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Amsterdam, wildlife and the city

Have you ever noticed how wildlife in and around Amsterdam is surprisingly abundant? I am not talking about British tourists partying in the streets of the capital like only the Brits do (although that can be pretty wild too). I am talking about real wildlife: birds, seals, herons, snakes, that kind of life.

Amsterdam is home to 800,000 inhabitants, but not only: there are about 10 000 different animal species living around the capital too!

Why does it matter? Because when you are strolling around the city, walking along the canals just like millions of tourists do every year, you are not expecting to see a seal pointing its little nose out of the water, or a colony of parakeets in the trees, are you?

And yet, Amsterdam itself is home to one quarter of the animal species in The Netherlands, and 300 of them are protected.

Meet the grey heron, a real Amsterdammer

If you live in, or visit, some neighborhoods outside of the city center of Amsterdam, you might encounter a grey heron from time to time. You might even meet 3 or 4 of them at the same time, standing on top of a supermarket or casually walking in the streets. Don’t tell me that this isn’t surprising!

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Grey heron in Amsterdam – Photo courtesy of thedyspraxicchef.com

Grey herons usually live in the southern part of Europe, and, well, in parks or in the wild. Not in the capital of a European country.

The exotic green parakeets

I wished I had a camera to take a picture of my sister’s face when she came to visit in Amsterdam and saw the colony of parakeets that live in my neighborhood. They are quite possibly my coolest but loudest neighbours.

Monnik parkieten

There are about 3,700 parakeets living in Amsterdam. There are many rumors as to how these exotic birds arrived in the flat country in the first place, but they were probably pets that escaped (or were released). And as they reproduce quite fast (their number has doubled over the past few years), it is becoming easier to find them in Amsterdam.

So, next time you go for a walk in a park or near the canals, look up!

Is that a duck, is that a fish? No, that’s a big seal my dear

If you are lucky, you might see a seal swimming in the canals of Amsterdam some day. Since 2012, they seem to be more and more present in the water of the Dutch capital.

The North sea is not so far after all, and it seems like seals can easily cross the city of IJmuiden to end up in Amsterdam’s canals.

This is a little less surprising to me, as I come from North of France and seals are very  common there.

Watch out for grasssss snakes

Let’s make it clear before some of you start panicking: the snakes in and around Amsterdam are non-venomous.

The grass snake has a yellow band around its neck and small dark patches on the back. Not only will it not attack you because it will be too terrified to move (they play dead when they feel threatened), but they are also very useful in a city infested with rats and mice, because guess what they eat… Yeah well, ok, small ones only, but that’s better than nothing!

Biodiversity increasing in Amsterdam

There are many, many more “wild” animals that you can encounter in Amsterdam, but these are definitely the most surprising ones (to me).

In fact, there will probably be more and more of them coming in the next decades. Because nature evolves and adapts, and while cities and farming lands expand, animals need to find a new home and to adapt to survive.

And while wildlife in the Dutch countryside disappear faster and faster every year, scientists say that the phenomenon is slower in the cities. Biodiversity in Amsterdam has increased over the past 10 years. Some animal species are disappearing, but some other are adapting to the city life, and to buildings rather than cliffs.

A “funny” picture that hides an environmental disaster

According to the Dutch branch of WWF, the decrease of animal life has been slower in cities than in the countryside: 30% decrease in the cities since 1990, compared to between 40% and 50% in the countryside.

In the countryside, industrial farming has caused for two thirds of the wild birds to disappear since 1960. By overexploiting natural resources, and changing the natural landscape, we are forcing wild species to either adapt to our lifestyle, or die.

So, there you have it: the increase of wildlife in Amsterdam, like in other Dutch cities, is a direct consequence of what we are doing to the land, and to nature.

And, no matter how biodiversity increases in the cities, there is no doubt that, if nothing is done to change the way we live, expand our cities and our farming lands, there will be much more than a 50% decrease of animal wildlife in the Dutch countryside by the end of this decade.

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