Paying Tribute to the Hard Life of Peat Dredgers

Sculpture ‘Verveners’ by John Rijnen
Sculpture ‘Verveners’ by John Rijnen

It’s been a while since my last update. Don’t worry. All is well. The delay was due to my change in habitat. Moving can be draining attention and creativity, but can also create opportunities for exploring the new neighbourhood. And that is exactly what I will share as this first post. One of the first dredging related discoveries was a sculpture on a roundabout nearby. Probably most passers-by will not notice it or at most will be puzzled by the strange flat figures. To us, as dredging community, we immediately recognise the typical posture of manual dredging. Intrigued by the unexpected discovery of dredging art at this location, I went on an investigation on the background of this statue.

Sign at sculpture ‘Verveners’
Sign at sculpture ‘Verveners’

The sign at the sculpture did reveal some details on the name, date and artist of this monument1. Obviously, the topic of this statue was a tribute to the people who have been working as peat dredgers and contributing to the wealth of the town. It is also a reference to the origin of the current geography of the municipality: lots of lakes and ponds that are a recreational area for the population and a resting place for nature, that were unbelievably all excavated manually over ages.

The most characteristic feature of the sculpture are long poles2 in combination with the posture for back breaking manual labour. The long pole has a hoop at the lower end with some kind of fishing net attached. The hoop is used to scrape sediment (in this case peat) from the bottom and collected in the pouch. Mud and peat are sticky enough to stay in the net for vertical transport, but the flexibility and openness enables easy discharge. For peat dredging the material was scooped up on shore and dried3. For maintenance dredging, the material was brought on board and discharged at a convenient disposal location4. The Dutch dredging industry cherishes this and remembers it with all kinds of small statues found in many offices.

Paper weights about manual dredging with a ‘baggerbeugel’ (Credit: Hendrik Jan de Kluiver)
Paper weights about manual dredging with a ‘baggerbeugel’ (Credit: Hendrik Jan de Kluiver)

Manual dredging shaped much of Holland’s geography, either the canals and lakes or the reclamation of marsh into pasture land. It has been identified as a typical Dutch tradition. But is it?? Preparing this post, I’ve discovered it is not. Several references say that we did not invent the ‘baggerbeugel’2. Before we started to use it, it has been applied already for ages in East Anglia5, which had a very similar landscape. Already from the tenth century, peat has been excavated from the Fenlands and later on from the 14th century, they started manual dredging already. Only later on in the 16th century Holland started to take over this practice. And in good Dutch tradition, we refined the trade and even exported consultancy on these projects back to England!

Stills from an instructional video on peat dredging (Credit: modified from Open Beelden Project)
Stills from an instructional video on peat dredging (Credit: modified from Open Beelden Project)

Peat dredging is a laborious procedure and later on, this industry was mechanised. There is a nice video explaining about peat dredging in the Netherlands. Especially the hydraulic dredging starts at 08:10 into the video. All processes in a regular dredging project are identifiable: a) dredging, b) discharge, c) bulldozering, d) compacting, e) drying and f) further transport of the merchandise.

Viewing a video is one way to experience manual dredging. In the dredging garden of the National Dredging Museum6, there is an exhibit to experience this trade first hand.

Visitors experiencing manual dredging in the National Dredging Museum
Visitors experiencing manual dredging in the National Dredging Museum


  1. De oude tol, Rotondekunst
  2. Baggerbeugel, Wikipedia
  3. Vervening, Wikipedia
  4. Barges, IADC
  5. A Tale of Norfolk Peat Cutting, Norfolk Tales, Myths & Beyond
  6. Bagger Praktijk Tuin, Nationaal Baggermuseum

See also



Happy 2019!

Post card picture of a Damen CSD500 at work.

Happy New Year! First of all, I would like to wish you: health, happiness and a year full of dredging action. And there will certainly be some dredging action. We will start this year with closing our ¡VAMOS! project and we will close off with another CEDA Dredging Days1, just as with which this blog started one year ago with a new year’s resolution.

Further topics will include the upcoming WODCON conference in Shanghai2, more CEDA Dredging Management Commission, some interesting book reviews and whatever happens along the way. Maybe I can get back on working on articles that explain interesting phenomena in dredging technology. Or just some funny experiences I had in our beautiful profession. There are so many memorable moments worth sharing for the general benefit.

And George Santayana has warned us to learn from the past: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’3 I don’t fancy that this site will be a monumental source of reference for posterity. There are much better institutes to store and share dredging knowledge. e.g. the CEDA comes to mind. It’s ‘a forum for all stakeholders involved in the dredging industry’4 and there are many working groups were the current knowledge is shared and stored in publications.

A much better place to look at a condensation of knowledge over a longer time span is the National Dredging Museum5. You might have noticed, that I am very fond of museums. I like to dwell through their expositions, relive the past and see the origins of current technologies. When I am trying to hatch some new sort of gizmo or gadget to perform a very peculiar dredging requirement, I can relate to all those branches of the technology tree, that are out there and see if there is something that can be combined in a new contraption.

