Nieuws - 30 juni 2011

Barren Dunes set tone for nature debate

Nature organizations were unable to hit the right note when it came to developing new nature in the Drents-Friese Wold national park. Opponents called the shots in the nature debate. Since then, the nature experience is trumping biodiversity.

In 2000, the nature management agency Staatsbosbeheer and the Society for the Preservation of Nature in the Netherlands got possession of 6000 hectares of nature in the Drents-Friese Wold. The nature organizations wanted to buy up agricultural land in this area of heath and shifting sands around the Barren Dunes at Appelscha, cut down production forests and raise water levels to reinstate the habitat it would have had in the past. Their main opponent was the protest group Woudreus, which began to call the shots in the media from 2005. Arjen Buijs, who works at Alterra and in the Forest and Nature Conservation Group, investigated how that happened and published an article on the subject in the June edition of Geoforum.
Woudreus was mainly in favour of conserving the existing nature and landscape; it emphasized the nature experience and the beauty of the place. The protest group also raised the question of who this area was for - the people or the nature organizations. This showed them making effective use of framing: selective deployment of words and images to persuade people they are right.
On the other hand, the nature organizations presented a picture of new nature and emphasized biodiversity, the Natura 2000 legislation and the European commitments to achieve these objectives. 'They were caught in their own view of nature and hardly used any emotive arguments to get the people on their side', says Buijs. 'Their supporters in the region were pretty quiet whereas Woudreus did effectively mobilize its supporters.'
In the end, the nature organizations were able to implement most of what they intended and the protest group achieved only a minor amendment in the plan, says Buijs. But the emotive arguments used by Woudreus had gained far more legitimacy, not just in this region but also beyond. 'Woudreus knew how to hit the right note. In sociological terms: framing must resonate with the images people and the media already associate with an issue.'
'Since then, some political parties use such examples of local dissatisfaction to criticize the established nature organizations', says Buijs. 'For example, the minister Maxime Verhagen said nature conservation organizations should move with the times in a letter to the Volkskrant newspaper. He wrote that if they don't, "they will become dated and eventually superfluous". That, too, is a question of framing.'