Wetenschap - 6 november 2013

Mirror, mirror on the wall....

Roelof Kleis

Wadden islands the most attractive area of the Netherlands.
Hotspot monitor helps policymakers.

The Wadden islands are far and away the most attractive rural area in the Netherlands – at least, according to the Dutch themselves, an Alterra study has revealed. The islands are followed by the North Sea coast, South Limburg and the Veluwe. This ranking order will come as no surprise to anyone. What is novel is the way researcher Sjerp de Vries and his colleagues established it: using the hotspot monitor.

The hotspot monitor is a kind of online survey that makes use of Google maps to assess the social value of a landscape. This can be done by sending people out with questionnaires, but that is both time-consuming and expensive. The internet, and Google Maps in particular, provide an interesting alternative, so researchers from institutes including Alterra and the University of Groningen developed the hotspot monitor to exploit this potential.

Green and peaceful

More that 3000 people living in six very varied landscapes put a flag online on the area of the Netherlands they considered the most attractive. They were then asked all sorts of questions about their choice. Anyone who wants to fill in the monitor themselves can do so at www.hotspotmonitor.eu. The researchers did some calculations based on the results and produced a hotspot map which shows at a glance which bits of countryside the Dutch favour. Half the participants picked the Wadden islands, the North Sea coast, South Limburg or the Veluwe. And we know why: they are green, peaceful, and feature water and nature. No big surprises there, acknowledges de Vries. ‘But it does mean the method works. This is a proof of principle.’

De Vries sees the hotspot monitor as a useful instrument for policymakers. The monitor can generate at great speed data about which landscapes people value and why. ‘So if you also know what characteristics their appreciation is based on, you can predict the effect of a particular intervention.’