Homage to a duck decoy

MD Landschapsarchitecten: MDL’s plan for the revised layout and restoration of a duck decoy visualizes various historical layers in the landscape. The duck decoy (a piece of land that was structured with the aim of catching waterfowl, with a pond and often surrounded by woods) is part of the monumental Huis te Glimmen estate in Glimmen, a village in the north of the Netherlands. Due to various landscape alterations down through the years, the duck decoy had become scarcely recognizable as having once had this function. In a process of intensive collaboration with neighbours and users, the decision was taken to make new use of the duck decoy as a place of tranquillity for recreational purposes.

In the new configuration, sustainable management and frequent use go hand in hand. As a result of a number of subtle interventions, visitors are encouraged to treat the monument with the utmost respect. The renewed duck decoy attracts more visitors than ever, but the vulnerable sections remain out of bounds.

History

The duck decoy was constructed as a part of the Huis te Glimmen estate in the early 17th century. The decoy was built on the flank of the extensive sandy ridge called the Hondsrug, which stretches from the Province of Drenthe to well into the Province of Groningen. This was a logical choice: sandy soil is not suitable for agriculture, and the placement of the necessary pond with surrounding banks could easily be realized. The duck decoy fell into disuse after 1819. To make the decoy terrain profitable, the decoy pond was converted into a ridge-plant wood for the harvest of acorns. The ridges enabled better drainage for the plants in the wet ground. The impoldering and construction of the Noord-Willemskanaal (canal) in 1857 ensured progressive drying of the local ground, although this made the former duck decoy even less recognizable in the landscape. In the twentieth century, the estate gradually became a public walking and recreation area. The nature-oriented management of the estate brought about a densification of tree and plant growth on the decoy terrain. In 2004, the entire estate was assigned the status of Listed Conservation Area and the various components were restored or renovated one by one. This was the impulse to expose and restore the historical stratification of the former duck decoy.

Process

The restorative interventions and layout of the duck decoy were formulated in intensive collaboration with the neighbours and users. Complete restoration of the duck decoy soon turned out to be impossible: the current situation with regard to water management made the construction of a new pond impractical. The ground had been primarily used for recreation in the recent past, so that the remains of the decoy had also incurred much damage. This kind of usage had to be discouraged, but preferably without the application of ‘prohibited’ signs or fences.

In consultation with the owner, users and neighbours, the decision was taken to implement partial restoration in combination with new usage that would contribute to the other qualities of the estate. Thus, the decoy should not only become recognizable and, if possible, enterable, but also invite people to use it as a place of rest and contemplation. This function actually harmonizes well with its former use as instrument of confinement: in bygone days it was forbidden to make any noise in a wide area around operating decoys.

Interventions

With the restoration of the surrounding earthen walls, the decoy is now closed off, but has been made accessible by means of a CorTen steel path in one of the former decoy pipes that enticed the ducks inward and now ends in a sitting element. The CorTen steel element is inviting yet simultaneously generates distance, in combination with the strategically planted holly bushes. Visitors feel welcome as they enter the decoy, but feel instinctively just how far they can go.

Not only have the various sections of the decoy been restored, the later use of the terrain as ridge-plant wooded zone has also been visualized. The sitting element has been positioned in such a way that the ridges and decoy walls are easily recognizable. The steel of the sitting element provides a brief description of the various historical and current uses of the zone.

The aforementioned recent, more active recreational function of the decoy has been made possible on an adjoining open piece of ground. This neglected area has been transformed into playing field with fruit trees and a robust, long picnic table. A number of cleverly sited transitions have been created between the decoy and the playing field. As a consequence, visitors who wish to use their leisure time actively opt for the playing field. The functions reinforce one another: recreational visitors also take a look in the duck decoy and vice versa.

In this way, several aims can be realized at once with minimum resources: renovation of the conservation area, the visualization of the history of the landscape, continuing recreational use of the area and an increase in the number of visitors.

Landscape Architecture: MD Landschapsarchitecten
Location: Glimmen, The Netherlands
Client: Staatsbosbeheer
Area: 2ha
Year of design: 2010-2011
Year of implementation: 2012-2013
Design team: Mathijs Dijkstra, Melle van Dijk
Historical research: Anne Wolff
Photography: Robert van der Molen, Melle van Dijk

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