Expert article
Modifier 24 January 2023
by Birgit Georgi, UIA expert

Volunteers play an important role in GreenQuays’ biodiversity monitoring

Monitoring a quay wall by volunteers
Monitoring at a reference site by volunteers. Image: Jacques Rovers
The main innovative feature of the GreenQuays in Breda is to build them nature-inclusive. For achieving this, the construction will lay the foundation. The grey infrastructure – the quay walls – will be built in a way that plants and animals can invade it by themselves. Will that happen as assumed? Will the design of the quay walls and the material used for construction really enable species to find habitats? A biodiversity monitoring before and after the construction is of central importance to demonstrate the success of the project and justify the efforts. How is this successfully organised at GreenQuays?

The responsible project partners are highly experienced NGOs. Natuurplein de Baronie is a cooperation between nature and environmental associations in the Barony region of Breda. It aims to safeguard the unique landscape and nature values and to connect it to people, nature lovers in this region. FLORON aims to protect wild plants and RAVON native reptiles, amphibians and fish and their habitats. Most people connected to these organisations are not employed by the organisations but contribute voluntarily. Nevertheless, they do comprehensive biodiversity monitoring in projects across the Netherlands. Over the years, the organisations got highly experienced in working with volunteers and have brought this method to perfection, resulting in an abundance of well-trained volunteer experts with long-term experience. 

This pool of volunteers has also been the source of experts, that serve the GreenQuays biodiversity monitoring. Around 15 trained volunteers have been monitoring insects, birds, for which Joost van Barendrecht, coordinator at Natuurplein, shares his perspective on the advantages of this approach. These volunteers have a background as biologists, nature guides or something completely different, but then have trained themselves on flora and fauna. Out of personal interest in the subject, they are highly motivated and eager to learn, which such projects and the contacts give them the opportunity for. With their long-term experience they are as good as professionals. As they are citizens themselves, they apply their knowledge at their own place, inform people around them. They become, thus, advocates for biodiversity in the city and create more awareness and acceptance for nature among residents. 

2 portraits
Jacques Rovers and Aad van Diemen - two of the volunteers

How does it look from the other side? Aad van Diemen and Jacques Rovers are two of the volunteers, I have talked to. Jacques Rovers, who was born and lived most of his live in Breda, is an agronomist having worked in horticulture. In 2012, he retired and specialised in wild flora as a serious hobby. He is member of KNNV (Royal Dutch Natural Historical Society) and has been for many years coordinator of the working group on plants. He is also a district coordinator at FLORON (Floristic Research Netherlands) for Noord-Brabant Baronie, the region in which Breda sits. Aad van Diemen has also lived for more than 40 years in Breda. He holds a degree in social sciences and has worked a lot with volunteers in the city of Rotterdam. Now, he is retired too. He has gained his broad knowledge on biodiversity and in particular insects in self-studies. Apart from many monitoring tasks, he also co-authored three booklets on urban flora. 


Birgit Georgi: How did you become part of the GreenQuays monitoring? 
Jacques: I did already some volunteer work for Breda municipality. Breda itself has an established close cooperation with Natuurplein de Baronie. I knew Joost and he asked me directly if I would join the monitoring at Green Quays. 
Aad: With me it was somehow similar. I have been engaged in the nature education organisation IVN, which is also working under the umbrella of Natuurplein. Joost has a list of all available specialists in the organisation and looked for someone monitoring the insects. That is when I was asked to take on this task. 


Platycnemis pennipes, Rhagonycha fulva, Bombus terrestris, Lythria cruentaria. Images: Aad van Diemen


Birgit: And what is your motivation to monitor biodiversity at GreenQuays?
Jacques: I was interested in wild plants already as a boy becoming happy by their forms and colours. This passion for nature has been there my whole life. It makes me happy to work with nature, and the more I learn about it, the more interesting it gets. At the same time, I am worried about the decline of biodiversity. I want to do something about it.
Aad: I have always been interested much in nature and learned a lot myself. In GreenQuays, I was asked to monitor the insects. Did you know that 80% of biodiversity is based on insects? Often, they are overseen by people. It is my passion to make people aware and raise the interest. I like to educate and to contribute to better urban and regional plans.


