ISSUE On 24 February 2020, PostNL will publish the Experience nature – farmland birds issue: a sheet of ten stamps in ten different designs. These postage stamps will be marked ‘Nederland 1’, the denomination for items up to 20g in weight destined for the Netherlands. The stamp sheet is part of the Experience nature series, of which the first was published in 2018 and the second in 2019. For the third series, in 2020 PostNL will once again issue four stamp sheets of forty stamps in total. The stamps contain species of birds that are having a particularly difficult time. Most of them are on the Dutch Red List of breeding birds in the Netherlands or on the Dutch Red List of migratory birds/winter visitors in the Netherlands. All of the photos on the stamps originate from Buiten-Beeld, the Dutch nature photography image bank.
Experience nature – farmland birds is the second sheet of stamps in this third series. Earlier this year (2 January) the first sheet of stamps was published, featuring birds of prey and owls. Later in the year, there will be stamps featuring coastal birds (15 June) and forest and heathland birds (14 September). An individual Experience nature stamp sheet costs €9.10. The price for the full 2020 series is €36.40, including the storage folder.
SUBJECT The Netherlands has about 70 species of birds that commonly appear on farmland. These birds can be seen in meadows, fields, small-scale cultivated landscapes and farmyards, but they are not having an easy time of it. In the space of half a century, the total number of farmland birds has decreased by about 60 percent. In fact, the number of Eurasian skylarks – a characteristic species – decreased by 90 percent. And sadly the ortolan bunting no longer breeds in the Netherlands at all. This has a lot to do with current farming methods, which have been highly industrialised and rationalised.
However, valuable agricultural areas have also been lost as a result of urban and village expansion and the construction of infrastructure. For quite some time, agriculture was all about expansion, extensive mechanisation and increasingly efficient production methods. And all this happened at the expense of major natural resources. Hay meadows rich in flowers and herbs gave way to high-yielding grass, which, to top it all, was mowed earlier every year. Often too early for meadow birds, who no longer have time to raise their young. The water levels are kept low, adversely affecting soil organisms and birds such as the black-tailed godwit and the common snipe, which strongly depend on moisture- and nutrient-rich soils. The landscape also changed significantly because rugged corners, valuable hedges and ditch edges with plenty of flowers disappeared. In addition, the use of insecticides and pesticides has a major impact on the naturally rich diversity of the countryside. So it is not surprising that farmland birds have been put under incredible pressure.
Luckily, people are becoming increasingly aware of this, and there are many farmers who are trying to bring their farming methods back in line with nature. They do this by creating puddle-grass zones, for example, and reserving pieces of land for vegetation rich in flowers and herbs. Areas like that are teeming with the insects that young meadow birds so desperately need to grow. It is also where they can find cover. On crop fields, too, important natural resources are being restored by creating broad flower and herb-rich field borders, for example. There, numerous birds can find insects and seeds, shelter for their nests and cover against dangers from the sky. Small-scale farmers have also introduced numerous initiatives for the restoration of hedges and hedgerows.
DESIGN The stamps feature (from left to right) the following farmland birds: yellow wagtail, northern shoveler, black-tailed godwit, Eurasian curlew, European turtle dove, grey partridge, lapwing, little owl, common redshank, and skylark. Transparent images of eight of the ten birds have been incorporated into a separate graphic layer on the stamp sheet: the little owl, curlew, black-tailed godwit, lapwing, common redshank, skylark, wagtail and turtle dove.
Most of the birds on the stamps are on the Dutch Red List of breeding birds or migratory birds/winter visitors in the Netherlands. The Dutch Red List of breeding birds includes 87 bird species, or 44 percent of all species that breed in the Netherlands. The number of bird species in the danger zone increased by nine compared to the previous list from 2004. Ten species are seriously endangered, such as the short-eared owl and the little bittern.
The Experience nature – farmland birds stamp sheet was designed by graphic designer Frank Janse from Gouda. On the sheet, the ten birds were each given their own stamp and depicted in their natural environment. In some cases, the image or the background colour continues onto the adjacent stamp and onto the sheet edge.
The photos are captured in a graphic layer of overlapping circles of different sizes, which break through the boundaries of the perforations. The circle pattern returns as small droplets on the sheet edge and the tabs. There is a second graphic layer on top of the circles, consisting of transparent images of farmland birds. The images are almost abstract due to their monochrome shades.
TYPOGRAPHY For the typography, Janse used his own font, which he designed especially for the Experience nature series. The font, which consists of tiny circles, was given the name Fdot. The explanatory text on the sheet edge are set in the TT Milks Light and Demibold in capitals (2017, Ivan Gladkikh for Typetype). In the text, the designer creatively and humorously expresses his associations with the names, features and appearance of the depicted birds.
DESIGNER The design of the Experience nature – farmland birds stamp sheet is the work of graphic designer Frank Janse from Gouda. He built on the concept he developed for the Experience nature series from 2018 and 2019. His design focuses on the associative, sensory and sometimes mysterious experience of nature.
Vulnerable or endangered
The new Experience nature series is entirely dedicated to birds of the Netherlands. The starting point of the selection of the birds for the four stamp sheets was vulnerable and endangered bird species. “This gave the issue a new, substantive depth,” says Janse. “PostNL also supports the efforts of Vogelbescherming Nederland to protect all wild birds and their habitats as much as possible.
The subject of Experience nature is closely related to what nature lover Janse values in life. “For as long as I can remember, I have had a huge interest in nature. What goes on out there is absolutely fascinating. It’s a world in itself, with many layers. In the ground, on the earth, in the water And in the air, as is the case with these farmland birds. I’m fascinated by the elusiveness of nature.”
