‘You never knew what you were facing until the last minute’

Vana Tsimopoulou is project leader of Polder2Cs

Eugène de Kok, editor HZ Discovery

‘You never knew what you were facing until the last minute’

Vana Tsimopoulou, Polder 2C's

The corona crisis did not make it easy for the thirteen international partners of the Polder2Cs project. However, Vana Tsimopoulou of the HZ Building with Nature lectureship looks back on the first year of this special project with a good feeling.

In the much-discussed Hedwige-Prosperpolder on the border of Zeelandic-Flanders and Belgium, Vana and her colleagues from the Netherlands, Belgium, England and France are researching the safety of our dykes. They are looking at the implications at a strategic, tactical and operational level. In the polder, which will be flooded again in a few years' time as part of nature compensation, researchers can test flood defences and crisis plans in practice. For example, they will damage dykes to investigate the implications and ascertain how to repair them quickly and effectively.

Vana, you are the project manager of this extensive project. Looking back on the first year, what are your thoughts?

“Good! A lot of experiments took place, but less than we had planned. However, there were moments when all sorts of things were happening. The researchers are very much looking forward to getting back to work next winter. We are planning even more then."

Can you name a highlight from the first year?

"I received many compliments for the Winter School. In it, we introduced students to all aspects of flood risk and dyke protection. The students and guest speakers were satisfied, even though most of the activities were online. I would have liked to do more with and for students, but that was also difficult because of the corona virus. You never knew what you were facing until the last minute.”

How has the local community reacted to the project in the Hedwige-Prosperpolder, an area that has been the subject of much debate in recent years?

"I went to the nearby café a few times. When I told them what we are doing, they were generally interested. Some people are sceptical, but most of them think it is good that we are doing these experiments."

Are there any results to report yet?

"After just one winter, nothing is entirely conclusive yet, but we can see that flood tests show that damage occurs much more quickly in dyke sections where animals have been digging. That happens very quickly during a flood. We have also carried out tests to repair this. We will certainly pursue this further. We have in any case been busy looking into repairing damage, by using bags of stones, for example. We will be investigating that further too. It is still too early to draw conclusions. That could take years for a large project with huge amounts of data.”

Can you tell us again why this is such a special project?

"Because a new dyke is already in place in the area, we can safely test flood scenarios. As such, it is not just a theoretical exercise. You can do things here that would not be possible in an ordinary polder. That motivates many researchers. The biggest gain so far is that we work well together, even under these difficult circumstances. We have built up valuable relationships that we will benefit from next year."

Work stops in the summer because of the breeding season. What do you do then?

"We primarily use these months to analyse data, inspect the area and prepare for the winter season. We are allowed into the area for that purpose. Next year, I hope to involve more students in the project. We are currently preparing an agenda for this with research questions and sub-studies. We will certainly start working on the animal related activities and how to repair the damage caused by them. We also want to try to measure and inspect holes and burrows using new techniques. There will also be a disaster exercise. We will then observe the reactions of people in a crisis situation. This is another thing we can now actually do in practice. This is a unique opportunity for students to contribute and to experience." Polder2Cs is awarded a contribution of 3.9 million euros from the European Interreg 2 Seas Programme 2014-2020, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. The total budget amounts to 6.5 million euros. Interreg 2 Seas is intended to make the coastal area along the canal and the North Sea more climate-adaptive.