Workshop participants, Image: Laila DeBruyne

This was the setting for an IE Certified Interpretive Planner (CIP) Course.

Our experience at the Wadden Sea in three words? Windy, awe and sustainability.

It is certain that it was a special week in September. Not only because it was a very pleasant collaboration between Interpret Europe Belgium and two Dutch Interpret Europe members: the Wadden Association and the Seal Centre Pieterburen. But mainly because of the unique location.

The Wadden Sea (UNESCO World Heritage) and its tidal forces (the largest in the world) kept us spellbound. A group of 14 heritage professionals from all over Europe worked together for a whole week on an interpretive plan for the new Wadden World Heritage Center.

Stories, themes, experiences

What stories are there? What stories do we want to tell? What themes connect those different stories? How do we ensure that visitors can really connect with the place? How do we give them a meaningful experience? That was the challenge of the week.

We had a very special experience, a sense of place activity, at the beginning of the week: a mud walk on the mudflats.

 “To share a mudflatwalk with participants from all over Europe who have never set a foot on the mud is an experience in itself! It needed so much explanation that we just said nothing and just… experienced. How do I walk, what is this, the smell, the views. Pure heritage interpretation to see and feel and look at the horizon. After a walk in silence, we looked for species and wondered about their adaptations so that they can live at all in these ever changing circumstances. A great experience on such a small patch of the Waddensea!” acknowledges our guide, Renate.

Creating an interpretive plan

This experience gave the group the perfect state of mind for the assignment of the week: creating an interpretive plan for the new visitor center.

We visited the old fishing port and museum, we spoke to fishermen, biologists and the managers of the new visitor center. These multi-perspective views gave us insight into the complex interests of people, animals and nature. How can people, animals and nature live in harmony and balance in this place? How can nature’s assets be played out and strengthened in this place? How can we facilitate personal experiences and reflections?

Three different planning proposals were presented at the end of the week.

It was a very interesting knowledge exchange, in which we were able to apply the principles of ‘interpretive planning’ to a real case!

Welcome in 2025

The new visitor center in Lauwersoog will open in 2025. The Wadden Experience Centre (WEC) will invite its visitors to discover what the UNESCO World Heritage Wadden Sea means to them.

The WEC believes people are part of nature. We want to share that view with our visitors, provoke them to relate themselves to the natural heritage around them and consider what that means for their relation with the Wadden Sea and in fact, the world” says Sander.

We cordially invite you to come and discover it!

Laila De Bruyne is impact manager and community builder at Revive, a company that transforms (industrial heritage) buildings into new lively neighbourhoods. She uses interpretive planning as a way to connect and reconnect communities in and around the heritage sites. She is freelancing as a heritage consultant and is Interpret Europe’s Country Coordinator Belgium. You can contact her at:

Sander van Dijk is Head Programming & Content at Seal Centre Pieterburen & project coordinator of the Wadden Experience Centre Lauwersoog. Sander trained as a marine biologist, but pursued a career in science communication and education. For the last ten years he has worked on the content development of the Sealcentre in Pieterburen, as well as the newly developed Wadden Experience Centre in Lauwersoog. You can contact him at:

 Renate de Backere has been involved in the protection of the Wadden Sea for 17 years. She mainly works as a trainer for promoting the Wadden Sea and educating guides, entrepreneurs, visitor centre employees and other stakeholders in learning about the natural values of this unique World Heritage Site. You can contact her at:

To cite this article: De Bruyne, Laila & Van Dijk, Sander & De Backere, Renate (2023) ‘The Wadden Sea, an unknown gem in The Netherlands‘  in Interpret Europe Newsletter 4-2023, pg.10-11.
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