Year of 2017

Pine sapling in burnt heather at Strabrechtse Heide, Netherlands

In 2010, a fire broke out in the heather and juniper heathlands of Strabrechtse Heide, a preserved natural area in the southern region of the Netherlands. Hundreds of firefighters and members of the Dutch military worked for a week to fully extinguish the flames. Two years later, this photograph documents a tiny pine start growing up from the gray remnants of burnt heather in the damaged portion of Strabrechtse Heide. Eventually, the land ecosystem here will balance itself and more flora and fauna will return. In the meantime, this brave pioneer demonstrates the power of nature to heal itself.

Pioneer species are hardy species which are the first to colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, beginning a chain of ecological succession that ultimately leads to a more biodiverse steady-state ecosystem. Some lichens grow on rocks without soil, so may be among the first of life forms, and break down the rock into soil for other plants.