As a child, Janse carried an ANWB bird guide around with him. “The booklet contained pictures of birds, outlines and a description of the bird’s call. Then you had to try and spot the birds. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds in Zeeland, where I grew up. The soil was still saline because large areas of land were flooded between 1944 and 1945. As a result, there were few birds flying around.”
The featured farmland birds feel right at home in the Dutch landscape. Some can be found closer to farms, others need large fields or wetlands. “So a little bit of everything,” states Janse. “But what these farmland birds have in common is that they are under severe pressure from urbanisation and the intensification of agriculture. I was able to tick off virtually every bird on this stamp sheet in my childhood. Some of them are gorgeous specimens. Take the skylark, for example. I can still evoke the feeling I had when I first saw one rising to the sky, twittering and fluttering until it was high up in the air. An astounding sight and a beautiful sound. Just a wee bit different from the timid partridge, for instance. You might only see one of those when the mother suddenly dives into the bushes with a long row of little ones closely at her heels.”
Most endangered species
When it came to selecting the farmland birds for the stamps, the most endangered and vulnerable species were selected in consultation with Vogelbescherming Nederland. “For the visual material, we once again used the enormous image bank at Buiten-Beeld,” says Janse. “Out of the selected birds, relatively few can be seen flying around in the Netherlands. And yet there was plenty of photographic material to choose from. One of the most important criteria in selecting the images was creating variety in the position in which the birds were photographed. Sitting, flying, courting, on the water, with close-ups and images from afar. I looked for photographs on which the birds are depicted as tangibly as possible. This wasn’t always easy an easy task – the bird shape with elongated wings and protruding claws is not easy to fit onto a stamp. Birds also look very different when they’re in flight to when they’re on the ground.”
The smallest species of owl in our country, the little owl, is portrayed magnificently. Janse gave this owl with its penetrating eyes a central position on the stamp sheet. “The little owl really carries the design. It is a typical farmyard bird that we were keen on featuring. The yellow wagtail is one of my other favourites. It’s a very pretty bird, of course. So people take pictures of it all the time. It’s easy to recognise a yellow wagtail. Not only from its beautifully coloured feathers, but also from its nervously wagging little tail to which it owes its name. The choice of photographs of farmland birds is huge, because you will find most of them in open terrain. So they’re easier to photograph than animals that may live in the woods, for example. The European turtle dove is the exception to the rule, however. This bird isn’t quite so easy to spot. The shoveler is a bit of a misfit on this sheet of stamps. In the design too, because its horizontal position in the water means it looks quite different from the other birds. It interrupts the composition, really, but I think it looks pretty good. Its orange colour actually ties it in with the grey partridge, godwit and redshank.”
Looking for balance
Of the ten farmland birds on the stamps, only the two courting godwits and the skylark are depicted in the air. All the other birds are standing, sitting or swimming. Janse: “That’s because farmland birds tend to be a little smaller, so they are less easy to recognise when they’re in flight. And more importantly, I wanted to create a nice balance. With birds in different positions, looking in different directions. In the upper left corner you can see a transparent image of a little owl, with its talons facing forward. They’re very vulnerable birds, of course, but I wanted to show that they can also be powerful. Another distinctive aspect that is important to me, as a designer, is the pattern of the plumage. Look at the breast of the curlew, for example, with above it the white in the breast of the godwit. Their feathers graduate from light to dark, creating an interesting contrast from a graphic point of view.”
Janse’s main tool for connecting the stamps was colour. The transparent images of the farmyard birds also fulfil this role. “I might have spent most of my time on that. I didn’t want to manipulate the original colours of the photographs in order to make the backgrounds blend into each other – that was out of respect for both the photographer and for nature. This stamp sheet will be issued in Spring, that’s why I found images in fresh colours like green, yellow and orange. The latter is nicely reflected in the long red legs of the redshank, the head of the partridge, the belly of the shoveler and the necks of the two courting godwits. It was also a reason to use an orange title this time.”
About the designer
Frank Janse (1967) graduated as a graphic designer from the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam in 2001. Until 2019, he worked for various advertising and design agencies, including Room for ID’s, and he also worked for himself as Frank Grafisch Ontwerp in Gouda. At the beginning of 2019, together with Leene Communicatie, he founded the new company Leene Visuele Communicatie, which designs communication tools focusing on content and information design. Frank Janse is a specialist in corporate identity, branding, infographics and communication campaigns. Leene Visuele Communicatie works for various educational institutions and both profit and non-profit clients. Their customers include PostNL, real estate specialist Fortierra, the Municipality of Rotterdam, Nuon/Vattenfall, Lagerwey Wind and the Dutch central government. On the instructions of PostNL, Frank Janse has previously designed various luxury storage systems and personal stamps, including the 2017 themed collection on bird species of the Netherlands. He also produced the designs for the first two Experience nature series in 2018 and 2019.
SALE/VALIDITY The stamps are available while stocks last at all PostNL sales outlets, the post office counter in Bruna shops and at www.postnl.nl/bijzondere-postzegels [in Dutch]. The stamps can also be ordered by phone from the Collect Club customer service on telephone number +31 (0)88 868 99 00. The validity period is indefinite.
VALUE The denomination on these stamps is ‘Nederland 1’, for standard letters weighing up to 20 grams sent to an address within the Netherlands.
- Postage stamp dimensions: 30 x 40 mm
- Sheet size: 170 x 122 mm
- Paper: normal with phosphor print
- Glue: self-adhesive
- Printing technique: offset
- Printing colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black
- Edition: 315,000 sheets
- Appearance: sheet of 10 stamps in 10 different designs
- Design: Frank Janse, Gouda
- Printing company: Joh. Enschedé Security Print, Haarlem
- Item number: 400261
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