News - April 24, 2014

Nature back on the map

Albert Sikkema

Dutch nature policy should be firmly rooted in the community and contribute to our wellbeing and to the economy. This principle is at the heart of Natuurlijk Verder, the cabinet’s policy document on the future of nature in the Netherlands. A positive gesture, but hard to tell what its practical significance will be, says governance expert Robert Jan Fontein of Alterra.

Fontein is pleased with the new vision on nature. ‘This shows that the ministry wants to work on nature in the Netherlands again. There is a renewal of positive interest in nature after the dark years under Bleker, when the government economized on nature and transferred responsibility for nature policy to the provinces.’ The Ecological Main Structure, a nationwide network of interconnected nature areas, has been given a new lease of life and is now called the National Nature Network, with additional funding allocated to it by the cabinet last year. Fontein: ‘The government wants nature to be something people can understand. With that in mind, it is not just looking ahead but also trying to fit in with current practice in the provinces.’

What is current practice?

‘All the provinces are working on their provincial nature policy, and are looking for new sources of funding for nature. Ideas include natural cemeteries, funding for particular areas, and financing through the ‘greening’ of European agricultural policy. New organizational structures and instruments are growing up, so that citizens are starting to participate in nature policy and hopefully will also start to help pay for nature development. This vision really ties in with that.’

And what does it mean for the provinces then?

‘I think the provinces still have some questions about the concrete significance of this vision for their policy. In my view, its main significance is symbolic. Central government is letting us know it is thinking about nature. That is good news, since nature policy was approached negatively under the last cabinet and has been stagnant for four years because of cuts and an unclear decentralization process.’