The origin of alkaline fen in the Mosbeek Valley in the Netherlands is due to human impact rather than a natural development

Harm Smeenge*, Annemieke Kooijman, Otto Brinkkemper, Hans de Mars, Dmitri Mauquoy, Bas van Geel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alkaline fens are important Natura 2000 habitats, which harbor many endangered plant species. Alkaline fens are formed in areas with groundwater discharge and usually developed in a natural way in the early Holocene. We radiocarbon dated the base of three peat deposits from spring fens along the flanks of the ice-pushed ridge near the village of Ootmarsum to find out when and why peat-forming vegetation started to grow. We cored a sequence in the Mosbeek Valley for detailed paleoecological analyses of micro- and macrofossils. To our surprise, we found strong evidence for human impact during the 13th and 14th centuries AD as the triggering factor for starting organic colluvial accumulation and peat growth at sites where natural springs are present. This shows that this fen is not a relic, but results from changes in land use. Human actions were: (1) deforestation causing increased run-off and reduced evaporation on the plateaus by the vegetation, resulting in increased seepage in the valleys, (2) intensification of agriculture, trade routes, and paired erosion, which formed colluvial deposits and sediment fans that hampered fast run-off water, (3) increased back and groundwater levels after the foundation of watermills; four lowering water levels due to intensification and reorganization of water use by new watermills, and (4) head cut erosion and spring erosion after privatization and cultivation of common pastures after the mid 19th century. This means that cultural-historical changes in the landscape were much more important for alkaline fens than expected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-623
Number of pages11
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number7
Early online date18 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022


  • alkaline fens
  • historical ecology
  • human impact
  • ice-pushed ridge
  • initial peat growth
  • Medieval
  • Natura 2000 habitat type H7230
  • Netherlands
  • paleoecology
  • spring mires
  • Twente
  • watermills


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