Realisation of the national ecological network - land acquisition and conversion, 1990-2018

On 1 January 2019 more than 111,000 hectares of land had been acquired (including land for which the designated land use has been changed) for realising the national ecological network. Between 1 January 2011 and 1 January 2019 more than 19,000 hectares of agricultural land had been acquired or the designated land use changed without prior acquisition, and almost 39,000 hectares had been converted to new nature.

Land acquisition and conversion to new nature increasing gradually

The area of agricultural land acquired for conversion to new nature has increased gradually since 1990. In 2018 1,781 ha of agricultural land within the national ecological network became available for conversion to new nature. Some of this land was acquired by the provincial governments and some has remained in private ownership. The land has been designated for nature conservation (under the planning legislation in legally binding land use plans and by notarial instrument imposing an obligation that runs with the land) and financial compensation provided for the reduction in the value of the land in question (= change of designated use with subsidy). Although the subsidy to compensate for this change in designated land use has been retained following the decentralisation of tasks to the provinces, the specific targets for conservation management by private landowners have been dropped. Since 2015 these changes of use have not been reported by the provinces in a clear and consistent way.

In 2018 a total of 3,029 hectares agricultural land were converted to nature (LNV & IPO 2019). In 2016 this was more than 5,000 hectares and in 2017 less than 2000 hectares (LNV &IPO 2019). The completion rate was therefore less than in 2016, but more than in 2017. If progress continues at the same rate as in the last four years (see figure) the conversion of the target of 80,000 hectares will not be achieved until 2030 (PBL & WUR 2020). The provinces also indicated that in the years immediately following the revision of nature policy, the conversion of agricultural land to nature progressed rapidly because much land had already been acquired before 2011. Moreover, it can be expected that acquiring agricultural land and changing the designated use of private land for the purpose of creating new nature will become more difficult in the years to come because it is dependent on the goodwill and cooperation of landowners (PBL & WUR 2017; PBL & WUR 2020). It is therefore unlikely that the average rate of progress can be maintained without additional efforts.

The graph of conversion of agricultural land to new nature shows a dip in 2002 and a further dip in 2006. The ‘baseline survey’ project showed that some of the converted land did not yet meet the requirements of the target natural habitats and as a result these areas were no longer registered as ‘adequately converted’.

Changes to the original national ecological network

In 1990 the national government estimated that the area of existing natural and semi-natural habitat in the national ecological network (NEN) was 450,000 hectares (LNV 1990). At that time, the additional area to be realised by 2018 was about 250,000 hectares. This has been achieved by the conversion to new nature (approx. 100,000 ha acquisition of semi-natural reserves and 50,000 ha of habitat creation and agri-environment schemes or farmland conservation management (about 100,000 hectares).

The new objectives for the conservation and improvement of nature in the Netherlands for the period to 2027 are set out in the Nature Pact, which was prepared jointly by the national government and the provincial governments (EZ & provincies, 2013). Most of the provinces have redrawn the boundaries of the NEN in their territories. As a result of the revision of nature policy, the area of land in the NEN on the map that is protected under the planning legislation is about 758,000 hectares (excluding the large water bodies). However, the NEN as delineated on the map has not been fully realised. According to the fifth progress report on nature, in 2018 a total of approx. 695,000 ha (92% of the defined NEN on the map) were under conservation management and therefore considered realised. In the Nature Pact (EZ, 2013) it has been agreed that in the period 2011–2027 the provinces will convert at least 80,000 ha to nature in order to complete the NEN. In 2011 40,000 hectares of this area still had to be acquired or brought under private conservation management following a change of designated use. Not all of the land within the current boundaries of the network will be converted to nature; a small area is still formally a search area for new nature and a small area will be subject to agri-environment management. On 1 January 2027 the minimum area of natural and semi-natural habitat within the designated NEN is expected to be 736,000 ha (LNV et al. 2019).

Besides this terrestrial network, all the large water bodies, including the Wadden Sea, IJsselmeer lake, the delta waters of Zeeland and the territorial waters of the North Sea are included in the NEN.

National ecological network has been a key measure of nature policy for 30 years

The restoration and conservation of biodiversity is an important national and international policy objective under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Creating and managing a coherent network is one of the main strategies of Dutch nature policy.

The national ecological network is a network of existing natural and semi-natural habitats, and agricultural land to be converted to nature. It was introduced in the 1990 Nature Policy Plan by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Conservation Management and Fisheries. The aim of this network is to halt the decline in the area of natural and semi-natural habitat and the loss of biodiversity, to maintain the existing areas and biodiversity, and to improve biodiversity through the creation of a coherent network of protected areas. This is being achieved by increasing the size of natural areas and linking them together by acquiring the surrounding agricultural land and agricultural enclaves for conversion to nature. Large contiguous natural areas are also favourable for improving water and environmental conditions. The provinces are responsible for realising the terrestrial network. The national government is responsible for the national ecological network in the large water bodies.


Archive for this indicator

Reference for this page

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2021). Realisation of the national ecological network - land acquisition and conversion, 1990-2018 (indicator 1307, version 14 , 8 November 2021 ). www.environmentaldata.nl. Statistics Netherlands (CBS), The Hague; PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague; RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven; and Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen.

The Environmental Data Compendium is a partnership of CBS, PBL, RIVM and WUR.