News - November 4, 2010

How do we get nature back on the Dutch agenda?

Joris Tielens

The new cabinet has cut the budget for nature by 40 percent and abandoned the creation of corridors between nature areas in the Ecological Main Structure (EHS in Dutch). How can Wageningen UR get nature back on the agenda in The Hague? Should researchers do a better job of explaining the importance of nature? Or should everyone become a nature fan, including PVV (the rightwing Freedom Party) voters?

Wim Timmermans, VHL lecturer in the Urban Green Living Environment:
'You could have seen it coming, because nature has been categorized as part of the 'old politics'. What should happen now? At any rate, not yet more newspaper articles by scientists about the importance of biodiversity and healthy nature, because they are familiar and just get waved away. Come up with something else for a change. I am convinced that even PVV and VVD voters value nature. It is just that it has an image that is too technical. People are always talking about abstract concepts like biodiversity, climate change or the Ecological Main Structure, and not about the nature that is close to ordinary people. All those worthy researchers have contributed to this elitist image. Neither the Henks and Ingrids of this world, not the Mohammeds and Fatimas, are members of  Natuurmonumenten. Find out what these groups in society really want when it comes to nature. Find out whether you can make nature more interesting to young people through social media. Support for nature has been diminishing for a long time, and it's a serious matter.'
Jan Jaap de Graeff, director of Natuurmonumenten and Wageningen alumnus:
'Cuts have to be made, there is no escaping that. But these cuts are disproportionate. Nature policy does not enjoy any popularity in the ranks of the CDA and the VVD. People's idea of the implementation of Natura 2000 ( a European-wide nature management plan) is that the Netherlands is being subject to restrictions. That is not the case, but the idea has coloured nature policy. There is a lot of resistance to Natura 2000, especially in agricultural circles, and therefore in the CDA and the VVD. Now we have to show what the consequences will be for the Netherlands if these plans go ahead. Natuurmonumenten has launched a petition, placed advertisements and been in the news. But I am prepared to be self-critical too. The minimal support for nature among Dutch people who are not involved in it professionally is cause for concern. The language we use and the rules we make are too complicated. It's okay to use jargon among ourselves, but to the outside world we should tell a story with the passion of Jac. P. Thijsse [an eloquent Dutch nature conservationist, 1865-1945 - ed.]. Let's get more foresters on TV and see less of Mr. de Graeff.'
Hans van Rooyen, Forest and Nature Management Programme director Van Hall Larenstein:
'We put out a call on our website for people to sign the Natuurmonumenten petition. Nature is the basis for our health and for a green environment. I stand for nature and I notice that it is being destroyed. Does that mean I opt for a particular political colour?  I don't go for party politics, but I do think you have to have a position. Education is politics too. You are educating people and they have to develop a point of view.'

Prof. Kris van Koppen, Chair group Environmental Policy:
'These cuts are a bad business of course, and typical of this cabinet. This was to be expected from the PVV, who even deny the greenhouse effect. But even the VVD and the CDA seem to give nature very little priority. For many years it was plain sailing for nature organizations because the government supported them. Now we are going back to the nineteen seventies. Nature organizations must set to work on creating a support base, and no messing about. For a long time that wasn't necessary and they could spend their money mainly of buying up hectares of land rather than on explaining the importance of nature.
The battle for nature won't be won in the Hague but in society. By putting people in contact with nature and explaining how it works. It is easier to measure numbers of hectares or field birds than the way people experience nature. But in the long run it is crucial that the Dutch experience nature. We must get away from all those technocratic terms we use to talk about nature - terms like biodiversity and EHS. The point is that people should experience the beauty of nature and that you can enjoy it and relax in ut. You can do that through nature education but also by involving citizens in the way nature is managed. Research shows that 20 to 30 percent of the people are hard to reach with messages about nature. So the majority care about it. Including some of the PVV voters.'
Agnes van den Berg, Researcher on nature and health at Alterra:
'Nature and the presence of green in residential areas have a demonstrably beneficial effect on the health and wellbeing of everyone, including people who purport not to be at all interested in nature. These are facts that need to be pointed out to the government in The Hague. Nature and greenery lead to improved health, through for example stress reduction, illness prevention, exercise and healthy development in childhood. This increases wellbeing, improving the quality of life and social cohesion in neighbourhoods. This is beneficial, no matter whether someone is a nature-lover or not. So nature is not just a left-wing hobby, but is as essential to life as a healthy diet, for example.'