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Students investigate climate adaptation in Brabant in a series of graduation assignments

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Climate adaptation in Brabant comes with various challenges in areas such as nature, water, biodiversity and agriculture. The Province of Noord-Brabant and HAS University of Applied Sciences have joined forces to investigate these challenges in a successful series of graduation projects. Former students Vic Lagrouw and Peter van Munnen have even won awards for their project.

Frank van Lamoen is the project leader for climate adaptation with the Province of Noord-Brabant and explains that the point of departure for research into climate adaptation is a well-functioning soil-water system. "It is the foundation of all the issues that we have tackled with the students. We always examined how we can create a future-proof system that is part of the entire ecosystem. We also looked at what it takes to realise such a system. In the process, we have tried to approach the system separately from all existing conventions and laws, in order to avoid limiting ourselves. Needless, to say, we did not lose sight of reality, but our approach did make it possible to think and design freely."

Series of graduation assignments

Over the past two years, students worked on a series of graduation assignments for which the Province collaborated not only with HAS University of Applied Sciences, but also with Wageningen University, Radboud University and the Open University. One of the most recent graduation assignments in the series was Vic Lagrouw's (degree in Management of the Living Environment) and Peter van Munnen's (degree in Applied Biology). They conducted design research into a healthier balance between soil, water, nature and agriculture, based on the Aa or Weerijs river basin.

Design principles

"We approached the soil-water system in this river basin in a holistic manner, without taking national borders into account," they say. "We started by mapping out the area: what does the soil look like, what is the state of biodiversity, where do water flows run, what types of agriculture are there? We then developed a vision for the future and arrived at design principles for a climate-robust landscape in which agriculture and nature are both given a place. We also used the results of previous graduation research from the partnership." Lastly, Vic and Peter created a special story map: 'Start with the bottom'.

Award

Vic and Peter's project received much attention from the outside world and they even won several awards for it. For example, the project won a KuiperCompagnons Graduation Award, presented by Blauwe Kamer magazine. "It is a 'mature plan'", according to the jury, "because it takes related issues, such as alternative agricultural revenue models, into account.” In addition, the project won third place at the presentation of the Witteveen+Bos thesis award, whose overarching theme for 2021 was sustainable design principles.

Vic Lagrouw and Peter van Munnen.

Different perspective

Vic and Peter look back positively on their graduation project. "It was wonderful and challenging to collaborate on the project. We both looked at the project from a different perspective – landscape architecture and biology. It took some getting used to for both of us, but we managed to bring together the different ways of thinking and working, and use them to take the project to a higher level. We are honoured that our project has won awards."

Framework to continue building on

Ellen Weerman – professor of 'Climate-robust landscapes: connecting agriculture and nature' since 1 January – is closely involved in the graduation projects from HAS University of Applied Sciences. "Because we have created a framework with the series that we continue to build on," she states, "we can give students all the freedom they need to design their assignments. Over the past two years, three groups of students examined components of the soil-water system in an area: perspectives for growing drought-resistant crops on the high sandy soils, options for wet crops in Brabant and biodiversity in bulrush areas, compared with biodiversity in agricultural areas and reference areas."

Building blocks

Ellen continues: "Next, Vic and Peter sketched a fairly comprehensive picture of the possibilities for climate adaptation in the Aa or Weerijs river basin, which can serve as inspiration for other river basins on sandy soils. In February, a new group of students will start testing the design principles in a different area."

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