30 years and €11 billion nature restoration efforts in NL had no effect: report

Despite 30 years of nature policy and 11 billion euros in investments, biodiversity in the Netherlands is still decreasing. Natural areas are still fragmented, species are still deteriorating, plans to link nature reserves never happened, and measures to farm more sustainably had little to no effect, Trouw reports based on its own research.

Many species that naturally occurred in Europe thrived on open landscapes, interspersed with shelter, Ruud Foppen, researcher at Sovon and professor of animal ecology at Radboud University, said to Trouw. But such landscape no longer exists. At the start of the 20th century, small fields of heather farms gave way to agricultural plots, cleared of cramped corners, groves and hooded banks. As a result, the black grouse and wheatear are on the verge of extinction, the dune pipit already disappeared from the Netherlands. The same goes for countless butterflies, reptiles and amphibians.

Nearly 70 percent of Dutch nature has a rickety ecosystem - less than half of the typical butterflies, birds and plants occur there, according to data from Floron, Sovon, and the Butterfly Foundation. Currently almost 90 percent of the habitats in the Netherlands score an 'insufficient', both in terms of space and quality.

In April this year ecologists from Wageningen University warned parliament that 90 percent of habitats, 70 percent of the species and 40 percent of birds are in danger in the Netherlands. This is in large part because animals' habitats are increasingly fragmented, the Nature Planning Office warned back in 2000, according to the newspaper.

In 1990, the Dutch government agreed to build a national network of connected nature reserves, called the Ecological Main Structure. The plan was that this network would consists of almost 730 thousand hectares in 2018. It was based on an important scientific insight from that time - by connecting nature, the total living area for plants and animals will increase. The plan later inspired the Natura2000 network in Europe. 

But it never happened. When the Rutte I cabinet took office in the midst of the financial crisis in 2010, the Ecological Main Structure ended up in the trash, according to Trouw. Substantial cuts were made to nature conservation, and responsibilities therefore were passed from the central government to the provinces. Warnings by the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure that the living conditions of plants and animals will irreversibly deteriorate, were ignored. 

The Ecological Main Structure has since been renamed the Nature Network Netherlands, and the plan now is that it will consist of 680 thousand hectares by 2027. "So that's 50 thousand hectares smaller and nine years later than planned," ecology professor Han Olff of the University of Groningen pointed out to the newspaper. 

The quality of Dutch nature is also under constant pressure from other factors. Food shortage for the critters living in Dutch nature is a major problem. The number of butterflies in the Netherlands declined by 80 percent between 1890 and 2017, according to Statistics Netherlands. Almost half of bee species have declined in number and distributions since 1950, according to data from the Insects Knowledge center. The amount of land insects is decreasing every year throughout Europe. 

That food shortage has a lot to do with nitrogen emissions from traffic, industry, and agriculture. The nitrogen disrupts and acidifies soil life, Olff said. This affects plants and insects that birds live on. The large-scale use of chemical pesticides in agriculture is also a problem. Plans to drastically reduce to use of pesticides have had little result, according to the newspaper. Above standard amounts of insecticides can be found in surface water throughout the country. 

In an effort to reduce the impact of agriculture on biodiversity, farmers in the Netherlands have been obliged to make their fields more sustainable and green since 2014, if they want to receive European agricultural subsidies. The idea is that the extra greenery provides shelter for species, and to attract insects that eat aphids rather than using pesticides on them. The majority of Dutch farmers make use of this, with more than 90 percent of farmland having at least one greening obligation in 2018. But the majority planted generic crops with "little added ecological value", a study by Wageningen University said. 

Nature management by farmers, an idea implemented with the Nature Network, hasn't had much result yet either. Of a total of 1.7 million hectares of agricultural land, only 4 percent is managed as nature. Farmers often opt for small patches of land and for light management, the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency reported. These mostly also involve short term contracts that are not renewed in half of the cases.