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The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

Cheryl de Boer, Hans

Cheryl de Boer, Hans Bressers RIVER RENATURALIZATION AS A STRATEGY FOR ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS RIVER RENATURALIZATION AS A STRATEGY FOR ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS Cheryl de Boer and Hans Bressers University of Twente CSTM – Twente Centre for Studies in Technology and Sustainable development PO Box 217, 7500 AE, Enschede, The Netherlands c.deboer@utwente.nl, hansbressers@utwente.nl ABSTRACT Rivers in the Netherlands often form linkages between cities. These linkages also provide an opportunity to create natural linkage zones that connect nature and green spaces. This article portrays the collaborative and cooperative strategies which are being used by water managers, nature managers and provincial governments to accomplish significant ecological network development alongside projects aimed at river renaturalization. These strategies provide an approach with which to address the complex and dynamic implementation setting in which such projects need to be realized. 1 INTRODUCTION In the Netherlands, there are three policy sets which we consider to directly support the greenbelt approach. Firstly, there is the set of policies in place for the protection of the remaining open space located between the larger cities in the west of the country which is referred to as the Green Heart. Secondly, policies exist to contain urban sprawl all over the country and endeavouring to maintain the rural nature of the countryside. And thirdly there are the policies which are connected to the EU Nature policies which enable the connection of existing yet fragmented nature areas. All three policy spheres are currently under pressure by debates on their value in comparison to development, decentralization and budget cuts. Nevertheless, their impact on Dutch land use has been remarkable. With respect to all three policies it holds that the sheer density of the Dutch population and its economic activities makes them both particularly necessary and especially hard to implement. In this article we concentrate on the policies related to the EU nature policies, and more specifically on the implementation strategies that are used to enable using rivers and river banks for their potential to serve as ecological linkage zones. We concentrate on the renaturalization of the Regge River, a 50 kilometer tributary river in the Dutch Vecht River basin. With the exception of the River Rhine, the Vecht River is by far the largest crossboundary river between Germany and The Netherlands. In the next section we provide some background on the relevant Dutch policy context, followed by a description of the Regge River case and a specific project as an example. In closing, the management strategies that we have identified are presented. 2 GREENBELT POLICIES IN THE NETHERLANDS In the early 1900’s the majority of the “wild” nature in the Netherlands consisted of raised bogs and heathlands. Over the next seventy years, these areas were generally destroyed through land developments which involved the implementation of ditches, dykes, fields, tree paths, etc. in order to support the increasing demand for agricultural, residential and industrial lands. Forested land cover area did increase over this period, however it was mainly through 96

Cheryl de Boer, Hans Bressers RIVER RENATURALIZATION AS A STRATEGY FOR ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS the increase use of planted production forests and did not by far compensate for the area lost to development. Government led land consolidation programs led to extreme disruption of small scale landscapes in the countryside and a further fragmentation of remaining nature areas. In the same period a vast majority of all river streams has being straightened. Beginning in the 1970’s a major shift occurred in the environmental, nature and spatial policy spheres of the Netherlands. Previously strong agricultural powers and related planning models began to shift in favour of more protection for nature. This resulted in stronger policies to protect the “Green Heart” of the Randstad metropolitan area which has a population of 7 million and contains Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and many more closely linked cities. Similar policies began being used to fight urban sprawl all over the country, creating hard boundaries between the built-up and “rural” areas and in essence, the development of local greenbelts began. It is mainly for this reason that much of the Netherlands appears quite rural, even in areas that are in close proximity to cities and towns. Apart from the influence of these policies, natural greenbelts are under construction in many areas in the Netherlands. In the late eighties, Dutch nature protection NGOs realized that their work was only slowing down continuous incremental intrusions into nature areas. They then proposed a more offensive strategy which was based on re-linking the fragmented nature areas through the introduction of new natural connection zones. In recent years, European nature, environment and water policies are increasingly shaping developments in the Dutch countryside. Dutch targets for the quality of water, nature, soil and air are largely determined by agreements and guidelines drawn up in EU and other international contexts. The attainment of the goals set out in the EU Natura 2000 directive in a densely populated and fragmented country such as the Netherlands, can be extremely costly. Unused or inexpensive lands are not often available to be set aside for these purposes. Improving the value of nature and biodiversity thus requires that every opportunity needs to be taken in a strategic and efficient manner. This can be done through enabling and supporting multifunctional land use, combining various “greenbelt-like” functions wherever possible and especially in areas that form connections to other natural areas. In this article we concentrate on rivers and their surrounding floodplains as the natural candidates for ecological linkages. Their renaturalization is important for optimizing the value of the land and is as well in line with the development of a climate resilient and natural water system which can deal with increasing irregularities in rainfall and move towards achieving the WFD quality criteria. At the national level, the National Ecological Network (EHS – Ecologische Hoofd Structuur) has been designed to contain all current and desired natural areas and pathways that are seen as necessary to protect and to create in order to meet the EU requirements. The new conservative cabinet which came into power in 2010 has decided to make deep cuts in nature protection and development budgets. The further implementation of this 20 year old policy has thus become much more difficult. Through research conducted on stream restoration projects in the Netherlands, it became clear that the development of the National Ecological Network was being accomplished in some parts through the partnering of activities aimed at increasing flood protection, water quality and recreational opportunities. This article portrays the collaborative and cooperative strategies which are being used by water managers, nature managers and provincial governments to accomplish significant ecological network development alongside projects aimed at river renaturalization 97

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