Sixth National Report
Section I. Information on the targets being pursued at the national level
1. By 2020, the assessments of species and habitats protected by EU nature law show better conservation or a secure status in Europe for 100 % more habitats and 50 % more species. ()
The Kingdom of the Netherlands also includes six Caribbean islands. The islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius and Bonaire are special municipalities and together form the Caribbean Netherlands, while the islands of Sint Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao are constituent countries. The implementation of the first Caribbean Netherlands Nature Policy Plan 2013–2017 is still being evaluated, while no national targets have been adopted for the other islands. The information on the Caribbean will therefore be provided in the section on the Aichi Targets. The national targets in the first four sections are for the European Netherlands.
The Netherlands has committed itself to nature objectives stated in the EU Biodiversity Strategy and thus indirectly to those in the Convention on Biological Diversity. The national targets are based on the European targets and related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
The EU has directives to ensure that species native to the EU and the habitats they depend on are protected. The Birds and Habitats Directives are crucial for preventing further loss of biodiversity and eventually fully restoring European biodiversity. The Directives are fully implemented in Dutch legislation (Nature Conservation Act), but ‘reaching a favourable conservation status of all habitat types and species of European importance and adequate populations of naturally occurring wild bird species’ (EU Biodiversity Strategy) is still a long way off. For habitats in water bodies, the EU Water Framework Directive is an important policy instrument for achieving good qualitative and quantitative status of these water bodies. The aim of this Directive is a 'good status' for all ground and surface waters (rivers, lakes, transitional waters and coastal waters) in the EU.
The relevant conventions, directives and agreements have been implemented in national policy and legislation, including the policy documents Natural Capital Agenda (NCA, 2013) and the national nature vision The Natural Way Forward – Government Vision 2014 (NV), and since the decentralisation of nature policy in the provincial Nature Visions (PVs) and in the Nature Pact (NP, 2013), the agreement between the Dutch government and the provinces on the implementation of Dutch nature policy. In these NBSAP’s the following objectives are related to the first main target “By 2020, the assessments of species and habitats protected by EU nature law show better conservation or a secure status in Europe for 100 % more habitats and 50 % more species” of the European biodiversity strategy (‘protect species and habitats’):
o protect and improve the conservation status of species (NV, NP, PVs);
o improve environmental conditions in pursuit of the goals set by the Birds and Habitats Directives (NV, NP, PVs);
o improve spatial conditions by creating a robust national ecological network (NV, NP, PVs);
o effective regulation to protect nature and reduce burden on business and the public (NV, PVs);
o build an open, learning knowledge network: know more together; knowledge sharing to increase awareness, public support and participation (NV, NCA, PVs).
The most important NBSAP for this target is the Nature Pact. In the Nature Pact (2013), the ambitions for the restoration and management of nature in the Netherlands were agreed upon between the Dutch national government and the provinces for the period 2011 up to and including 2027. The focus of biodiversity policy in the Netherlands lies on the realisation and management of the national ecological network (NEN) which is due to be completed in 2027. The Natura 2000 sites are an important part of the NEN and the conservation of the Natura 2000 habitat types and species are an important part of the biodiversity policy. The Dutch government has decentralised the responsibility for habitat restoration and conservation management to the provinces. The ambitions they agreed upon include:
- protect and improve the conservation status of species set by the EU Birds and Habitats Directives;
- improve environmental conditions in pursuit of the goals set by the EU Directives;
- create a robust national ecological network;
- a more effective and regional approach to agri-environmental management.
2. By 2020, ecosystems and their services are maintained and enhanced by establishing green infrastructure and restoring at least 15 % of degraded ecosystems. ()
The EU considers our natural capital to be important because we depend on nature for food, energy, raw materials, air, water and more. The services provided by healthy ecosystems make life possible and support the economy. But many ecosystems and their services across the EU territory are now degraded and fragmented as a result of intensive agriculture, urban sprawl and grey infrastructure such as railways, roads and bridges, as well as the impacts of pollution, invasive alien species and climate change. The loss and degradation of valuable ecosystems also undermines the benefits that flow from nature to people and the economy. This target will contribute to the EU's sustainable growth and help the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. It will also ensure protected habitats are better connected, within and between Natura 2000 areas as well as in the wider countryside. By taking nature's benefits into account in socioeconomic decisions, ecosystems can keep on providing their vital services.
The Netherlands has committed itself to nature objectives stated in the EU Biodiversity Strategy and thus indirectly to those in the Convention on Biological Diversity. The national targets are based on the European targets and related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
The relevant conventions, directives and agreements have been implemented in national policy and legislation, including the policy documents Natural Capital Agenda (NCA, 2013) and the national nature vision The Natural Way Forward – Government Vision 2014 (NV), and since the decentralisation of nature policy in the provincial Nature Visions (PVs) and in the Nature Pact (NP, 2013), the agreement between the Dutch government and the provinces on the implementation of Dutch nature policy. In these NBSAP’s the following objectives are related to the second main target of the European biodiversity strategy:
- regional development with nature combinations (recreation, drinking water, energy): green living and working; develop and build with nature (NV, PVs);
- future-proof nature: more room for natural processes (NV, PVs);
- improve spatial conditions by creating a robust national ecological network (NP);
- by 2020, all ecosystem services in the Netherlands will have been identified, along with recognition of their contribution to the economy, and this will be incorporated into the decision-making process of government and the private sector (NCA).
