“The Drowned Land of Saeftinghe”: the large-scale, salt marsh wilderness, situated in the River Scheldt estuary, surviving on the edge of land and sea. The Drowned Land of Saeftinghe, as the name suggests, was once inhabited. In late medieval times it was a flourishing area of ‘polders’ and villages, and even had a castle. Saeftinghe was of great strategical importance; whoever occupied it could control access to Antwerp harbour. This, together with the forces of nature, finally led to its ultimate destruction. Heavy storm floods during the 14th and 16th centuries devoured large areas of the reclaimed land and, during the 16th century Eighty Years’ War (the Dutch War of Independence), the dikes of Saeftinghe were pierced in order to flood the land, in an attempt to defend Antwerp. The Western Scheldt consequently became an extensive intertidal area - the largest of its kind in Europe!

The Area in a Nutshell

Saeftinghe, covering 3600 hectares (36km2), is a vast brackish intertidal area. It gives an insight into what the ancient landscape of Zeeland would have once looked like, ever-changing with the ebb and flow of the tides. The water of the Western Scheldt enters and retreats with every tide via a system of creeks. The three main entrance creeks branch out into Saeftinghe, forming a dense network of smaller creeks and gullies, allowing tidal water to extend all the way to the seawall. The Western Scheldt is an estuary, where the fresh water of the River Scheldt mixes with the saline water of the North Sea – this is what makes the water of the Western Scheldt brackish.

The mudflats and vegetated salt marsh create a haven for birds: tens of thousands of birds come here to feed, winter and breed. Over the years, more than 200 bird species have been recorded!

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