Jointly meeting global challenges Annual report 2012


Nature restoration and the economy go hand-in-hand

16 June 2012Research

Creating opportunities for economic development while pursuing the objectives of Natura 2000, the centrepiece of the EU’s nature and biodiversity protection policy, that’s the aim of the Programmatic Approach Nitrogen (PAS). The Netherlands has 166 protected Natura 2000 sites. Of these,133 are subjected to atmospheric nitrogen deposition levels that, to a greater or lesser extent, present a problem. As a result, a number of habitat types are endangered.

“More nitrogen means more nutrients for plants, so that the fast growers gain an advantage and the slow growers don’t stand a chance,” says researcher Edu Dorland. “You end up with fewer species, in other words: less biodiversity. Moreover nitrogen is leached, in the form of nitrate, to the groundwater and surface water, which decreases water quality. This nitrogen deposition problem halts the granting of permits for activities that create further nitrogen emissions, such as agriculture, transport and industry. This is not only bad for economic development, but also decreases support for nature protection among citizens and businesses. ‘Natura 2000 is closing down the Netherlands’, is an often-heard complaint.”

Grass dominated heathland (by purple heath grass) as a result of high nitrogen deposition and drought.

Grass dominated heathland (by purple heath grass) as a result of high nitrogen deposition and drought.

Better resistance

Since 2011, KWR, together with the consultancy Witteveen+Bos and the research centre B-WARE, has been conducting analyses on 17 Natura 2000 sites in the Province of Overijssel – KWR has also been doing the same in the Province of Gelderland since 2012. “Most species-rich areas,” says Dorland, “contain ten or more different types of habitat. For each site, we have looked for restoration measures that meet the Natura 2000 objectives while also creating space for economic activities. Many of these natural areas are also subject to drought. Measures to restore the water balance, such as removing ditches or making streams more shallow, are often very effective. They make sure that those habitats that depend on groundwater can better resist the negative effects of nitrogen.”

In 2012, all PAS restoration strategies are being further elaborated at the local level. “On the basis of our information, the provinces can determine the management measures they should take to provide space for economic development,” concludes Dorland.

© 2018 KWR Watercycle Research Institute

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