The most important NBSAP for this target is the national nature vision The Natural Way Forward (Min. EZ, 2014), which focuses on the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity in collaboration with citizens, businesses and civil society organisations. These societal partners have an increasing say in and responsibility for contributing to nature conservation and habitat creation. The aim is to highlight the advantages of combining nature conservation with other social and economic interests. Citizens, businesses and civil society organisations are encouraged to incorporate nature conservation and biodiversity protection into other social and economic interests to the fullest possible extent. This policy document includes eight objectives:
- green enterprise: the driver of the economy (sustainable trade chains and consumption);
- nature-inclusive agriculture: nature and agriculture as natural partners;
- regional development with nature combinations (recreation, drinking water, landscape, energy, climate change): the region is where it is happening;
- green living and working: everything to be gained;
- future-proof nature: more room for natural processes;
- effective regulation to protect nature and reduce burden on businesses and the public;
- develop and build with nature: government sets the example;
- build an open, learning knowledge network: know more together.
The national nature vision was created with input from many stakeholders and public consultation.
3. By 2020, the conservation of species and habitats depending on or affected by agriculture and forestry, and the provision of their ecosystem services show measurable improvements. ()
The EU gives priority role to the agriculture and forestry sectors in helping to maintain and improve biodiversity. Agriculture and forestry go hand in hand with the biodiversity on which they depend, and both have a big impact on its health. The efforts made to integrate biodiversity into agriculture and forestry in Europe are still not sufficient. By 2020, the EU wants to achieve a measurable improvement, compared to the EU2010 baseline, in the conservation of species and habitats depending on or affected by agriculture and forestry, and in the provision of their ecosystem services.
The Netherlands has committed itself to nature objectives stated in the EU Biodiversity Strategy and thus indirectly to those in the Convention on Biological Diversity. The relevant conventions, directives and agreements have been implemented in national policy and legislation, including the policy documents Natural Capital Agenda (NCA, 2013) and the national nature vision The Natural Way Forward – Government Vision 2014 (NV), and since the decentralisation of nature policy in the provincial Nature Visions (PVs) and in the Nature Pact (NP, 2013), the agreement between the Dutch government and the provinces on the implementation of Dutch nature policy. In these NBSAPs several objectives are related to the main targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
o a more effective and regional approach to agri-environmental management (NP);
o nature-inclusive agriculture; nature and agriculture as natural partners (NV);
o by 2020, sustainable agricultural management will be in place to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and natural capital (NCA).
Furthermore, The Netherlands has an Agricultural Vision: Agriculture, nature and food: valuable and connected The Netherlands as a leader in circular agriculture (LNV 2018). In this Vision one of the objectives is related to the third main target of the European biodiversity strategy. It serves as a benchmark for assessing national policy plans; one of the criteria is that they should benefit ecosystems (water, soil, air), biodiversity and the natural values of farm landscapes.
All three NBSAPs mentioned in the above list are important for this target. However, agricultural targets are also subject to other policies, such as the common agricultural policy (CAP), the Water Framework Directive and the Nitrates Directive. The EU countries are permitted to define their own agricultural policy within the terms set out in the CAP. The CAP has two components: agricultural subsidies and subsidies for rural development. The amount of money available for measures that benefit biodiversity has increased with every subsequent CAP period. The Nitrates Directive aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters.
Unlike in many other countries, in the Netherlands forestry has a conservation objective and is not part of the agricultural domain. Forestry is generally sustainable. Most of the forested area of the Netherlands is included in the NEN and is eligible for subsidies for forest management. Almost 90% of timber used in the Netherlands is imported. Dutch policy therefore focuses on certified international timber chains to support sustainable forest management in other countries.
4. By 2015, fishing is sustainable. By 2020, fish stocks are healthy and European seas healthier. Fishing has no significant adverse impacts on species and ecosystems. ()
The EU considers that current fishing practices are not always sustainable. Not only do these activities place undue pressures on fished species, but they also damage the marine ecosystem as a whole. The EU’s aim is fisheries management with no significant adverse impacts on species and ecosystems so that all European oceans and seas can be ecologically diverse and dynamic, as well as clean, healthy and productive by 2020. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive complements the Birds and Habitats Directives and aims to protect the marine environment and establish a good environmental quality through various measures, including the designation of marine protected areas, adapting fishing activities and involving the fisheries sector in alternative activities such as ecotourism, monitoring marine biodiversity and the fight against marine litter.
The relevant conventions, directives and agreements have been implemented in national policy and legislation, including the policy documents Natural Capital Agenda (NCA, 2013) and the national nature vision The Natural Way Forward – Government Vision 2014 (NV), and since the decentralisation of nature policy in the provincial Nature Visions (PVs) and in the Nature Pact (NP, 2013), the agreement between the Dutch government and the provinces on the implementation of Dutch nature policy. In the NBSAP the following objectives are related to the fourth main target of the European biodiversity strategy:
o By 2020, both the aquaculture chain and the wild-caught fish chain will meet international sustainability criteria for stock management and biodiversity (NCA).
