Are the Dutch ugly

I. Introduction

Can you give the wolf a chance in the densely populated Netherlands? This question is passionately discussed among conservationists. The wolf - a symbol of the indomitable nature - but also a symbol that nature is good. Because wolves are shy animals, they only stay where they can live in peace and they need a lot of space. The discussion about the introduction of the wolf raises the question of how far one can go with nature conservation in the Netherlands. Is it possible to allow “dangerous animals” in the most densely populated country on earth?
Maybe a hypothetical question. Because it will probably be decades before the wolf can be found in the Netherlands - if he can settle here at all. The Netherlands is a large city-state. The entire infrastructure of the country is designed to supply the cities. There is the densest motorway network in the world here and 17 million people live here in a confined space. Accordingly, the pressure on nature is very high. Those who live in the city want to go outside on the weekend, into the forest, the sea, the heather. The Veluwe and the Wadden Sea are not only among the most valuable nature reserves, they are also the most popular holiday destinations. There doesn't seem to be room for a wolf here.

The Netherlands are actually too small to be able to manage the tension between living, working, nature conservation and leisure to everyone's satisfaction. For years agriculture and infrastructure were at the expense of nature. The cities and municipalities continue to expand and take up more space every year. A turning point appears to have occurred in agriculture: the arable land is decreasing, the nature conservation areas are increasing.

This was made possible by the Ecological Hoofdstructuur (EHS). For many years the Dutch government has tried to strengthen the existing nature reserves by connecting them to one another. 28,000 hectares of new nature must be created to connect 728,500 hectares of nature reserve. The concrete implementation of the project will take place in the next ten years and is the linchpin of Dutch environmental protection policy.

The Dutch have been shameful with their nature for a long time. “Holland is getting ugly”, summarized Volkskrant editor Yvonne Zonderop kess in November 2007 - and hit the nerve of the nation.

Indeed, anyone driving on Dutch motorways rarely experiences a varied landscape. Tristesse and wasteland spread along the major traffic arteries. Politicians and the media are talking about “rummaging”: the cultural landscape is littered. Commercial areas and billboards are gaining the upper hand in the Randstad and even where nature should actually be, one often experiences nothing more than an artificially monotonous landscape. “That has little to do with nature,” writes Yvonne Zonderop. The sociology professors Jan Willem Duyvendak and Evelien Tonkens even headlines: “All of Holland is homesick.” Save the landscape!

The implementation of the EHS is an important step towards this and protects nature from further influences. The project enjoys a high level of popular support, after all 1.6 million Dutch people are members of an environmental organization and are extremely involved in bird counts, animal observation or as volunteers.

Despite all this, the construction of new nature is very sensitive and the quality of the existing nature reserves is often in need of improvement. The example of Jaap Dirkmaat shows that a legally well-established nature conservation has to reckon with severe restrictions. As chairman of the association “Das en Boom” (today Vereniging Nederlands Cultuurlandschap), he campaigned for years against the expansion of the A73 near Venlo. The new road layout cuts through a quiet zone, the Maasduinen National Park, the cross-border Maas-Schwalm-Nette-Park and European FFH protected areas. Nature conservation cannot get a higher status. And yet nature was left behind when the A73 was expanded.

Those who practice nature conservation are fighting against a strong lobby from agriculture, industry and municipalities. Perhaps that is the main reason why the Dutch nature protection policy has become very restrictive in the meantime.

In contrast to the German model, the Dutch prefer a strict separation of nature conservation and agriculture. If an area is considered worthy of protection, then very strict requirements apply there. The downside: Agriculture is also assigned its production areas, which in turn are used very intensively. If you look at the Netherlands with the help of Google Earth, you will recognize the scheme: The nature reserves and national parks lie like green oases in the midst of the tightly organized agricultural areas.

Over the past 20 years, the realization has matured that nature cannot survive without the strong hand of the state. By creating 20 national parks and 20 national landscapes, an important step towards preservation has been taken: "Many successes have been achieved in the national parks," writes Michiel Roscam Abbing. “Many endangered animal and plant species have been saved. The impending drying up of entire stretches of land is prevented with all sorts of measures and the quality of the surface water has also been greatly improved, ”writes Abbing.

Author: Andreas Gebbink
January 2009