Nature, landscape and biodiversity

Trends in quality of natural habitats, 1994 - 2012

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Since 1994, the average ecological quality of many types of natural habitats in the Netherlands has deteriorated, although the rate of deterioration has decreased in recent years. Forests and semi-natural grasslands are not showing any significant quality decline.

Conservation and development of ecological values

Conservation and development of national and international ecological values is one of the objectives of the Dutch Government's policy. These values are mainly concentrated in the Natura 2000 areas and the other parts of the network of natural areas in the Netherlands (Natuurnetwerk Nederland), which is called Ecologische Hoofdstructuur (EHS; National Ecological Network) in Dutch law. Nevertheless, ecological values are also present outside these natural areas. Under the recent conservation covenant called Natuurakkoord, the Dutch Government has transferred the responsibility for implementing nature policy within the network of natural areas to the provincial authorities.

New system to monitor ecological quality

The provincial authorities provide subsidies for habitat management, through the Subsidiestelsel Natuur en Landschapsbeheer (IPO-SNL; subsidy system for nature and landscape management). The SNL system is based on habitat types and management types, which are defined in a nationally uniform 'natural habitats terminology system' developed by habitat management organisations, agricultural and private organisations and governments at various levels. This terminology has been incorporated in the Index Natuur en Landschap (index of nature and the landscape) and constitutes the basis for the provincial authorities' habitat management plans. The Index describes the types of natural and agricultural habitats and landscapes found in the Netherlands. The provincial authorities are currently developing a system to monitor habitat quality.

Assessments show deteriorating ecological quality

Existing ecological monitoring networks to assess the presence of target species can provide an overall indication of the average quality of a number of ecosystem types (Netwerk Ecologische Monitoring or NEM). Conclusions at the level of specific habitat or management types used in the SNL system will only become possible when the provincial authorities have completed a supplementary mapping of ecological quality with complete coverage.
As a complement to this anticipated mapping of natural areas, the NEM monitoring results can remain useful for presenting annual trends. Assessments have shown that the quality of several ecosystem types has deteriorated since 1994, although the rate of deterioration appears to be decreasing in recent years. Forests and semi-natural grasslands are not showing any significant quality decline. The ecological quality of wetlands has stabilised in recent years, after a dramatic decline. The quality of heathlands and dune areas has been declining gradually.

Ecological quality relative to intact ecosystems

The assessments also show that the ecological quality of Dutch natural habitats is lower than what one would expect in intact ecosystems. The average quality of the various ecosystem types is about 40% of that expected in intact ecosystems. The main threats to the conservation of intact ecosystems in the Netherlands are eutrophication by fertilisers, acidification, water table drawdown, poor water quality and the lack of spatial coherence. Although environmental and water quality conditions in natural areas have improved since 1990, sustainable levels have not yet been achieved. Since environmental and spatial conditions are not yet ideal, the ecological quality of natural habitats is poor and is even declining further in many cases. The exact causes of these declines differ for the various ecosystem types.

Relevant objectives and national concerns from the long-term vision for infrastructure and spatial planning (Structuurvisie Infrastructuur en Ruimte)

Objective: safeguarding a liveable and safe environment which preserves unique natural and historical values (liveable and safe).
National Concern: opportunities for preserving and reinforcing unique national and international historical and natural qualities.


Relevant information

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Reference for this page

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2014). Trends in quality of natural habitats, 1994 - 2012 (indicator 2052, version 05 , 25 June 2014 ). 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.