The common fisheries policy (CFP), the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive are the most important policies on sustainable fisheries and the marine environment. The current national target stipulates that between 2015 and 2020 catch limits should be set that are sustainable and maintain fish stocks over the long term. The CFP management plans are based on scientific advice and seek to make fishing fleets more selective in what they catch, with the aim of phasing out the practice of discarding unwanted fish.
The government’s white paper ‘Nature Ambition for the Large Water Bodies: 2050 and beyond’ published in 2014 sketches a vision of resilient, robust and climate-proof ecosystems with opportunities for nature combinations such as sustainable fishing, recreation and other uses. The ‘Programmatic Approach to the Ecology of the Large Water Bodies’ and EU LIFE IP Deltanatuur 2016–2022 programme set out to implement that vision for nature conservation and water quality while ensuring safety and providing for sustainable use.
5. By 2020, invasive alien species are identified, priority species controlled or eradicated, and pathways managed to prevent new invasive species from disrupting European biodiversity. ()
The EU considers invasive alien species to be a major threat to Europe's native biodiversity. They also cause economic damage amounting to billions of euros every year. This threat and damage is likely to increase in the future unless decisive and coordinated action is taken to control introduction pathways, prevent their establishment and spread, and manage already established populations. Prevention is a priority because established populations can be expensive to manage and difficult or impossible to eradicate. The IAS Regulation (Regulation (EU) 1143/2014 on invasive alien species) entered into force on 1 January 2015. A list of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern (the Union list) has been adopted and currently includes 49 species that are subject to common action at EU level as set out in the IAS Regulation. The fifth target of the EU Biodiversity Strategy is the objective of Dutch policy on invasive alien species.
The IAS Regulation is the most important policy on invasive alien species. It imposes restrictions on keeping, importing, selling, breeding and growing listed species. Member States are required to take measures for prevention, early detection and rapid eradication and to manage populations that are already widely spread in their territory. The Union list is updated at regular intervals. The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality asked the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) to advise on the Dutch approach per Union list species. This advice has been laid down in a strategy document on Union list species published in September 2016 (Onderbouwing strategie Unielijstsoorten). The NVWA also advised the ministry of species that might be added to the Union list. The risk of additional alien species becoming invasive has been assessed and reported on by the NVWA’s Invasive Alien Species Team (Team Invasieve Exoten) and species experts.
To prevent the introduction of marine alien species via the ballast water of ships, in 2010 the Netherlands signed the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM) under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The essence of this agreement is that ships must have an approved ballast water treatment plant which removes organisms. The Convention has been signed by 66 Parties representing 75% of world trade tonnage and entered into force on 8 September 2017.
6. By 2020, the EU has stepped up its contribution to avert global biodiversity loss. ()
The EU is committed to stepping up its contribution to averting global biodiversity loss. The EU derives great benefits from global biodiversity, but some of its consumption patterns are an important cause of biodiversity loss and habitat degradation beyond EU borders. The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 is in line with international commitments made in October 2010, when the UN Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a strategic plan to address global biodiversity loss over the next decade. The EU is stepping up its contribution to averting global biodiversity loss by greening its economy and endeavouring to reduce its pressure on global biodiversity.
The Netherlands has committed itself to nature objectives stated in the EU Biodiversity Strategy and thus indirectly to those in the Convention on Biological Diversity. The relevant conventions, directives and agreements have been implemented in national policy and legislation, including the policy documents Natural Capital Agenda (NCA, 2013) and the national nature vision The Natural Way Forward – Government Vision 2014 (NV), and since the decentralisation of nature policy in the provincial Nature Visions (PVs) and in the Nature Pact (NP, 2013), the agreement between the Dutch government and the provinces on the implementation of Dutch nature policy. In these NBSAP’s the following objectives are related to the sixth main target of the European biodiversity strategy:
o by 2020, the most important agricultural raw material chains will meet sustainability criteria for biodiversity (NCA);
o fair agreement on the use of plant genetic resources (NCA);
o green enterprise: driver of the economy (NV).
The most important NBSAP for this target is the Natural Capital Agenda (Min. EZ & Min. I&M, 2013). This policy plan focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, both nationally and internationally. The strategy’s objective is to secure resilient ecosystems and ecosystem services that contribute to biodiversity, water and food security, welfare and combating poverty. Developing a nature-inclusive economy and securing international biodiversity are important elements of nature policy.
Ecosystem services protection focuses on the implementation and management of natural capital and sustainable production and consumption mostly outside the Netherlands. It has four general objectives (which includes 16 action points):
1. By 2020, the most important agricultural raw material chains will meet sustainability criteria for biodiversity, with fair agreement on use of plant genetic resources.
2. By 2020, both the aquaculture chain and the wild-caught fish chain will meet international sustainability criteria for stock management and biodiversity; overfishing within EU waters will have been halted as a condition for restoring fish populations; seabed life and the quality of the marine environment will be improved; international Marine Protected Areas will have been introduced to protect biodiversity and overfishing and pollution will be prevented and tackled where possible.
