Science - February 10, 2012

Land for nature: buying is more costly than managing

Buying more land for the Ecological Main Structure (EMS) costs about 2.5 billion euros more than creating nature areas with agricultural nature management. This is shown in the research done by Wageningen economist Roel Jongeneel.

Meanwhile, political reality has caught up with this study, as state secretary Henk Bleker has stopped the purchase of land for nature to fulfil the cabinet's cost-cutting objectives. But when Jongereel started his research project three years ago, it was even a taboo to discuss the costs of the EMS, he says.
What makes the purchase of land for nature expensive? Jongeneel calculated that the increase in demand can push land prices up by about 20 percent. 'This has been refuted for a long time, but buying 100,000 hectares of farmland will lead to price increases.' In addition, nature purchases involve transaction costs which have not been calculated before. 'Government officials have a lot to do before the EMS policy can be incorporated into transaction proceedings at the solicitator's,' explains Jongereel. 'There are also costs in spatial planning and monitoring of nature objectives.' Although transaction costs are also involved In management contracts with farmers, these are lower.
'Each hectare of EMS-nature costs the population 867 euros per year. You have to take all these into account. If you decide to concentrate on agricultural nature management, you end up with almost 240 euros less in costs.'
All in all, the purchase of a hectare of land for nature costs the government almost 30,000 euros. If the government continues to buy EMS land to implement the original plan, it will have a 9.1 billion euro bill to pay, according to Jongeneel's calculations. If it reduces its purchases and enters into more management contracts with farmers instead, the costs will be 6.6 billion euros. And if reduced purchases are not compensated by increased agricultural management, the total costs will fall to about 6.2 billion euros. 'In the last scenario, the nature objectives will of course be jeopardized.' Says Jongeneel. His results are published this month in Land Use Policy.
In his calculations, Jongeneel makes the assumption that nature objectives are the same all over the world. While no effort or costs were spared in the past for the EMS, things are going the other way at present, he feels. 'Bleker has removed the robust corridors, even though these are important from nature's point of view.'

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