We keep hearing that nature is in a bad state. That is why people in Europe are talking about stricter laws to better protect nature areas, soil and animals. So how is nature in the Netherlands really doing? We list the facts for you.
How much protected nature does the Netherlands have?
That depends on how you look at it. The number of legally protected Natura 2000 areas is about 15% of our land, rivers and lakes. Add to that the areas of the Nature Network Netherlands (NNN) and you get to 26%. Furthermore, 24% of our coastal and marine area is officially protected.
This protection means that the nature area cannot be reduced in size. Also, the special nature for which it was designated as a nature conservation area may not be affected. Finally, the connection with other nature areas must not be lost.
Is that nature also well-protected?
Unfortunately, that nature is not always well-protected. Sometimes a nature area actually exists only on paper. Of all protected ecosystem types in the Netherlands, only 12% are in ‘favourable’ condition, 35% are ‘moderate’ and 53% are ‘unfavourable’. Of all European countries, only Italy, Latvia, Spain, Denmark and Belgium perform worse than the Netherlands in this respect.
How are the numbers of animal and plant species doing?
40% of species in the Netherlands are on the Red List. That means they may soon no longer be here. Things are particularly bad for meadow birds and insects such as bees and butterflies. Since 1995, the number of Red List species has risen slightly. However, they are slightly less threatened on average. You also see less variety in species everywhere; biodiversity is declining.
On the other hand, new species are arriving, for instance due to climate change, trade and transport. Some of these species are becoming ‘invasive’, which means they displace native species, cause economic damage or could be dangerous to health.
Is it bad if species disappear?
You can think of the number of species as a thermometer of how well nature is doing. Problems like acidification, overuse of pesticides and drought lead to a decline in species. And that, in turn, causes chain reactions in nature. For example, less life in the soil causes poorer plant growth. Fewer plants means less food for insects that live off those plants. Birds and mammals eat insects, and so also have less food – and so on. The balance between species is being disrupted. Humans are also affected: just think of poor harvests, trouble from pests or the spread of infectious (animal) diseases.
Who decides how well nature is doing?
The Netherlands has national ‘monitoring networks’. These include professionals and volunteers who conduct research on nature according to established methods. The data they collect goes to research institutes, governments, site managers and ecological agencies for analysis. The Central Bureau of Statistics calculates the trends. All results are compiled into reports for the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the provinces, which in turn pass them on to the European Union and the United Nations.
What threatens Dutch nature and what can we do about it?
The biggest threats are climate change, fragmentation, soil and water pollution (especially from intensive agriculture), urban and road expansion, invasive species and overtourism. At sea, there is disturbance from shipping, wind farm construction, harmful fishing methods and from oil and gas platforms. These factors also reinforce each other, increasing the threat.
Nature cannot recover until there is enough space and the pressure is reduced. That is why it is important to have more protected nature areas with better connections. The European Nature Restoration Act suggests that 30 per cent of the area should be protected.
There are also opportunities to strengthen nature outside protected natural areas, for example through more sustainable houses, through a different way of farming and animal husbandry, or through better arrangements in the financial sector. What we need are green solutions that benefit everyone, both nature and people.