Sandpipers and the Art of Letting Go: Narratives of Conservation in the Wadden Sea


  • Eveline de Smalen Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


The history of conservation in the Wadden Sea reserves a starring role for birds. Birds were important in early conservation efforts, are central to its policies today, and contribute to its success as a protected area, but they can also help us think about nature reserves conceptually and critically assess their role in society. Nature reserves are often considered static, unchanging, and ahistorical places. This article provides a reading of Ed Leeflang’s poem “The Sanderling” to show how literature about birds can help us think about nature reserves as historical places shaped by a multitude of more-than-human agencies, and marked by loss.

Author Biography

Eveline de Smalen, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

Eveline de Smalen is a literary scholar who works on literatures of coastal and riverine landscapes, with a particular interest in the transformative capacities of the imagination and the interactions between the realm of the imagination and that of policy and politics. She studied English and comparative literature at Utrecht University and completed her PhD in environmental humanities at the Rachel Carson Center in 2019. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher on the project “Corridor Talk: Conservation Humanities and the Future of Europe’s National Parks” (DFG-AHRC, 2020–2022/3), for which she works on the cultural imagination of the Wadden Sea.

Birds on a beach