Science - September 2, 2009

We want nature where there's something to do

Nature conservationists should pay more attention to what citizens want: more nature where there's something to do. The strong emphasis on ecological management is too one-sided.

This is the firm conviction of PhD student Arjen Buijs. He bases it on the image the Dutch have of their nature areas. This image differs in some ways from the way nature conservationists see nature and its management. Nature managers look at the whole picture, the ecology and habitats, while citizens are more interested in individual plants and animals. Managers base their views on their knowledge; citizens base theirs on their experience of nature. The different ideas clash. 'Managers should be more aware of what citizens want', Buijs says. 'They sometimes make us feel that they have a monopoly on the truth. But that's not the case, of course.'
Dutch nature management is sees nature as wilderness. Ecology comes first and nature should be left alone. Intervention is against these managers' principles. Citizens, on the other hand, want more diversity in nature. They want nature in which there is priority not just for ecology but also for beauty, experience accessibility. Buijs calls for a better balance between the ecological and the societal aspects of nature areas.
'The societal value of parts of the Veluwe, for example, or of the Green Heart is probably higher than their ecological value. So the emphasis there should be on attractive accessible nature.' Buijs feels that nature organizations are missing opportunities. 'Nature can be made too sacred at times. Ignoring the citizens makes nature organizations vulnerable. Nature conservation remains important, of course. But if you want support in the long run you have to make sure you can't be dismissed as the environment mafia.'