The state of nature in the Netherlands is continuing its long decline, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) observed in its latest edition of the Living Planet Report Netherlands, which was published on Thursday. Despite the fact that nature restoration is bearing fruit in a number of areas, nature as a whole is in a bad state. There were a limited number of positive developments mentioned in the report.
Overall, the situation is poor in the dunes, heathland and agricultural areas in particular. “That is also a problem for people themselves,” said Kirsten Haanraads of the WWF. “Natural areas can absorb extra water from floods. And when it’s hot, greenery in the neighborhood actually provides cooling.”
“The three biggest threats to nature are clear,” said Haanraads. “It’s about nitrogen deposition, desiccation of the soil and the fragmented nature reserves.” For example, hundreds of thousands of animals, such as roe deer, hedgehogs, badgers and martens, are hit by cars every year, because their habitat is getting smaller and smaller. They then are forced to cross a roadway more often.
Nitrogen deposition can affect many plants, insects and other animals. Some plants will grow faster, overtaking the ability of other plants to develop. That can be a disadvantage for insects. The soil also acidifies, and substances such as calcium are dissolved by nitrogen. This can negatively impact birds, which break their legs more quickly due to a lack of calcium and lay eggs with thinner shells. “We will have to focus fully on large-scale nature restoration,” said Haanraads.
Adviser Sander Turnhout of DierenNL agrees. “The more nature there is and the more animal species there are, the easier it becomes,” he said. “Nature will then be able to take more of a beating.”
Otters and beavers doing well, as are forest areas
One bright spot is that the otter has been making a comeback in the Netherlands over the past twenty years, after having largely disappeared. “This shows that protecting animals, restoring nature and improving water quality has really helped,” Turnhout said. The otter and the beaver are both very important for Dutch nature. Before releasing the animals back into the wild, the habitat was first improved and waterways were connected with fauna tunnels. Otters can swim up to seven kilometers a day, and the tunnels allow them to avoid roads. More nature-friendly banks have also been constructed, mowing management has been adjusted and the water quality has improved.
“IIt makes no sense to release species if the areas are not in order,” Turnhout explained. “The otter and beaver now have a chance and can help nature recover. But we can’t arbitrarily reintroduce species.” He cited the black grouse as an example. In recent years, many different frantic attempts have been made to reintroduce the bird, but so far the measures have not helped enough, so that the species is still threatened with extinction.
If an animal species is doing well, it may also take up more space. “That can be a problem in the Netherlands, because we have separated nature from everything else,” said Turnhout. “As a result, we may suddenly find an animal in our area.” As an example he mentioned the badgers who built their burrows under the railroad track. “If more combinations are made with nature, you get in each other’s way much less often,” said Turnhout. “Animals often do not sit among people for fun. And if they do, it usually doesn’t work out so well for the animal.”
Furthermore, things are also improving with the peregrine falcon in the country. The fastest animal on earth is increasingly breeding in the Netherlands, partly because more nest boxes have been hung on tall buildings. The woodpeckers in the forest are also doing relatively well. Some animals and plants in the forest areas are generally doing better, too. Forests are getting older and more varied, and that is paying off, said the report.
Now time for BBB to step up with solutions, says WWF
The fact that the political situation has changed after the provincial elections does not mean that the state of nature is suddenly different, Haanraads further emphasized. “The BBB’s seat gain mainly means that the BBB now has to get to work on this problem,” she stated. The BBB is a relatively new right-wing political party representing the interests of farmers and the agriculture sector, which has been largely against the national government’s plans to combat the impact of nitrogen emissions as it strongly affects their business models.
Various organizations, including the WWF, conduct research into animals and plants in the Netherlands every two years leading to the publication of the Living Planet Report Netherlands. In the international edition of the Living Planet Report, the WWF has also been raising awareness to the decline in nature and animal species for years. The WWF reported in October that populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish worldwide declined by an average of 69 percent between 1970 and 2018.
Reporting by ANP