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

On 1 January 2021 the area of land acquired for realising the national ecological network (including land for which the designated land use has been changed) had increased to more than 115,000 hectares. Between 1 January 2011 and 1 January 2022 almost 23,000 ha were acquired or the designated land use changed without prior acquisition, and more than 44,000 ha were converted to new nature.

Land acquisition and conversion to new nature increasing gradually

The area of land acquired for conversion to new nature (habitat creation) has gradually increased since 1990. In 2020, 2,050 ha of agricultural land within the national ecological network became available for conversion to nature. Some of this area was acquired by the provincial governments and some has remained in private ownership. This land has been designated for nature conservation (under the planning legislation in legally binding local land use plans or 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 designated use have not been reported by the provinces in a clear and consistent way. In 2020 a total of 2,850 hectares were converted to nature (LNV & IPO 2021). In 2016 the area converted to nature amounted to more than 5,000 hectares and in 2017 less than 2,000 hectares (LNV & IPO 2019). The completion rate in 2020 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 full 80,000 hectares will not be completed until 2030 (PBL & WUR 2020). The provinces also indicated that in the years immediately following the revision of nature policy, the conversion of land to nature progressed rapidly because much land had already been acquired before 2011. Moreover, it is expected that acquiring land and changing the designated use of private land for the purpose of creating new nature will become more difficult in the coming years because it is dependent on the goodwill and cooperation of landowners (PBL & WUR 2017, 2020). It is therefore unlikely that the average rate of progress can be maintained without additional efforts.
The graph of conversion 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 'sufficiently 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 through conversion of agricultural land to new nature (approx. 100,000 ha of semi-natural reserves and 50,000 ha of habitat creation) and through agri-environment schemes or farmland conservation management (approx. 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 reviewed the boundaries of the NEN in their territories. As a result of the revision of nature policy, the area of land within the boundaries of the NEN that is protected under the planning legislation is about 769,000 ha (excluding the large water bodies). However, the NEN as delineated on the map has not been fully realised. According to the seventh progress report on nature, in 2020 a total of approx. 698,000 ha (91% of the land within the boundaries of the NEN as delineated on the map and 95% of the NEN that is expected to be realised in 2027) were under conservation management and therefore considered realised. In the Nature Pact (EZ 2013) it has been agreed that from 2011 to 2027 the provinces will convert at least 80,000 hectares to new nature to complete the network. In 2011 40,000 hectares of this land still had to be acquired for conversion to new nature or brought under private conservation management following a change of designated use (IPO 2015). Not all of the land within the current boundaries of the NEN 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 or other forms of nature-inclusive farming. On 31 December 2027 the minimum area of natural and semi-natural habitat within the designated NEN is expected to be approx. 734,000 ha (LNV et al. 2021). 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 the cornerstone 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, Nature 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 area 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 quality and environmental conditions. The provinces are responsible the realising the terrestrial network. The national government is responsible for the national ecological network in the large water bodies.


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Reference for this page

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2022). Realisation of the national ecological network - land acquisition and conversion, 1990-2018 (indicator 1307, version 15 , 14 October 2022 ). 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.