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Environment

Spatial connectivity of the National Ecological Network, 1990- 2012

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Robust areas in terms of land use conditions are the Veluwe (large ice-pushed ridges of sandy heaths, forests and sand drifts north of Arnhem), the Utrechtse Heuvelrug (forested ridge to the east of Utrecht) and various areas of coastal dunes. The increase in the total area of wildlife habitat since 1990 has also improved the spatial connectivity of ecosystems in the Netherlands. However, a considerable part of the National Ecological Network (NEN) consists of areas that are still too small or fragmented to support stable populations.

Spatial connectivity of natural areas insufficient for many species

The aim of Dutch nature conservation policy is to ensure sustainable conditions for the conservation of all species and populations that were present in the country in 1982. Enabling long-term survival of plant and animal species requires two spatial conditions to be met: conservation of habitats and opportunities to move between habitats. Spatial conditions are insufficient if a habitat area is too small or too fragmented. Many species are on the Red List due to insufficient connections between the habitats they depend on. Although the increase in the area of natural habitats has been accompanied by improved spatial connectivity, this improvement is currently not meeting its target.

Natural areas differ in robustness

The level of spatial connectivity differs between the various natural areas in the Netherlands. Some of these areas are too small or too internally fragmented to provide a sustainable habitat for the species living in them. Some other areas are potentially large enough or are sufficiently interconnected, but their potential is not realised in the current situation of high environmental pressure. Examples of robust areas include the Veluwe and Utrechtse Heuvelrug and various coastal dune areas. Many of these areas have been designated as protected sites under the European Birds and/or Habitats Directives.

National and provincial governments try to improve spatial connectivity

The revised National Ecological Network (Natuurnetwerk Nederland) aims at creating a coherent network of natural areas. This is the most important Dutch contribution to the international efforts to stop the decline in biodiversity. The 2013 Nature Pact agreement (Natuurpact) includes agreements between the national and provincial governments on nature policy and the growth of the NEN. The area covered by newly created habitats is to continue to expand by 40,000 hectares in the period to 2027, while about 80,000 hectares will be converted to nature. This partly involves the conversion of land that has been acquired before. The agreements between the national and provincial governments also mention increasing the spatial connectivity between natural areas. The provincial governments will elaborate plans for this in the next few years. In addition, the national government will complete its multi-year programme for the defragmentation of natural habitats (Meerjarenprogramma Ontsnippering) in order to remove the 215 local barriers caused by national infrastructure, which are hampering connectivity within the NEN. New infrastructure is to be planned in such a way as to fit within the statutory requirements.

Policy objectives

A precondition for the sustainable conservation of biodiversity is spatial connectivity to allow plant and animal species to move between habitat patches. Biodiversity conservation is an important goal of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as well as the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The Netherlands has international commitments to the objectives of the CBD and the Birds and Habitats Directives (Natura 2000).

The Dutch government's national spatial policy is contained in the 2012 National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning (Structuurvisie Infrastructuur en Ruimte, SVIR). Spatial connectivity supports the following goals and national interests set out in the SVIR:

  • Guarantee a safe environment in which it is pleasant to live, and in which unique natural and cultural heritage values are preserved (liveable and safe).
  • National interest 11: Room for a national network of wildlife habitats to aid the survival and development of flora and fauna.

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Reference for this page

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2016). Spatial connectivity of the National Ecological Network, 1990- 2012 (indicator 1523, version 05 , 15 September 2016 ). 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.