I expect from this journey?

First off, I expect not to be able to finish the entire route. I initially planned to start earlier, giving me 4 months to finish the route. At the moment I have limited myself to 3 months. I’ll skip the Netherlands and Belgium and see how far I get in England, before taking a boat back the the mainland.

Although I am looking forward to going on this journey, it will get tough at times. Physically – hello mountains in Norway – as well as mentally. Challenging myself in this way was part of the reason of going on this journey.

What I hope, is that I’ll be able to keep you all updated on the adventures I’ll be having, the ultimate freedom cycling gives and the wonderful world around the North Sea. I’ll be writing about my own stories, but I also expect to meet some people along the way with their own amazing stories.


So, all left to do now, is go on the road. I’ll keep you posted!