Rli: ‘Biodiversity crisis just as big as climate crisis’

Dutch nature policy falls short. The quality of nature and biodiversity are declining as a result, which affects farms and the food supply, says André van der Zande of the Council for the Living Environment and Infrastructure (Rli). He speaks of a major crisis.

Last week, the Rli published the advice ‘Nature Inclusive Netherlands’. In this advice, intended for the government, the council is scathing about nature policy in the Netherlands. From agricultural areas to nature reserves and the cities, the quality of nature and biodiversity are declining everywhere. The failing nature policy has consequences for agriculture and horticulture, warns André van der Zande, chairman of the committee that prepared the Rli recommendation.

We need to get serious about rewarding green services

André van der Zande, Council for the Environment and Infrastructure

How bad is nature?

‘It is much worse than many people think. We argue that there is a biodiversity crisis as big as the climate crisis. It also deserves that urgency. Money and attention mainly go to Natura 2000 areas. It is not only about rare plants and animals, but also about the services that nature provides to society. Whether it concerns healthy soil, safe drinking water or pollination of food crops by insects. Many of these services are under great strain.

More of the same policy won’t work. This has led to this crisis and it will worsen to the point that it is irreversible.”

What does this crisis mean for agriculture?

‘It means that we run the risk that the natural fertilization of crops will have to be done completely artificially, as we do in greenhouses. We will have to do that outside too. It is not without reason that the bad situation for bees has received so much attention.

‘Soil fertility is also declining. With the depletion of agricultural lands, we are cutting our own natural resources. Livelihoods for farmers are served by vital ecosystems and a vital basic quality of nature.’

But there is still investment in nature. Is that insufficient?

‘Working even harder in Natura 2000 areas will not save nature and it will not stop the deforestation in nature in the rest of the Netherlands. All money and attention goes to Natura 2000 areas. The rest depends on voluntary initiatives by companies or municipalities. But that won’t save us.

‘The Netherlands often thinks highly of its nature policy, because there are quite a few good examples to mention. But we’re not doing very well at all. We are lagging behind in Europe. The European Nature Planning Office in Copenhagen shows this every time in reports. It just doesn’t get through.’

What does this mean in the long run?

‘We won’t see birds like the blackbird, the skylark and the swift anymore. We are left with a land of nettles, rats and coots. That’s not what everyone wants. But we want to get rid of the idea that these are only rare species. These are crucial services that nature provides us. That’s not going well.’

Can this development be reversed?

“We think there are opportunities. We are going to renovate the Netherlands for the climate, housing and water safety. We see enormous opportunities to include nature in that transformation and to use nature funds, the nitrogen fund and the climate fund much smarter and more effectively.’

How do you envision that?

‘We would like all public targets for nature, water and climate to be translated regionally. Design budgets must be established to enable the transformations in the region. This can involve a range of measures: the location of watercourses, the placement of intensive and less intensive companies, raising the water level in the peat meadow areas and so on. That should lead to a new organization of such a region.’

What does that do to the revenue model for farmers?

‘We have to take serious steps to reward green services that farmers provide. CO2 sequestration should generate money. This also applies to water storage. The government has to develop a system for that. This must be structural, not from year to year, otherwise entrepreneurs will not be able to adjust their business operations accordingly and also not receive a loan for it. Part of it has to go through the market and the chain, ie consumers.’

That’s quite a wrap.

‘You should not assume the situation as it is now. There really needs to be changes in the way agriculture is done. That is of all times. We say, ‘Don’t continue down the road of clearing and destroying ecosystem services.’ Society will not accept that. After the nitrogen crisis, we will then have the Water Crisis Framework Directive and the climate crisis if citizens go to court because farmers do not achieve the targets set.

‘I also think that there would be more peace among the population if the government dared to link the hectare allowance to a basic nature quality. Then there is a public service at a minimum level that you see in return. The allocation of the hectare allowance must be linked to efforts to achieve that area-oriented nature basic quality.’

Is this the right time for action?

‘We think so. It won’t be painless. Something really needs to be done. We have the feeling that this cabinet is shifting the flow because they are tired of always having to find goat paths that eventually turn out to be a dead end. We just want nature to have the urgency it deserves. Everyone is talking about the nitrogen crisis, but that is actually a natural crisis. It is about nature and ecosystems that must form a sustainable basis.

“This is an enormous time of change. There are budgets. The spirits are ripe. So we see it as an opportunity. We hope that the mainstream of farmers sees it that way too.’

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