Organisation - April 15, 2011

Staff reductions in Alterra team unavoidable

Alterra’s Insect Monitor was not the only victim of subsidy cutbacks at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. The wild boar research project has been stopped, as has research on the reintroduction of the otter and the European hamster. There is not much money left for geese research and the research on agrobiodiversity is due to end soon. The Alterra ecologists are licking their wounds.

'Your list is correct', says Jack Faber, who heads the Molecular Ecology, Ecotoxicology and Wildlife Management team at Alterra. 'The new Cabinet announced its programme for policy-supporting research last year on 1 October. They put a stop to nearly all our ongoing research projects.'
Faber is also feeling the effects of the decentralization of nature policy from central government to the provinces. 'The provinces do not really have a knowledge agenda - they simply do not have the people for that', says Faber. 'That means the provinces commission far less research than central government, and if they do commission anything, it tends to be small-scale, short-term projects. That is having an impact on the kind of research we do because we were used to four-year projects and budgets. We will have far more short-term work; long-term research and monitoring will be a thing of the past.'
Long-term studies of animals that do not stick to provincial boundaries will now fall between two stools. That is happening to the research on the management of wild boar populations in the Veluwe and Limburg through alternative means (rather than shooting them). State Secretary Henk Bleker was willing to contribute towards the research on alternative population management but the province of Gelderland is opting for hunting, and ten of the other eleven provinces officially have no wild boar, nor do they have the money. So that is the end of that.
Alterra is being hit not just by the Cabinet's choices and the decentralization of policy but also by the economic crisis. Tight budgets are causing public authorities to postpone the ecological risk assessment in soil contamination cases and if that is not possible, to opt for the cheapest, routine analysis. 'There is less and less room for tailored solutions and quality - our trademark', says Faber. He thinks that short-term interests are getting priority over sustainable development. 'It is not just us who are suffering, the entire nature and environmental sector is going through hard times. That is making many goals, such as sustainable agriculture, more difficult to achieve.'
And Alterra will have to make cuts. There are no plans yet for reorganization, says Faber. 'But something will have to be done soon. We have put more effort into winning new business over the past few years. We have gone looking for - and found - new markets and clients. But changing circumstances have caught up with us. We are now considering whether we can put people on secondment or shift them from project to project. Staff reductions will be unavoidable this year.'