Ecological Evaluation of Nature Conservation Schemes operated under the Stewardship Programme and Forestry Commission 2000-2006
The overall ecological quality of the natural environment in The Netherlands has improved, with exception of the agricultural areas. In order to improve the effect of Nature Conservation Schemes including the agri-environment schemes, conservation activities in the agricultural and nature areas should be more spatial coherent. Conservation activities by farmers could be more effective when it would focus on National Landscapes and areas that are most suitable from an ecological point of view.The international and national conservation targets for nature areas can only be realized in nature reserves. But also for these reserves, policy makers and managers must aim at large, spatial coherent reserves with improved environmental quality. Furthermore, the effectiveness will improve when the complexity of the Schemes is reduced.
The ecological effectiveness of nature management schemes in The Netherlands
The Dutch government bears the final responsibility for the quality of the natural environment in the Netherlandsand provides subsidies for nature conservation and management. But is the natural environment any better as a result? Are rare species and ecosystems less vulnerable because the government spends 120 million euro each year on nature conservation? This question lies at the heart of the report 'Ecological evaluation of nature conservation schemes.'
The evaluation covers the Stewardship Programme, the subsidy scheme under which the Dutch government, the Nature Preservation Society (Natuurmonumenten), the provincial Landscape Authorities (de provinciale Landschappen), local government, farmers and other private land owners manage nature reserves and conservation areas. Of the 120 million euro yearly, 36% of this amount is spent on agri-environment schemes (costs for acquisition of land for nature reserves is excluded here). The evaluation also covers the conservation work of the Forestry Commission, an independent administrative body that has agreements with the central government regarding its funding and performance in nature conservation targets.
Dutch nature reserves are strongly fragmentized in the densely populated and used countryside of the Netherlands. Protection and management of the small and isolated reserves is not enough to guarantee the conservation of the Dutch biodiversity required by the international and national standards which are described as national conservation targets. Therefore, the Dutch government is buying agricultural land and giving subsidy to farmers and private land owners to protect the present biodiversity and develop new reserves in such a way that the fragmented sites with large biodiversity are laying in a robust and sustainable network.
Result-based funding: payment only for minimum biodiversity results
The issue of ecological effectiveness is important because the subsidy schemes for nature conservation and management have, from the year 2000, changed from input-based funding to result-based funding. This means that nature managers are no longer paid a fixed amount per hectare, but rather an amount depending on the type of nature reserve and a minimum biodiversity that they commit to. After the first subsidy period of 6 years, the government wanted to evaluate the ecological results. These ecological results based on field measurements are, in this evaluation, compared with the targets required by the schemes and with the national conservation targets on biodiversity. These conservation targets are specified on maps, as well as in corresponding descriptions of ecosystems and their characteristic rare species.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality has recently delegated the direction of the Stewardship Programme to the provincial authorities. They may use the results of this evaluation, particularly in consideration of any changes they may decide to implement.
Perspectives for more private-owned nature limited
A Dutch government policy target is to realise 42,000 ha new nature in the year 2018 by compensating private owners for converting arable land into land under nature protection and management regulations. From the year 2000 up till now, only 4000 ha has been realised, making the target for 2018 seemingly unfeasible. Furthermore, this policy leads to more private land owners with smaller nature areas than the nature management and conservation organisations that make it more difficult to coordinate nature management. This will be especially important in improving the hydrological conditions for nature. As all land owners in an area must agree with restoring the natural water table.
Better location of resources, especially for agricultural nature, would be ecologically more effective
If the financial resources spent on agri-environmental schemes intended to achieve the national conservation targets, they would be much more effective if they were concentrated in areas that are the most suitable from an ecological point of view, backed up by more ecological ambitious scheme targets (with a correspondingly higher subsidy). The ecological effectiveness of agri-environment schemes targeted at plant biodiversity, in particular, could be raised by shifting these resources to the nature reserves under the Subsidy for Nature conservation (SN) scheme, where better environmental conditions can be achieved. Even there, it will be necessary to select favourable sites and create large spatial coherent areas.
Improving environmental conditions and increasing size of nature areas necessary
In more than 50% of the subsidised nature reserves, the national conservation targets have not yet been met. This is mainly due to inadequate environmental conditions like low water quality, the small size and the isolated location of many nature reserves. Provincial and state authorities will have to improve this situation.
Steering a course to required results could be better
Nature managers are only paid if they meet the criteria required by the regulations of the schemes. They themselves have few means for improving the environmental conditions necessary for achieving the national conservation targets on biodiversity. Since provincial and national authorities are, in the first place, responsible for good environmental conditions, these authorities should be held responsible for environmental conditions and the nature managers for application of the correct nature management measures.
Regulations for nature management need harmonisation of targets and monitoring
Targets and monitoring are not consistent in the different regulations, for example, the Dutch Stewardship Programme, the national conservation targets, the procedures of the Forestry Commission, and the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.
For example, although the managers and farmers have achieved their agreed scheme targets, the national conservation targets have not yet been achieved. Because of the variety of schemes and targets, politicians and policy-makers cannot check easily improvements in conservation and management. Furthermore, it would be more efficient if the monitoring of ecological results could be done by one or more professional organisations. The usefulness of monitoring improves when it is done by professionals according to one standard method, but allowing the local nature managers to continue monitoring so as to improve the effects of their measures.
MNP therefore concludes that the various schemes, targets, monitoring and reports need to be better synchronised. The provincial authorities, who have to run the Stewardship Programme from 2007 onwards, can contribute to better harmonisation. However, the central government can also play a role here, especially since this authority is ultimately responsible for fulfilling the (inter)national targets for biodiversity.
The contents of the report in brief
The ecological effectiveness of the various schemes has been examined using a variety of methods such as interviews and collection of field data and field measurements. This provides a view of the ecological effectiveness of the schemes for nature conservation and management. It can be seen, for example, that the biodiversity in nature reserves is increasing, while the biodiversity of the agricultural areas being managed by farmers is declining. On the basis of the findings, a number of conclusions have been drawn and policy options proposed which are designed to help further improve the schemes.
|Author(s)||Wiertz J ; Sanders ME (eds)|