Ecosystem goods and services in the Netherlands, 2013

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Dutch society makes use of a variety of goods and services provided by ecosystems - commonly referred to as ecosystem services. The results show that in no case do ecosystems in the Netherlands meet the total demand for these goods and services. The trend in many ecosystem services over the past 25 years has been negative: demand has risen faster than supply. Even when these goods are imported and technical alternatives are used, some of the remaining demand still cannot be met. Despite the limited area of natural areas in the Netherlands, these areas still make the biggest contribution to a large number of ecosystem services in the Netherlands

Ecosystem services

Many of the goods and services provided to society by nature and the landscape go largely unnoticed. Examples include coastal protection by the dunes, pollination of crops by insects and underground sources of clean drinking water. We use the collective term 'ecosystem services' to mean the capacity of ecosystems to provide goods and services. This capacity of ecosystems is usually divided into (1) the provision of goods, such as wood, (2) the regulation of processes, such as the purification of water, and (3) the supply of cultural services, such as space for outdoor recreation.

Volumes of ecosystem services do not meet demand and are often in decline

The availability and trends in the supply of ecosystem goods and services in the Netherlands over the past 20 to 25 years differ according to the type of ecosystem service (see Figure, sheet 1). None of the goods and services provided meets the total demand and some satisfy just a small part of the demand.
The trend in many ecosystem services over the past 20 to 25 years has been negative - demand outstrips supply - and the demand for most of these ecosystem services has risen. Climate change in particular seems to be pushing up demand for water storage, coastal protection, climate control in cities, carbon sequestration and erosion prevention. The demand for erosion prevention has also increased as a result of agricultural intensification. The demand for food has increased due to population growth and changes in consumption patterns, and the demand for outdoor recreation has increased because the population has increased and people have more free time as the population ages.
Besides these trends in demand, the supply of ecosystem services is also changing. In the production services category, the provision of food and energy has increased, while supplies of drinking water and non-drinking water (e.g. for household uses like washing and irrigation, and for use in agriculture and industry) have declined. In the regulatory services category reductions have occurred in soil fertility, carbon sequestration and pest control. These reductions are due in part to the intensification of agricultural production.

Delivery of services also possible via imports or technology

The demand for some ecosystem services can also be met by imports or the use of technology (Figure sheet 2). Food, wood and biomass for energy generation are goods that can be transported and are imported to meet our needs. About 30% of the food consumed and 90% of the wood used in the Netherlands is imported. Some of the biomass used for energy generation is also imported. This puts pressure on natural capital outside the Netherlands (international ecological footprint). It is generally not possible to import regulatory and cultural services, because they have to be delivered at the places where there is demand for them. Various regulatory services can also be provided by technological alternatives. For example, dikes are built to protect the coast (instead of dunes), pesticides are used to control pests (instead of natural enemies), and honey bee colonies and commercially bred bumblebees are used to pollinate crops (instead of wild pollinators).
Where imports and technology cannot provide adequate alternatives, some of the demand remains unsatisfied. This is mainly the case for the regulatory and cultural services. In the case of water storage, this leads to flooding or drought in some areas. In the case of carbon sequestration, it means higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, leading to further warming. For the natural heritage, it means that some species are threatened with extinction.

Natural areas make a major contribution to the supply of ecosystem services

Natural areas, agricultural land and urban areas all contribute to ecosystem services in their own ways and to different degrees. Natural areas deliver the broadest range of ecosystem services. Relatively speaking, they also provide the largest proportions of many ecosystem services (see Figure sheet 3), despite the fact that the area of natural habitat is considerably smaller than the area of agricultural or urban land. Agricultural land is now relatively monofunctional and therefore supplies just a few ecosystem services. The urban area makes a limited contribution to the total supply of ecosystem services in the Netherlands. The degree to which goods and services are provided or can be combined in one place depends on the use of the land and how it is managed.

Policy on ecosystem services

In its vision on nature (The Natural Way Forward / Rijksnatuurvisie 2014), the Dutch Government has broadened the scope of nature policy to put greater emphasis on the functional value of nature, which is referred to as the country's natural capital. The functional value of nature consists of the goods and services it can provide.
The Natural Capital Agenda (Uitvoeringsagenda Natuurlijk Kapitaal, 2013) contains actions that can be taken by the government and social partners in addition to the implementation of current policy in order to achieve the government's overall objective: the conservation and sustainable and fair use of the natural capital in 2020.

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Reference of this webpage

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2024). Ecosystem goods and services in the Netherlands, 2013 (indicator 1572, version 01,

) 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.