News - May 10, 2012

Is nature safe now?

Marion de Boo

The fall of the cabinet seems a blessing for nature in the Netherlands. The temporary coalition of VVD, CDA, D66, ChristenUnie and GroenLinks has reversed one third of the cuts in nature expenditure, making them 400 million instead of 600 million. Are Wageningen nature and environment researchers celebrating?


Kees Slingerland,
Managing Director, Environmental Sciences Group

We can certainly celebrate. This is good news! At last, a more positive attitude to nature as a policy area. And if this trend continues, it could eventually help Alterra. Central government has a particular responsibility for developing and conserving nature. This responsibility has come under a lot of pressure recently as the economy has taken precedence. This has taught us how vulnerable nature is in the hands of politicians. But there is no guarantee that nature will escape such pressure again in the years ahead.
I think it is a good thing that the new agreement is making a bit more money available for nature, but it is still not enough. It is a shame that we still see nature purely as an expense. Real sustainability is about the interplay between nature, the business community and society, i.e. People, Profit, Planet. As people working in the nature sector, we should actively take part in that interplay. Too little of that went on in the past when there was plenty of money for nature. The interplay is crucial if nature development and management are to be safeguarded in the longer term. Alterra needs to collaborate in innovative nature policy because we can never go back to the way things were.'

Frank Berendse
Professor of Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology

‘I will have to pay more in tax and work longer but I am still delighted. Parliament's Lower House is finally back in the saddle and taking the initiative. The reversal of 200 million euros in cuts in the nature budget for 2013 seems to mark the definitive end of the Bleker era. That was a real low point in Dutch nature policy.
Of course, we have to see what happens in the elections in September and what the new coalition agreement looks like. Even so, I don't think we will see a return to the dark Bleker days. There has been a sea change within the CDA. Also, various parties are currently working hard on the private members' bill Attractive Netherlands as an alternative to Bleker's bill. As far as I can tell at present, that legislation really will give Dutch nature a sustainable future.'

Joop Schaminee
Professor of Vegetation Sociology and vegetation researcher at Alterra:

‘I think there is reason to celebrate. The crucial difference is in the tone and attitude. I find that more important than the exact amount of money, even though I am pleased the cuts have been reduced.
Some things are still unclear. What will happen with the new legislation such as the Environment Act that was supposed to consolidate the Nature Act? And what will happen to the nature agreement between central government and the provinces? Under the previous cabinet, the central government dumped its responsibilities on the provinces without any additional funds. Let's hope the government now provides proper funding for the tasks it is transferring to the provinces.
The previous cabinet set a new course with government taking less of a controlling role, tasks being devolved to the provinces and more local initiatives. I am not expecting a fundamental change in that course with the fall of the cabinet. The next cabinet will not be turning the clock back entirely, whatever its political makeup. So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard they were undoing some of the nature cutbacks with immediate effect.
What is more, the Ministry of Agriculture has made deep cuts in nature research in recent years and we don't know yet whether the politicians will be reversing that.'

Tia Hermans
Head of the Nature & Regions Domain, Alterra

‘Of course I'm pleased. But the future of nature must not depend on what the politicians in The Hague are saying. Politicians are far too fickle. But sixteen million Dutch share responsibility for this, including the business community. The key thing is for researchers to continue with the approach they have recently adopted of showing businesses how important nature and biodiversity are for our future. Employees want to live in an attractive environment, business processes require unpolluted raw materials and a green image will help you stay ahead of the competition.
As we do more research that is commissioned and funded by businesses, we are also doing ourselves a service as researchers. We get access to different networks with new sources of finance for research. That makes us less dependent on the Ministry for research funds.'

Pier Vellinga
Professor of Climate Change and Water Safety

‘We are pleased with this agreement. There is a bit more funding not just for nature policy but also for energy, the built environment and mobility, where sustainability efforts are getting a new boost. Major steps have been announced aimed at making the economy greener. This recognition of the global problem of nature degradation and climate change means you do your research with more enthusiasm. The previous cabinet had closed off all avenues for innovation. Now they are open again and we can come up with smart ideas and research proposals. The policy officers and research funding organisations are also relieved this difficult period is over. The lesson we can draw from this is that the value of the research we do here in Wageningen is less self-evident than we thought. We need to continually demonstrate the benefits. But it is true that the agreement gives renewed energy.'