Birgit: Have there been challenges that you faced?
Aad: Yes, the start has been a challenge. I was assigned to monitor bees, wasps, dragon flies and butterflies. The set-up of the GreenQuays has been specific and standard procedures would often not have worked well. All was new. We did some literature study on how to monitor the insects in this specific urban space, but we did not get much information out of this. While there is a monitoring protocol from the national butterfly organisation for butterflies and dragon flies, for bees and wasps no specific protocol existed. The situation improved, when we started with the practical monitoring and worked closely with the coordinator and also developed protocols together. 
Jacque: I am responsible for monitoring the plants growing in the walls. Normally, we take stock of species in a 1 km2 grid across regions in the Netherlands. That follows the usual FLORON monitoring protocol. This would however not work for the narrow river stretch of the GreenQuays. We had to develop a special protocol based on the Dutch Nectarindex ensuring always the same way of measuring: We divided a stretch of 100m into sections of 10m and at every 10m we have noted down the plants we see in 1m around. This is repeated 10 times and then the number of occurrences of a species in a plot has been noted down. In this way, we could measure the abundance and not just occurrence of species. This could be a good method for future roadside monitoring actions too.  


wall plants
Targeted wall plants: Asplenium ruta-muraria, Asplenium trichomanes, Cymbalaria muralis. Images: Birgit Georgi

Birgit: What did you personally get out of this activity?
Aad: I am really curious to see myself how the nature-inclusive design of the GreenQuays will work out. During last rounds of the monitoring, I found some special bees in the city centres, that I did not expect there. It was a nice surprise, but will these come back after the construction has finished? Right now, the area is completely dug up.  
Another aspect: GreenQuays has helped to get more people to see and appreciate the insects. I did excursions with around 20 people each. Equipped with nets and glass tubes, they caught insects and could observe them at close range, which gave them a totally different experience.
Jacques: The project really helps. For long, I go with interested citizens on nature walks in Breda frequently. With the project, the number of participants has increased. That is a nice effect. Personally, I learned also new things like working with the Nectarindex.


screenshot of activity flyer
Flyer on citizen excursions and activities


Birgit: You have done the first rounds of monitoring at the site close by and at reference sites. What do you expect for the future and your involvement?
Jacques: It will take some time for nature to develop. The construction just provides the foundation for the plants to grow, but how will they do? In consultation with Natuurplein we can repeat the monitoring within a couple of years. We are also curious what is going to happen.
Aad: Yes, that is the problem for GreenQuays, but I am personally interested to see the development over time. There is no question, I would definitely like to continue with this volunteer work also after the project will end next year. 

... the long-term, proven and constantly improved collaboration between professional and volunteer experts has paid off. Mutual respect and exchange at equal level has created the ground for a pool of highly trained and motivated volunteers. GreenQuays as an UIA project will end next year, but with this solid culture and structure of nature organisations, there is a real chance to continue monitoring over a longer period to fully reveal the effectiveness of the nature-inclusive quay design. 


The GreenQuays biodiversity monitoring


The monitoring is done on flora (wall plants) and fauna insects, birds and bats, fishes.
Three areas are monitored: close to the GreenQuays area as baseline area; and a reference area further away to compare with. The latter one can, at the same time, be the source area from which flora and fauna can migrate to the new quays. The monitoring of each species group follows a specific protocol. Over the last two years, flora has been monitored twice per year for two days in Mai/ June and in September / October, fishes 1-2 times per year during that period, birds in spring, and insects on a weekly (butterflies), bi-weekly (dragon flies) or monthly (bees and wasps) basis between March and October. 
Data for the wall plants are collected with an app (Vera-app) and find thus their way into the “Verspreidingsatlas”, an Atlas of the Netherlands that documents the distribution of every wild plant. In 2022, the team has also noted 7 target species in the neighbourhood of the GreenQuays. They show what can be expected in the future at the GreenQuays.

maps showing reference areas
Source and reference area (blue) and reference area (green) future GreenQuays (red) for wall and riparian plants