When the matter of the Outer Dyke raged in the mid-
1970s, it was therefore one of the first times that spo-
kespeople for and against the protection of nature locked
horns in the Wadden Area. In this respect, the case was
formative in relation to the many subsequent battles on the
proper management of the Wadden Sea, most recently in
connection with the debate on the possible designation of
the Wadden Sea as a national park.
The plans to build an outer dyke go back to 1956, when
a team of geographers published a scientific article with
guidelines on how such a dyke could be constructed. Apart
from increasing the level of safety for the population in the
event of a storm surge, the article emphasised the possibility
of dyking in almost 1,000 hectares of new agricultural land,
and alleviating the pressing problem of water on the fields
which then existed - perspectives which were all attractive
to local farmers and politicians.
At national level, the first reactions were however ne-
gative. In the previous year, a storm surge commission had
come to the conclusion that the interests of safety would
be properly served by simply reinforcing the existing dyke
from 1861, and the Social Democratic government of the
day therefore inclined towards this solution.
On the night of 2 January 1976, a violent storm struck
the Wadden Sea. The old dyke from 1861 held, but it was
badly damaged, and the residents on the Tønder marshes had
to flee to higher ground. Next morning everybody woke up
to a different landscape. The storm had thrown roofing tiles,
trees and cars around, and the fishing boats which failed to
go out to sea in time were lying at the bottom of the local
docks - one boat had even been blown up on to the wharf
like a toy. These pictures were shown on national television
with the message that here in the south-western corner of
Denmark forces of nature which nobody had dreamed of,
were still to be counted with.
The prime minister Anker Jørgensen himself came to see
the damage to the dykes, and for him it was a landmark event.
A few days later, the government declared that it would sup-
port the construction of an outer dyke. The detailed prepara-
tions required an agreement with the German government as
the dyke would have to cross the two countries’ borders, but
the German government also quickly proved to be positive
to the plans. All impediments were thus removed, and the
decision was approved by a unanimous parliament on 7 June
1977. Work commenced two years later.
In the meantime, nature organisations on both sides of
the border had, however, started to agitate, fearing that an
outer dyke would have catastrophic consequences for the
area’s rich bird life. Although it was the eleventh hour, the
organisations worked hard in the following years to have the
approved decision overturned. They gathered in the German
and Danish Wadden Sea groups, which attempted, among
other ways via a public hearing, to include the public in the
political process.
But it was too late. On Saturday 10 May 1982, the Da-
nish queen Margrethe II came together with the German
federal president Karl Carstens under festive circumstances
to open the Outer Dyke and the new floodgates at Højer.
The local newspapers described the festivities as a “national
festival”, and the few demonstrators who had ventured out
to the dyke were met with calls that they should be “thrown
into the water”.
But the matter did not end there. By lobbying and perse-
vering appearances in both the local and especially the nati-
onal press, the opponents of the dyke succeeded in creating
a political mood which favoured converting a part of the
area in the new polder into a nature protection area. Later,
when it proved to be impossible to create a new foreland in
front of the Outer Dyke, a saltwater lake was created inside
the polder to compensate the bird life for the loss of the old
The high level of conflict which marked the case of the
Outer Dyke as well as later environmental conflicts in the
area did not, however, spring from a change in ideological
currents only. An increased interest in looking after nature
and the environment
develope in Danish society during
this period, especially among some social groups. This ex-
plains the presence of different interests in and perspectives
on the use of the areas behind the dyke, but not their per-
severance. Mankind’s understanding of its environment is
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