NL needs thousands of hectares more nature reserves: assessment agency

A family of red deer in Oostvaardersplassen
A family of red deer in OostvaardersplassenPhoto:

The Netherlands needs tens of thousands of hectares more nature reserves to achieve European nature objectives, according to the Netherlands' environmental assessment agency PBL. Take measures to make nature more robust, so that more permits can be granted for construction and other projects, the PBL said in new advice to the government, AD reports.

The Netherlands currently has over 160 Natura 2000 areas. The government needs to do much more in the long term to protect these nature reserves than its current focus on simply reducing nitrogen emissions. "Nitrogen is just one of the buttons to turn to further protect the quality of nature", the PBL said in its advice. The government should also look into raising the groundwater level and expanding the small "stamps" of nature in the country into "larger contiguous areas".

These extra measures make nature reserves more robust and that allows for more construction projects. The PBL suggests that a "scientific authority" be established to determine exactly how the nature reserves in the Netherlands are doing, and use that information to decide on granting permits for projects. 

"If you want to achieve the nature goals 100 percent, you won't get there without extra nature", PBL researcher Arjen van Hinsberg said to AD. "There are so few of some plants and animals in the Netherlands that you simply need substantial expansion to achieve a good conservation status. That means larger nature areas and more connecting zones between nature areas.".

This advice will come as bad news for the government, who recently launched an investigation into whether nature reserves in the Netherlands can be scrapped. According to coalition parties VVD and CDA, the European nature regulations currently stand in the way of many farmers, builders, and companies.

Van Hinsberg doesn't think the government will have much luck on this front. "You cannot simply give up a nature reserve", he said to the newspaper. According to European rules, a nature reserve can only disappear if mistakes were made in designating the area as a reserve, or if the reserve can not be saved, for example due to climate change. The government's lobby in Brussels to scrap nature reserves therefore seems destined to fail. 

The PBL is not the first to call for connecting zones between nature reserves. In the 1990s a goal was set for the Netherlands to achieve an "ecological ain structure" consisting of a network of nature reserves and parks that are interconnected with corridors along which animals and plants can move by 2020. But in 2011 then environment state secretary Henk Bleker (CDA) scrapped the plan. He cut the budget for the purchase and management of nature by 70 percent and largely transferred the responsibility for nature policy to the provinces. One of the results of that was that the Oostvaardersplassen remained an isolated nature reserve, from which large grazing animals can't escape during scant winters and starve to death, according to AD.