Science - October 20, 2010

New government’s nature policy

The new Dutch government is planning to make drastic cuts in the area of nature and landscape. This will include a rethink on the Ecological Main Structure. What will be the consequences? Not good, according to professor of Nature Management and Plant Ecology Frank Berendse.

'The new cabinet's plans are a downright disaster for Dutch nature. Nature organizations are up in arms about it, and I think they are right. The process of buying up land and establishing the Ecological Main Structure was already going very slowly. It was supposed to be ready in 2008. But Gelderland province, for example, has done less than a third of the work it needed to do. And now there's a rethink. I can only imagine that means a restriction on the area to be devoted to the Ecological Main Structure.

What is more, the purchase of land for nature will be severely delayed, if not brought to a total standstill. That is also clear from the financial section of the coalition agreement: the plan is to save roughly 250 million euros per year on nature management. And on top of that, the durable ecological corridors are being scrapped. Yet these are really important. If you don't restore these corridors in time, a great many species are going to end up disappearing. That is shown in the work of the Finnish researcher Hanski. He calls the species that are still found but only in isolated pockets the 'living dead': they are doomed to extinction. If we do not carry on creating the Ecological Main Structure we run a serious risk that numerous species will be extinct. Half an Ecological Main Structure is no Ecological Main Structure. Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Scattered across the regions are many tracts of land that have already been purchased, but they have not yet been linked up. If you stop now, all those purchases have been for nothing.
Instead of going on purchasing land, the cabinet wants to emphasize nature management by third parties. Farmers and private individuals, in other words. But nature management by farmers does not produce the goods: that has been demonstrated time and time again. Even in the areas with management agreements, we have lost nearly all the valuable nature that used to be there. Nature management by private parties is very dependent on the person in question happening to be interested in participating. That can sometimes work out very well, but in many cases you get little islands of nature management that cannot contribute much to a larger whole. We can never save the nature of the Netherlands that way.'

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