3. By 2020, sustainable agricultural management will be in place to ensure the conservation of biodiversity within the Netherlands. Internationally, pilots will have been set up to demonstrate that the private sector can and is willing to contribute to the restoration of ecosystems and that a degraded area can be turned around and transferred into an area of productive and diverse biodiversity with a balanced water system.
4. By 2020, all ecosystem services in the Netherlands will have been identified, along with recognition of their contribution to the economy and this will be incorporated into the decision-making process of government and the private sector.
The Netherlands has deposited the instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession of the Nagoya Protocol and has drawn up a national regulation to implement the Protocol. The measures taken are based on EU Regulation 511/2014 and Implementing Regulation EU 2015/1866. The Dutch Act implementing the Nagoya Protocol has been in force since April 2016. The EU Access and Benefit Sharing Regulation under the Nagoya Protocol sets out how researchers and companies can obtain access to genetic resources and the traditional knowledge linked to these resources. It also explains how benefits arising from the use of genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge must be shared with the countries providing these resources.
Section II. Implementation measures, their effectiveness, and associated obstacles and scientific and technical needs to achieve national targets
1. Create new habitat within the National Ecological Network (NEN) aiming for the development of unfragmented viable species populations.
The national ecological network (NEN) includes all 161 EU Natura 2000 sites and is the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation in the Netherlands (Figure 1). The NEN is a network of natural and semi-natural habitat and agricultural land earmarked for conversion to nature. Under the Nature Pact agreement, the provinces will strengthen the NEN by creating at least 80,000 ha of new nature between 2011 and 2027.
The NEN was introduced in the 1990 Nature Policy Plan by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries (currently the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality). The provinces are now responsible for the implementation of nature policy and realisation of the network. The aim of the NEN is to halt the decline in the area of natural and semi-natural habitat and the loss of biodiversity through the creation of a coherent network of protected areas. This is achieved by enlarging and connecting current nature areas, mainly through the conversion of agricultural land to nature. Having larger natural areas also makes it easier to improve and maintain good water and environmental conditions. Better connectivity between habitats facilitates species migration, enabling them to adapt to climate change.
The land area of the NEN is subject to the 'no, unless' protection regime in the National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning (SVIR, I&M, 2012), which is enforced via provincial and municipal physical environment plans. The total area of designated land in the NEN amounts to some 750,000 ha. Not represented in this figure are the large water bodies, such as the Wadden Sea, IJsselmeer lake, the delta waters in the southwest of the Netherlands and the territorial waters of the North Sea, which are also part of the NEN. All the provinces have now formally delineated the NEN areas within their territories and made appropriate provisions in their physical environment plans, structural visions and planning regulations.
Any development plan is subject to an environmental impact assessment. The government encourages the inclusion of habitat creation and restoration in development plans by combining nature with other functions, such as climate change adaptation, drinking water supply, redesigning tourism accommodation facilities, urban development, infrastructure investment, flood protection, etc.
Realisation of the national ecological network (NEN) has been effective for the creation of new habitat and the mitigation of habitat fragmentation, but is still insufficient in scale to achieve the national targets in 2020. Development of the NEN began in 1990 and it is still increasing in size. Habitat loss has been halted and reversed, resulting in net gains. Development of the NEN will continue until 2027.
It is difficult to assess whether or not the measure has been effective as causal relations and interactions between measures, results and targets are very complex. The indicators show, however, that considerable progress has been made and that the measure is contributing towards several targets. We therefore conclude that the measure taken has been partially effective.
Habitat creation and protected areas
In the period 1990–2017 more than 108,000 ha of land were acquired for the realisation of the NEN (Figure 2). More than 85,000 ha of agricultural land has been converted to nature (Figure 3). Since 2011 the provinces have converted almost 33,000 ha to nature. The total area of Natura 2000 sites in the Netherlands currently stands at around 20,606 square kilometres, which is more than 14% of the area of land and inland water and more than 23% of coastal and marine areas (North Sea, Wadden Sea, Oosterschelde and Westerschelde). An additional almost 400,000 ha is nationally designated for conservation measures and protected by a ‘no-unless’ planning regime. In total, the NEN covers more than 26% of the land and inland water area.
Figure 2 and Figure 3
Fragmentation of the NEN by national transport infrastructure (motorways, waterways and railways) is being tackled through the multiannual habitat defragmentation programme (Meerjarenprogramma Ontsnippering, MJPO; BenW 2004). Between 2005 and 2018 no less than 114 (64%) of the 178 identified infrastructure barriers causing fragmentation were resolved and a further 46 measures were still under construction (Figure 4). The measures implemented include the construction of green bridges, eco-culverts, wildlife underpasses, wildlife overpasses at tree crown level and hop-overs. Surveys show that most wildlife crossings serve multiple species. Wildlife crossings in combination with wildlife fencing also considerably reduce the number of road kills.
