The black-tailed godwit and its information panels

Farmers talk about crop yield. Birders talk about recognizing a species.
Now that pasture birds have been shown to have declined by at least 75% in numbers and farmers are barely left with an income even when production is higher than ever, farmers and birds are coming into the public eye. And that audience could use some knowledge, preferably in the field. That can be done, with beautiful information panels about the landscape, the birds and the farmers.
The Vogelbescherming (society for the protection of birds) – masters at combining photos of beautiful birds with depressing stories – asked me to devise information panels for a meadowland bird protection project in the Bovenkerkerpolder between Amstelveen and Uithoorn. Dairy farmers have set up their own dairy factory there, and the proceeds pay for measures that help meadowland birds. And that’s not exactly the only link between farmer and bird.

Harnessing the science

Knowledge about meadowland birds comes from many sources. Ecologists, biologists, water board people and the agricultural academia produce many a report full of jargon and statistics. The information is always created at one party, so even if a concerned citizen can read it at all, they will never see the whole picture.
So that’s my first task: to show the whole thing.
But is that from the perspective of bird conservation, or from that of farmers? You know what, I’ll start in the middle. By everyday concepts: grass, manure, open space and water. This way the reader is engaged. No barriers here. These simple themes form a base to fall back on. So the text can go on to introduce food chains, migration routes and mowing methods. All these different scientific fields are connected by the four basic themes.

The reader (both farmer and bird lover) hooks into a simple concept. Open space, manure, water and grass. Let’s go deeper.

Traditional nature information starts with an animal, a bird in this case, and puts that at the top. The farmer dangles somewhere at the bottom. In this project, the four simple concepts from the landscape give farmer and bird equal importance.

Actually, we are asking the visitor to determine his or her position on the matter. That’s really just politics. The Bird Conservancy wants the slide all the way to the right, and it will only succeed if farmers can see the point.

Using art

It would be crazy not to use the beauty of the birds in this story. They lend their charisma to the panels, and you can spot them from afar. An attractive panel promises that you are going to find out something worthwhile. There’s tension between the protagonists (the birds and the farmers): who gets it the way he wants it? What situation would you prefer, as a reader and visitor? Spatial information (about mowing, water levels or where the chicks move in case of danger) is explained through drawings. There’s bits of candy: flowers, insects, the labels attached to the illustrations and diagrams, the beautiful names the flowers have. All these drawings allow the text to be nice and short.

Showing the consequences

The information and drawings are recognizably “green,” but it is not the usual marketing with big logos on it. The Bird Conservancy says: our organization sees the other party as equals. Readers who are not conservationists are not deterred. But the first sentence of the panel on grass does say, “The milk is too cheap”. As far as I am concerned, this is a fact (I put this sentence on it and glad it was not deleted). The observation “what the farmer wants is at odds with what the bird needs” is specified here: “what the farmer wants is what the consumer asks of him.”
If the citizens believe that the birds should be protected, then they should prevent their internal consumers from buying the cheapest milk.

It’s nice to design beautiful information panels about landscape and nature for clients that address issues that are normally dismissed with “that’s just how the world works”. If you flatout show things how they are, how a problem comes into being, then everyone can see how they can help.
For starters, buy milk from the Farmers of Amstel.
Just because-it’s so delicious 😉

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

The panels are a kind of hybrid: text, infographics and illustrations fused together.

[caption id="attachment_8745" align="alignleft" width="2560"] To avoid putting new objects in the field, the signs are attached to an oak plank, which are mounted with brackets on the top edge of existing field gates.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Beautiful information panels about landscape and nature on field fences along the bike route. There is also a viewfinder, a viewpoint with information in three parts about bird migration to south, east and north.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

In one corner of each sign a card and a milk carton with the reason for these signs: buy ‘meadowland bird milk’ to pay for the measures. Really tasty milk, of course.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Attaching signs to the viewfinder. Local businesses cut the boards, attached the signs and built the viewpoint. The panels themselves are made of dibond with a car-wrap sticker printed on a 6-color press. Marvellous soft gradients!


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature, viewfinder Natuurmonumenten

Viewfinder in meadow bird landscape De Slaag, for Natuurmonumenten.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Previous series of signs on metal field gates in the Eemland region, for Natuurmonumenten.

No new objects in the landscape. That already makes a big difference.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

All panels contain explanations, via supersized text and a diagrams. Here you can see how meadowland bird management actually harkens back to the conditions of the past, before large-scale livestock farming.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

The birds depicted are not birds, they are really illustrations, with clean line and filled with patterns reminiscent of Japanese woodcut techniques.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

On the viewfinder you will find at the top edge all the areas where birds migrate to from the Bovenkerkerpolder. This is an oystercatcher, who prefers not to go too far away.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Swans fly to the Pjasina Delta on the Taymir Peninsula in Siberia. In four stages!

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Curlews do not fly north or south, but west to British wetlands.