NIOO brings soil animals and migrating birds to sold-out science festival

Expeditie NEXT 2022 grote groep kinderen bij de stand van NIOO-KNAW

NIOO brings soil animals and migrating birds to sold-out science festival


The sold-out science festival for children 'Expeditie NEXT' took over the historic Dutch city of Franeker earlier this month. NIOO was there with two festival stands, drawing people's attention to both the precious life in the soil beneath our feet ánd the hectic lives of birds as they migrate.

The Expeditie NEXT festival welcomed 6000 people to Franeker's old city centre: a capacity crowd. There was a wide variety of visitors, from local youths to 6- to 12-year-olds who had come with their (grand)parents from all over the country.

NIOO was one of more than 100 organisations that joined in. Organised by the National Science Agenda (Nationale Wetenschapsagenda at NWO), the festival was a veritable rollercoaster of hands-on experiments, street theatre, quizzes, workshops and other fun activities.

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Jungle beneath our feet

For its main stand, NIOO had enlisted a team from its citizen science project, the national Soil Animal Days (Bodemdierendagen), science museum Naturalis in Leiden and an artist. Together, they created a unique soil animal tunnel that allowed visitors to venture underground and experience life there first hand.

The experience included completing a number of challenges, to see how well they would do as a soil creature. These ranged from 'leaf pulling', like an earthworm would do, to measuring the 'breathing' of the soil and deciphering the language of scents like an ant. Visitors emerged from the tunnel with a new appreciation for soil life!

These visitors included popular Dutch YouTuber and tv presenter Britt Dekker, who brought a group of enthusiastic young fans who'd won an 'Expedition' tour with her in an online competition. In fact, the tunnel attracted so many people throughout the day that waiting times frequently ran up to half an hour. 

Flying with the geese

In the meantime, people could study actual soil animals in the leafy surroundings of Franeker's 17th-century botanical gardens, a remnant of the time when the city boasted its own university. Or they could cross into Franeker's main street, where NIOO's second festival stand was located.

The stand focused on events during a migrating bird's travels, and featured new editions of two games developed together with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ). In one game, children would become red knots, in the other pink-footed geese.

The challenge for the geese was to grow as fat as possible while navigating from the Netherlands to Svalbard to breed. The fatter the goose, the higher the number of eggs in its nest in the end. Obstacles along the way included headwind, disturbance by humans and the effects of climate change: a fair impression of the perils faced by migratory birds.