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Nature, landscapes and biodiversity


Veenontginning in NederlandPeat harvesting in The Netherlands, landscape near Utrecht


Interaction between people and nature

Landscapes are created through the unique interaction between people and nature, and many of the landscapes currently found in the Netherlands are man-made. Examples are the reclamation and cultivation of peatlands, marshlands and dunes, and the impoldering and canalisation of water bodies.

  1. What is the importance of landscape?
  2. What policy is in place for landscape?
  3. How is the landscape changing?
  4. What are the causes of change?
  5. What can policy do to protect and develop landscape?

1. What is the importance of landscape?

A place to live, work and play

The landscape represents a certain cultural value and experience and utilisation value. Naturalness (presence of greenery) and historical elements are important positive landscape characteristics. The elements that are being negatively assessed include urbanisation and visual pollution.

When asked about their favourite location that would contain water, greenery or nature, half of the people in the Netherlands named a land-based nature area. Other often-mentioned places are located in agricultural cultural landscapes and large bodies of water.

Many of the areas most mentioned, such as the coast, the Veluwe, and the hilly landscape of Limburg, appear to also be those that contain many recreational facilities. Therefore, there is a relationship between landscape appreciation and the economy. Around a third of the economic value of tourists staying in the Netherlands is related to nature areas.

Link to infographic: 'Favorite locations in the environs in relation to nature areas'
Link to infographic: 2'Favorite locations in the environs in relation to nature areas'

2. What policy is in place for landscape?

Provinces and municipalities taking the initiative

In the Netherlands, landscape policy recently has been decentralised and, thus, become the responsibility of provinces and municipalities. This also applies to the policy on the Dutch national landscapes and national parks, as well as to the subsidies on landscape management. The Netherlands is one of the many signatory to the European Landscape Convention, under which participating countries are obliged to formulate landscape policy and to integrate the subject into other policy areas. 

3. How is the landscape changing?

Loss of identity

Landscapes are changing, all over the world. Important developments in the Netherlands are:

  • The identity or characteristics of various types of landscapes are declining. Since 1990, close to 10% of characteristic landscape elements has disappeared.  
  • The history of the development of the landscape is becoming increasingly difficult to recognise from the pattern of land parcellation and the types or terrain and settlements. Between 1990 and 2003, an estimated 13% of the natural topographical relief has been affected.
  • The total area of ‘very open landscapes’ decreased by 3.5%, between 1990 and 2000, due to urban expansion, forest plantations, horticulture and the development of nature areas.  
  • The landscape is becoming cluttered by the visually disruptive elements, such as wind turbines and factory farming systems. Expansion of dispersed housing construction and infrastructure is causing the increased fragmentation and urbanisation of the landscape.

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4. What are the causes of change?

Intensification of use

The underlying causes of the changing landscape include population growth and the demand for food, certainly from a global perspective. This leads to urbanisation, infrastructure development and natural land cultivation for agricultural uses. Furthermore, the intensity of the use of land and forested areas in increasing. In the Netherlands, the following factors play a particular role:

  • In the coming years, changes in agriculture, particularly scale increases, will remain the largest force in landscape development.
  • Measures to ensure water safety will have an impact on the Dutch landscape. Examples are coastal reinforcements and dykes, as well as water retention basins.
  • In the coming years, changes in energy supply will have a large impact on the landscape; for example, in the form of wind turbines.
  • The pressure on space within the Randstad will remain high, in the coming decades. In contrast, the number of inhabitants and households will decrease in other regions in the Netherlands. This shrinkage will also have its impact on the landscape.

5. What can policy do to protect and develop landscape?

Attention for landscape in other policy fields

Dutch Government policy has halted the further reduction in the size of natural landscapes. Conservation of landscape quality outside nature areas requires attention for a number of specific landscape characteristics and landscape policy:

  • Despite a large degree of social interest in the landscape, it is in a weak position, compared to other policy areas. It is a common good, without a clearly defined owner, which is why the free market mechanism is not leading to the desired conservation or development.
  • Landscape policy is too weak and vague to offer adequate protection. Stimulating measures and policy intentions are no match for the legal framework and the financial instruments of many of the red functions.
  • Enforcement of policy needs to take place on a local level, where priorities, capacity and knowledge are often lacking.

The landscape is highly affected by agreements and legislation in other policy fields, such as agriculture, spatial planning, nature conservation and infrastructure. Such policy may contain agreements on areas where conservation and development of new landscape quality is an issue.

For more information