From the “Ecocentrum” visitors centre at the entrance to the Zilvermeer leisure park north-east of Mol, you can choose your walk depending on whether you don’t mind getting your feet wet or prefer to keep them dry. An adventurous walk (Buitengoor) will take you over very wet and boggy terrain. The other walk (De Maat) is a much more sensible, dry walk. Of course, you can do both: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. This is exactly what I did, and luckily I chose the wet one first, so had all afternoon to dry out!
The Buitengoor walk is so wet because it’s a very low-lying fen criss-crossed by streams. In addition, it collects the overflow of two nearby canals. It may not sound the ideal environment for a nature walk, but especially in the summer it’s alive with wildlife. The area is particularly famous for its dragonflies, with names like the marshland darter, the beautiful demoiselle and the golden-ringed dragonfly, while breeding butterflies include the rare green hairstreak. Of course, you won’t walk far without almost stepping on a frog. But it may not be the everyday common frog; rarer marsh frogs and moor frogs breed in this area too.
Amateur botanists will be in paradise here. You can find a wide selection of rushes, sedges and cotton-grasses, as well as gems like the bog asphodel and the marsh orchid.
As you might have guessed by now, Wellington boots are essential. The path is well signposted and is suitable for children, but watch where little ones are stepping. I didn’t take sufficient care and my right leg disappeared in a bog up to my knee!
For an interesting lunch, try the Kleppende Klipper, a converted Polish freighter, which is berthed 2 km up the N136. From its car park, a very pleasant and much drier 8 km walk takes you along the Herentals-Bocholt canal, around the perimeters of two large lakes, and through the woods of De Maat nature reserve. You can also start on this route from the Ecocentrum.
De Maat is of European importance for its breeding birds, such as the bluethroat, kingfisher, honey buzzard and goshawk. In addition, on warm spring evenings you may be lucky enough to be serenaded by Europe’s noisiest amphibian, the natterjack toad. The male’s loud rasping call has been recorded up to five kilometres away. The natterjack toad can be identified by a yellow stripe down the middle of its back.
Especially for the kids - An interesting plant you might like to look for in the Buitengoor is the sundew, which is an insectivorous plant. Its leaves are covered in sticky hairs which trap small flies. The leaf then closes around its catch and digests it. This gives the plant valuable food so it can grow in very poor acidic soils. One sundew plant can catch as many as 2000 insects in one summer.