Rivers and streams contain many obstacles to migratory fish species, such as dams, hydro turbines and pumping stations. The Benelux Decision on the free migration of fish (M2009) states that migratory fish species, particularly eel, salmon, sea trout and flounder, must be able to migrate freely in all river basins. The new Benelux Decision includes a prioritisation map showing all obstacles to be removed by 2027. Other policy regulations for migratory fish are the European Eel Regulation (European Union, 2007) and the Water Framework Directive. Many fish passages have already been built. The Rhine and the Meuse rivers have been fully accessible to migratory fish since 2007 thanks to the construction of fish passes at the larger dams (Figure 5). Although fish passes have been constructed to enable upstream migration, downstream migration can still be a problem, for example in the Meuse. The Haringvliet sluice gate forms part of an important migration route, as it is the main discharge channel for the Rhine. This barrier was removed in 2018 by the Kierbesluit (decision to leave the sluice gates ajar).
Spatial protection regime
The National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning (SVIR) lays down a ‘no, unless’ development control regime for the NEN that protects nature within the network against development with negative impacts. Under this regime housing construction within the boundaries of the NEN increased only slightly between 2000 and 2017.
The creation of the NEN is also an important measure for mitigating the effects of climate change as it creates ecological corridors, for example along rivers and along the coast, through which species can migrate as climate conditions shift northwards, and the impact of extreme weather conditions can be reduced by taking adaptive measures within the NEN.
On 22 March 2018, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management presented the evaluation of the Room for the River programme to the House of Representatives. The goal of this programme was to manage the expected increasing frequency of high volume river water discharges in the future. Radical measures were taken at 30 locations along the main rivers to substantially reduce the risk of flooding and significantly improve safety levels for people living in the area. The measures were designed to restore natural riverine processes and improve the ecological, landscape and recreational qualities of the immediate surroundings. Monitoring reveals a strong increase in biodiversity values after only 20 years of habitat restoration along the main rivers.
The ‘Nature Ambition for the Large Waters: 2050 and beyond’ is a strategic vision document on nature in the large waters bodies of the Netherlands in the light of the impacts of climate change. Natural processes have a crucial role in this vision by creating new synergies between urgent flood protection measures and nature conservation, recreation and tourism. This concept is called ‘building with nature’ or ‘eco-engineering’. A striking example is the ‘fish migration river’ in the Afsluitdijk, an innovative engineering solution which allows fish to migrate between the marine environment of the Wadden Sea and the fresh water of the IJsselmeer while preventing the freshwater body from becoming brackish. The Nature Ambition has been explored in more detail for large rivers in the Netherlands. Furthermore, Rijkswaterstaat has explored what is necessary to make the nation’s large water bodies ecologically sound and future-proof. The result of these studies is a proposal for a package of measures to restore the natural dynamics of the water and the ecological processes that go with it. In early 2018 the water management and nature ministers announced that these measures will be implemented under a 30 year programme to 2050, the ‘Programmatic Approach to the Large Water Bodies’.
A major obstacle is the difficulty of acquiring the final areas to be converted to nature conservation for the realisation of the national ecological network (NEN) because not all the landowners concerned are willing to cooperate. Furthermore, the NEN will not be large enough to secure the status of all the Habitats and Birds Directives species in the Netherlands. To achieve the targets of these directives, new suitable habitat will also have to be created outside the NEN.
2. The Nature Conservation Act, an important instrument to protect species and habitats
Nature 2000 sites, forests and wild animals and plants in the Netherlands are protected by the Nature Conservation Act, which took effect on 1 January 2017. The obligations of the EU Habitats Directive and the EU Birds Directive have been incorporated into the Nature Conservation Act. The new Act replaces three previous laws: the Nature Conservancy Act 1998, the Flora and Fauna Act 2002 and the Forestry Act 1961. Exemptions or permits for activities that can influence conservation objectives in Natura 2000 sites, protected species or their nesting, rest or feeding places are conditional upon compensation or mitigation measures. The provincial government is the authority responsible for granting exemptions and permits. The codes of conduct drawn up by organisations or trade associations under the Nature Conservation Act state how to prevent or minimise damage to protected plants and animals during the course of recurring management work. Game management units (responsible for the sustainable management of populations of game and other wildlife in their region) can also obtain exemptions (e.g. for hunting) on the condition that they prepare wildlife management plans to regulate populations that cause damage. The conservation objectives and the necessary conservation measures for Natura 2000 sites are described in a Natura 2000 management plan.
The Act also regulates the trade, transport, possession or processing of animals, plants or eggs from animals taken from the wild in line with the provisions of the Birds and Habitats Directives, the IAS Regulation and CITES.
Although protected species and habitats are in theory well protected, in practice they are still subject to actual or potential negative impacts from many activities. The populations of many protected species are still declining and the number of invasive alien species is still increasing (see also Aichi Target 11, 12 and 9). It is difficult to assess whether or not the measures taken have been effective as causal relations and interactions between measures, results and targets are very complex. All things considered, we conclude from the results that the measure taken have been partially effective.
