Science - April 1, 2004

Ethnic minorities find Dutch nature artificial

Nature in Holland is artificial, dangerously far below sea level and relatively insignificant in comparison with the rugged mountains, deserts and jungles elsewhere in the world, in the view of members of ethnic minority groups in the Netherlands. The Agricultural Economics Institute (LEI) interviewed them about their experience of nature and came up with the advice to encourage their children go into nature areas here.

Earlier research showed that ethnic minorities in the Netherlands had little feeling for nature and spend little time in nature. They regard nature as park areas where you can go for picnics. In response to this, nature conservation organisations have placed more benches in green areas near cities.

LEI Researcher Greet Overbeek wanted to know more about the picture of nature that ethnic minorities have. Water, something that most Dutch nature lovers are so proud of, leaves most people of non-Dutch origin unmoved. Many find it a worrying idea when they learn how much water in the Netherlands is actually below sea level. Few have been brought up in their own countries with the idea that nature needs protecting. Although many never went into areas of nature in their own countries, they are nevertheless proud of the nature there. It is often only once they are in the Netherlands that they start to appreciate the nature in their home countries. It is often more impressive, but at the same time frightening and dangerous. Dutch nature on the other hand is experienced as artificial.

One of the recommendations of the study is that if ethnic minorities are to be encouraged to appreciate Dutch nature, more attention should be devoted to the subject in ‘inburgerings’ courses. Nature education for children should also focus on children from ethnic minorities, and not just by giving lessons in the classroom, but taking the children on nature visits, suggests Overbeek. | J.T.

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