Model of a ‘Krabbelaar’ or ‘Scratcher’ at the National Dredging Museum.

Sometimes you can recognize some technology in an exhibit, that was ahead of its time. Take this ‘Krabbelaar’ or ‘Scratcher’. It loosens the top layer of the sediment and expected it to flush out at the outgoing tide. Considering the enormous forces for cutting and internal friction, that have to be delivered by sail power, I doubt the production would make a viable business case. Nowadays, you would employ a dredge plough behind a tug6. Modern propulsion delivers the thrust needed for all requirements. Ploughing, scraping and smoothing has become much easier and modern hydrological simulations will give a better idea about the possible production and where the sediment will end up.

Example of a modern dredge plough, fitted on a Damen Stan Tug 1606.

Possibly our modern dredge plough technology will be surpassed by even better concepts. Maybe, regulations or fuel economy would direct us back again to a sustainable form of dredging management and the old scratcher makes a comeback in a modern form. And then, you know to find the origins in the National Dredging Museum.

I think, it is very important, we cherish our dredging heritage. For ourselves and for our posterity. Just as we support our trade associations, we should support the dredging museum. So, now I come back to my ‘new’ new year’s resolution: I will become patron7 to the National Dredging Museum. It is not much, but if it inspires you to do the same, we can make a difference together.

Collection of dredges.


  1. CEDA Dredging Days 2019, CEDA
  3. George Santayana, Wikipedia
  4. Our mission and strategy, CEDA
  5. National Dredging Museum
  6. Scrabster Harbour takes delivery of Damen Stan Tug 1606, Damen
  7. Sponsoring 2018, National Dredging Museum

See also

Ploughs, Beams and Rakes, IADC




Exhibition ‘Sand On The Move’ At The National Dredging Museum

Flyer for the exhibition ‘Sand on the move’ (Credit: National Dredging Museum).

As we’ve seen in my last post, sand is one of the commodities most in demand1. Here in the Netherlands, there is a whole industry built on the extraction and distribution of sand. One of the most used extraction methods is dredging, something we’re well acquainted with. One of the most used distribution methods is barge transport. And the National Dredging Museum has opened an exhibition on these complementary trades: ‘Sand on the Move’2.
Last Thursday was the opening of this new exhibition of the museum. For the occasion, there were two speakers invited. Kees van der Veeken, director Consortium Grensmaas showed us the current practice of sand mining. Tjeerd Roozendaal, head engineer – program director projects and maintenance of Rijkswaterstaat had the honour to open the exhibition. Afterwards, there was a dinner buffet available for the guests. An excellent opportunity to learn, hear opinions and build on your (dredging) network.

Panoramic view of the ‘Sand on the move’ exhibition.

Our modern infrastructure was only made possible by the application use of sand as foundation of roads and fill material in concrete and tarmac. At the exhibition, there are displays of four big projects about sand mining: ‘Betuweroute’3, ‘Kraaijnbergse Plassen’4, ‘IJsseloog’5 and ‘Grensmaas’6. Each highlighting a certain aspect of sand mining in the Netherlands.
Another part of the exhibition revolves around the distribution of sand. And this posed a chicken and egg problem: in order to build roads, you need roads to transport the sand. So, in the early days, before there were roads, sand was being delivered over water by barge. There was a short period, where numerous small enterprises, mostly family owned, filled the gap of transporting sand by barge, taking the place of delivery trucks. Also my family had a motor vessel for sand transportation, ‘Excelsior’. And my grandfather told me many times of his adventures on board and his relative happy times. As this was hard work for sure.

Motor sand barge ‘Excelsior’ (Credit: Co Winkelman).

Along with old photographs of those sand barges, there are also many models and a video exhibit. Each conveying respect to these men, women and sometimes children, that have been toiling to build the roads and railways that we are now taking for granted in our luxurious times.
Unfortunately, these businesses worked to their own demise. As roads and railways improved, there was less need to transport the sand by barge, but directly hauled to the location where it was needed by road. So, somewhere this typical business dried up. Nowadays, sand is still transported by barges, but they are usually owned by large companies, that own the whole product line from extraction, distribution to application.
There is also a small sand laboratory to experience yourself, how many different aspects of sand are involved in selecting the right sand for the right application. At a small scale and easy to understand steps, this represents how we are evaluating sand in our own laboratory. Next to this laboratory, there are many more kid friendly exhibits in the rest of the museum. I can highly recommend you to plan a visit to the national dredging museum these weekends or during the Christmas holiday.

Mini sand laboratory (Credit: National Dredging museum).


  1. The World in a Grain, Amazon
  2. Sand on the Move, National Dredging Museum
  3. Betuweroute, Wikipedia
  4. Kraaijenbergse Plassen, Wikipedia (NL)
  5. IJsseloog, Wikipedia
  6. Grensmaas, Wikipedia (NL)

See also