Protection of species and habitats
The presence of vulnerable protected species and habitats are taken into account when assessing applications and issuing permits or exemptions for activities such as construction work, demolishing buildings or felling trees. Compensation and mitigation measures are mandatory when significant negative effects on conservation objectives or protected species are expected. In theory, strict application of these measures should result in no net negative effect on the conservation status of protected species and habitats, but in practice, compensation and mitigation measures for species protection are based on expert knowledge and monitoring is rarely required. Furthermore, control and enforcement is difficult and is a source of ongoing concern.
Permits and exemptions are made public and nature conservation organisations or others may lodge objections if they believe that the ecological (appropriate) assessment or the mandatory measures attached as conditions on the exemption are inadequate. Furthermore, enforcement action may be taken if permit conditions are not complied with.
Invasive alien species
Policy measures are being implemented to eliminate and control a number of invasive species and prevent their introduction. At the same time, the number of invasive and potentially invasive alien species is still increasing.
The total area of Natura 2000 sites protected by the Nature Conservation Act in the Netherlands currently stands at 20,606 square kilometres, which is more than 14% of the area of land and inland water and more than 23% of coastal and marine areas (North Sea, Wadden Sea, Oosterschelde and Westerschelde). Plans or projects may only be carried out in these sites if mitigation of negative impacts is possible. Nevertheless, if mitigation is not possible and in the absence of alternatives, plans or projects may be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, but these must be accompanied by compensatory measures to ensure the overall coherence of Natura 2000. This protection by law and in planning ensures that habitat loss can be compensated.
The expected effects of mitigation and compensation measures for species protection are mostly based on expert knowledge rather than scientific evidence. Monitoring is only required in a few specific situations. There are initiatives to change this situation for specific species. For bats, for example, there is a website and online database where volunteers and professionals can collect, manage and share data and information on bats present in bat boxes. Installation of bat boxes is a popular mitigation measure where the suitability of bat resting places has deteriorated or where they have been destroyed.
An important consideration in the protection of Natura 2000 areas is the possibility that activities that do not lead to significant negative effects separately, do so together, in combination. Dose–effect relationships can take various forms through different ecological feedback mechanisms and either strengthen or weaken each other. A tool for determining such cumulative effects is the permit for activities with adverse effects on conservation objectives. However, not all activities and all dose–effect relationships are always known when assessing cumulative effects.
3. Subsidy for nature management measures important to maintain biodiversity
The Dutch government has decentralised the responsibility for habitat restoration and conservation management to the provinces. The 2013 Nature Pact between the national government and the provinces sets out the aims of nature policy, including conservation management, forestry and improving the agri-environment scheme for farmland biodiversity. At the end of 2017 the area of the NEN was almost 624,000 ha, including forests. In 2017 provincial subsidies were granted for the management of 77% of this area and agri-environment measures were taken on an additional 83,000 ha outside the NEN.
It is difficult to assess whether or not the measures taken have been effective as causal relations and interactions between measures, results and targets are very complex. The results show, however, that progress has been made and the measure is contributing to several targets. All things considered, we conclude from the results that the measure taken has been partially effective, especially for forests and nature. The agri-environment scheme has been revised and it is still too early to expect better results.
Subsidy for nature management in forests and nature reserves
All forests in the Netherlands are legally protected and most are sustainably managed. Forest management work is done outside the breeding season. Protected species are surveyed and their habitats are spared during management measures. Management is geared to obtaining a varied forest structure and the presence of sufficient dead wood. Populations of typical forest breeding birds have increased slightly over the last 10 years (Figure 6). The amount of dead wood in forests is also increasing (national target 3). Subsidies for conservation management measures have been partially effective in achieving the desired outcomes, especially in heath and dune ecosystems (Figure 7), because the effects of management are partially neutralised by other factors, such as inadequate environmental conditions (e.g. due to pollution) (Aichi Target 8, and measure II-4).
Figure 6 and Figure 7
Agri- environmental schemes
Since 1975 the Dutch government has supported biodiversity protection on agricultural land (Relatienota policy) and ‘agricultural nature management’ remains an important part of Dutch nature policy (Min. EZ & Min. I&M, 2013). The agri-environment schemes have been evaluated and reconsidered several times and the policy of actively integrating conservation management into intensive farming was found to be not effective enough (Rli, 2013). Biodiversity on intensively farmed land has decreased dramatically and is still decreasing, despite the efforts taken by many stakeholders to improve the situation (farmland bird index, Figure 8). In response to the Rli report, the subsidy system has been renewed. As a cross-farm approach was expected to be a more flexible and effective way to reverse the decline in farmland biodiversity, a regional collective approach was established for the Agri-Environment Climate Management scheme. To define management priorities, 67 species listed in the Birds and Habitats Directives were assigned to four types of landscape: Open Grassland; Open Arable Land; Wet Corridors and Dry Corridors. The core of the renewed system is a habitat approach for animal species of international importance on the basis of a collective and area-oriented approach. Although management is not geared to single species, because suitable habitats are beneficial to many species, the habitat requirements of each of the selected 67 farmland species are taken into account.
