Science - April 16, 2009

HELPING TO FINANCE THE LANDSCAPE

Many Dutch people are prepared to help finance the maintenance of their local landscape, Wageningen research has shown. And new initiatives such as district accounts and landscape auctions are fairly successful. Not that they will be big moneymakers, say the people involved. But they can put the landscape in a new light.

The first ever landscape auction was held in the Ooijpolder near Nijmegen in summer 2007. Farmers, residents and companies could bid for the maintenance of landscape features such as hedges or footpaths.
The Dutch are particularly attached to the landscape around their homes. And the funny thing is, it doesn’t even have to be beautiful. Take the Binnenveld, the farmland area between Wageningen, Ede, Rhenen and Veenendaal that starts just beyond the campus. Only five percent of those living around it think it’s actually attractive. And yet half of them are very attached to it. The Binnenveld may be ugly, but it is their ugly Binnenveld.

It’s possible to tap into this kind of identification with landscapes. The LEI did a survey of the willingness of residents to help pay for the maintenance of their local landscape in four areas: the Binnenveld, the Ooijpolder near Nijmegen, Amstelland near Amsterdam and the national landscape Het Groene Woud near Eindhoven. It turned out that almost half the local population were willing to make a one-off contribution.

This phenomenon, local citizens cofinancing their landscape, is the latest trend in the national policy for rural areas. If you want to live in a beautiful landscape, you should be willing to do something towards it, both by lending a hand as a volunteer and by coughing up some cash. The ‘user pays’ principle at work.

There are already a few successful examples. Residents and neighbours of the Ooijpolder near Nijmegen dipped into their pockets in 2007 during the world’s first landscape auction. They agreed to finance the maintenance of a stretch of hawthorn hedge, for example. For sixteen euros per metre, the funding for maintaining the hedge is sorted for the next ten years, explains Tiny Wigman of the Via Natura foundation. The foundation raises funds for sustainable landscape management in the Ooijpolder/ Groesbeek area. Various companies agreed to foot the bill for whole plots or even for footpaths.

Another concept that was at least as successful is the district account like the one developed in Het Groene Woud, where the locals save 250 thousand a year – without it costing them a cent (see box). This is more than enough to fund the various landscape projects.
Yet another talking point is the ‘view guarantee’, an idea that was launched a year ago in the Binnenveld. Residents of new housing estates in Wageningen and Veenendaal would have to pay for their unspoiled views over the Binnenveld. LEI research revealed that as many as half the residents concerned were happy with the guarantee idea.

LANDSCAPE AUCTION
At a landscape auction the management of landscape features – a tree, a metre of wooded bank or a footpath – is sold to companies or institutions. The buyer does not become the owner, but pays for the maintenance of his bit of landscape for ten years. The first landscape auction took place in the Ooijpolder near Nijmegen in September 2007, and raised 128 thousand euros from about sixty individuals and thirty companies.
Since then, fifteen such auctions have been held, raising a total of 228 thousand euros. The landscape sponsor gets a certificate and can deduct his investment from his tax bill.

ADOPT A GODWIT
But you mustn’t expect too much of the paying resident, warns Mieke van Heuven, director of the Landschapsbeheer Nederland (Landscape management Netherlands) foundation. ‘We had the Invest in Ecology project for three years, with residents taking on the financing of a small landscape feature – a traditional fruit tree or a black-tailed godwit. District funds, that sort of thing. And business wasn’t exactly booming. I wouldn’t claim that it could generate big money. A bit of realism is in order here.’

However, in saying this, van Heuven is not casting doubt on the LEI’s claims about the willingness of citizens to contribute to landscape maintenance. But she does think it should be taken with a pinch of salt. An expression of willingness doesn’t tell you anything about the level of the contribution. ‘What it really shows is that citizens love their landscape. And that there is a willingness to do something.’ She also stresses the importance of awareness. ‘Things like district accounts and landscape auctions are new ways of drawing attention to the landscape.’

Physical contributions are important too, says Van Heuven. ‘The citizen who is willing to ‘put his hand to the plough’ is indispensable for the maintenance of the landscape. And money is necessary for these citizen’s initiatives, ready cash so they can make them work. But not so that they take over the government’s role.’

DISTRICT ACCOUNTS
A district account is a special savings account with the Rabobank. The saver receives interest at the going rate of 3.5 percent, but the bank pays an extra five percent interest on that interest. And the extra interest goes towards the green good cause. The account was developed two years ago by Het Groene Woud and the ASN bank. It was taken over early this year by the Rabobank, which wants to introduce the account for all twenty national landscapes. Since the takeover, individuals cannot participate, however: the Rabobank’s district account is strictly for businesses.

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