From 2016 onward an increasing proportion of agri-environment management has been carried out via the renewed agri-environment scheme (ANLb), with the aim of implementing effective and efficient management in the potentially most promising areas for nature conservation. There are 40 farmers’ collectives active nationwide, with more than 8,000 farmers participating. The collectives are largely responsible for registration, allocation of funds, management activities and reporting. An evaluation of the ANLb by Wageningen Environmental Research in 2016 (Melman et al., 2016) shows that the provincial governments and agricultural collectives have concentrated more on promising areas for conservation. Under this agricultural collectives approach, 53% of the meadow bird management ‘light’ package and 62%–64% of the meadow bird management ‘intensive’ package now lie within promising areas. This is a slight improvement on the situation in 2010. In this area-oriented and learning approach the provincial governments and agricultural collectives work with partners, such as research institutes, volunteers and conservation management organisations, to implement the schemes.
Loss of biodiversity on farmland is an observed trend throughout Europe and the EU common agricultural policy (CAP) for 2014–2020 has shifted its focus to animal welfare and environmental care. The goals of the CAP range from contribution to farm incomes to the sustainable management of natural resources. The EU has earmarked approximately EUR 100 billion and EUR 61 billion of public funding from Member States within the 2014–2020 multiannual financial framework for rural development, pillar 2 of the CAP. The Dutch agri-environmental schemes fall under pillar 2. Since 2014 the CAP includes a new direct payment for a compulsory set of ‘greening measures’, which account for 30% of the direct payments budget (pillar 1). These measures are intended to make the CAP more effective in delivering its environmental and climate objectives and to ensure the long-term sustainability of EU agriculture. The greening measures comprise crop diversification, maintenance of permanent grassland and Ecological Focus Areas to safeguard and improve biodiversity on farms. However, the potential benefits for biodiversity have been evaluated and found to be limited due to the absence of appropriate management requirements or conditions.
Landowners, such as farmers, may also receive subsidies to enhance nature quality or stimulate habitat creation on agricultural land. The Quality Impulse Nature and Landscape subsidy scheme is for landowners who want to make their land suitable for agricultural nature management and for conservation managers who want to further develop and improve the quality of nature. The quality scheme consists of two subsidies: a quality investment subsidy and a subsidy for changing the designated land use. The quality investment subsidy covers measures that make the area suitable for nature conservation or enhance the quality of nature. The subsidy for a change in designated land use compensates for the reduction in the economic value of land converted from agriculture to nature. The area in question must be included in the provincial nature management plan.
An important problem is that several necessary ecological measures are largely incompatible with farmland management that is geared to high productivity. For example, relatively high water tables, herb rich grasslands and a later grassland mowing dates are important measures for meadow birds, but lower productivity levels on approx. 30% of the area if they are to be effective. Such measures depend on the motivation and commitment of the farmer.
4. Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen (PAN)
The Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen (PAN, in Dutch: Programmatische Aanpak Stikstof) is the most important measure for improving environmental conditions necessary for biodiversity protection in the Netherlands. The programme seeks to conserve and restore nitrogen-sensitive habitats and biodiversity in Natura 2000 areas while permitting economic development that leads to nitrogen deposition and reducing the administrative burden for the initiators of these developments. The PAN relies on nitrogen emission reduction measures and on-site habitat restoration measures. The provinces are now responsible for the implementation of most of these restoration measures.
The PAN took effect from 1 July 2015 and the first period is in force until 2021. A new decision on PAN will then be taken for the period from 1 July 2021 to 1 July 2027. If necessary, there might be a third period. The PAN replaces the appropriate assessments of the implications of nitrogen deposition for the site with respect to its conservation objectives when granting permits under the Nature Conservation Act. The PAN applies to 118 Natura 2000 areas with nitrogen-sensitive nature (the PAN areas).
Below we describe the results achieved. It is difficult to assess whether or not the measure has been effective as causal relations and interactions between measures, results and targets are very complex. The above-mentioned targets will not be reached. However, the results show that progress has been made and that the measure is contributing to several targets. All things considered, we conclude from the results that the measure has been partially effective.
More than 2,200 ecological restoration measures have been planned for the first PAN period (2015–2021). The aim of the restoration measures is to make nature more resistant to nitrogen overload. The restoration measures include hydrological measures, management measures and measures for research and monitoring. The latter two do not directly contribute to the restoration of nature, but are necessary to successfully implement the measures. On 31 March 2018, more than 28% of the restoration measures to be implemented in the first PAN period were completed. Hydrological measures and habitat creation depend on the cooperation of surrounding landowners and may therefor take more time to organise than other measures. The provincial governments expect that 98% of the remaining restoration measures will be carried out within the PAN period.
The provinces must ensure that the restoration measures are implemented. Failure to do so will jeopardise long-term development potential because the province or another appropriate authority may only grant permits or exemptions (in advance) for the relevant PAN area if the assessment of the proposed ecological restoration is positive. In some areas drastic measures have to be taken. Sometimes the necessity of these measures is questioned, leading to discussions, a search for alternatives and additional research. The resulting delays raise doubts about the ability to complete these projects before the expiration of the first PAN deadline in 2021.
Pollution from excess nutrient
Nitrogen deposition levels have not decreased since 2010 (Figure 10). Measured ambient ammonia concentrations increased slightly over the period 2005–2016. Reported ammonia emissions and nutrient surpluses in 2014, 2015 and 2016 also increased slightly after years of decline (Figure 9). See also Aichi Target 8.
Figure 9 and Figure 10
At the request of the Council of State, the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg examined whether the PAN complies with the European Habitats Directive. The European Commission stated that an overall assessment such as the PAN does not have to conflict with the Habitats Directive. However, the European Commission was critical of the fact that permission is granted for new nitrogen deposition while there is still an overload. According to the European Commission, the Netherlands should first do something to reduce this overload.
The European Court accepted the Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen when allowing projects that emit nitrogen. The Court gave a judgement on 7 November 2018 in response to questions from the Council of State about the PAN. According to the Court, the PAS is only compatible with the Habitats Directive under strict conditions, including the requirement for a scientific qualitative assessment. It is now up to the Administrative Law Division of the Council of State to assess whether the PAS meets these requirements.They decided the PAN may not be used for giving permission for activities that emit nitrogen.
The uncertainty in the average nitrogen deposition on the Netherlands (GDN maps) calculated with the OPS model is estimated at around 30% . The uncertainty in local deposition is significantly higher at 70% (range: -50% to +100%). Moreover, there is a difference between the trends in calculated ammonia emissions and the trends in measured ammonia concentrations in the air. The differences have been investigated and corrected. Systematic errors can be eliminated by focusing on a reduction in nitrogen deposition (trend) when permitting new development. AERIUS , the software that calculates nitrogen emissions and deposition, makes use of available source data at the highest possible level of detail and scale, in particular for emission sources that are close to the Natura 2000 sites. AERIUS uses more detailed information than in the GDN maps, making the information more specific in the immediate vicinity of these sites.
In the PAN areas, only restoration measures may be used that have been thoroughly examined by a large number of scientists and also positively assessed by the international review committee, and their implementation and effects must be properly monitored. The interim evaluation of PAN concluded that there are risks that measures may not be implemented in a timely fashion because it is difficult to anticipate or account for setbacks. Hydrological measures and new habitat creation are comprehensive measures because they depend on the cooperation of surrounding landowners.
5. Stimulating sustainable use of natural capital and mainstreaming nature for the benefit of society and the economy
Policy documents like the Natural Capital Agenda and the letter to parliament on Green Growth assume that nature and the economy need each other. Dutch government policy is to reduce the impact on biodiversity while at the same time stimulating a more efficient sustainable use of natural capital, for example through public-private collaboration to scale up natural capital approaches, the development of a national natural capital account and use of the Atlas of Natural Capital. The Atlas of Natural Capital provides information to support and encourage sustainable use of our natural capital. Although it will be difficult for a heavily urbanised country like the Netherlands to reduce its international ecological footprint, serious efforts are underway to limit it as much as possible. Examples include the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) with the International Finance Corporation and direct agreements between businesses and civil society organisations, such as the national bee strategy and the Covenant to Promote Sustainable Forest Management. Reducing impacts on local ecosystems will be integrated within such agreements. These agreements pay special attention to the use of certification, such as FSC, and the effectiveness of sustainable use of ecosystems. The Dutch government is also in dialogue with business sectors in the Netherlands to sign up to international corporate social responsibility covenants. These covenants aim to reduce potential risks to human rights, labour rights and environmental protection in international supply chains.
Below we describe the results achieved. An increasing number of people and businesses are becoming involved in actions for conserving and increasing biodiversity. However, not all use of and trade in natural capital is sustainable yet (see Aichi Targets 4,6,7). It is difficult to assess whether or not the measures taken have been effective as causal relations and interactions between measures, results and targets are very complex. However, the results show that progress has been made and the measures are contributing to several targets. All things considered, we conclude from the results that the measures taken have been partially effective.
Public-private collaboration to scale up natural capital approaches
The government of the Netherlands is exploring possible joint actions with private partners, such as the Dutch employers’ federation VNO-NCW, the Royal Netherlands Institute of Chartered Accountants NBA, CSR Netherlands and IUCN Netherlands, to scale up natural capital approaches, in particular the Natural Capital Protocol developed by the Natural Capital Coalition. Actions include:
- implementing natural capital approaches in three sectors: agri-food, construction and chemicals;
- developing an online matchmaking and community platform for entrepreneurs working towards a sustainable balance for their business processes, biodiversity and ecosystems;
- support to IUCN Netherlands for developing and maintaining a community of science for natural capital and the One Planet Thinking initiative to promote the development and adoption of science-based targets by private players;
- support to the finance community for developing smart and responsible financing solutions.
Natural Capital Account for the Netherlands
The Dutch ministries of Agriculture, Nature & Food Quality and Infrastructure & Water Management have asked Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) to develop a national natural capital account based on the UN SEEA EEA framework. A first full account will be ready in 2019.
Atlas of Natural Capital
One of the actions of the Natural Capital Agenda (Min. EZ & Min. I&M, 2013) is the development of the digital Atlas of Natural Capital (ANK) in the Netherlands. The Atlas of Natural Capital is an initiative of the former Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environmen