Conservation and management of natural areas

Protected areas

In the Netherlands nature is protected in different ways. Many areas are part of the Dutch Nature network (previously called ‘ecological main structure’), Natura 2000, National Parks and/or National Landscapes. These areas are being protected by different laws and regulations. This is mainly determined by the type of nature present in these areas. This can be rare species, but more often it is about the entire living environment (the ‘ecosystem’) in which species are living together. Besides this, specific rules exist for certain important ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, large water bodies and coral reefs (in the Caribbean part of the Netherlands). Most relevant is the The Environment and Planning Act which on 1 January 2024 replaced the Nature Conservation Act (document only available in Dutch)

Further reading:

  • Natura 2000: information about the Dutch Governmental policy and further details about legislation and policy for protection of nature in the Netherlands.
  • Policy with respect to the Dutch National Ecological Network.
  • The 20 National Landscapes (website in Dutch) in the Netherlands (cultural heritage and Nature).
  • The 20 National Parks in the Netherlands. These are also part of the National Ecological Network. A National Park is a compact natural area of at least 1.000 hectares with rare species of plants and animals and a characteristic landscape. There is an international agreement to protect such areas. The management of a national park is being aimed at nature conservation and -development, nature oriented recreation, education and extension, and research. The parks are cooperating in the ‘cooperating national parks foundation’ (SNP).
  • Forests: About 10 % (360.000 hectares) of the Netherlands exists of forests. The Nature Conservation Act protects these forests. In this act it is provided that if one wishes to clear a forest, a registration is necessary with a provincial government. This provincial layer of government can issue a prohibition to clear the forest. If a permit is issued, new trees will have to be planted. Forests in majority are part of the Dutch National Ecological Network and can be part of National Parks or National Landscapes (see above). In 2020 the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the provinces launced a new national forest strategy until 2030 (in Dutch).
  • Wetlands: The Netherlands has some 1.000.000 hectares of wetlands which are protected by the international Ramsar treaty.
  • Conservation of major aquatic ecosystems: The Netherlands has several major aquatic ecosystems: the Waddenzee, the Southwestern Delta region, the IJsselmeer region, the North Sea, the coast and the major rivers. The government wants to safeguard the future of these aquatic ecosystems. In 2014 it has published an exploratory policy paper, with others, setting out a long-term vision on aquatic conservation with a view to  2050-2100 (in Dutch). See also the related letter to parliament.
  • The Wadden Sea (in Dutch) is on the world heritage list of UNESCO and also protected under the Ramsar treaty and the European Birds- and Habitat directives (Natura 2000 site; see above).
  • North Sea: The Dutch part of the North Sea is part of the National Ecological Network and partially also Natura 2000 area.

Nature in the Caribbean Netherlands

The Caribbean Netherlands is situated in one or the biodiversity hotspots in the world. Nature not only is enormously divers but also of importance to the economy and welfare of the islands. That is why the Nature Policy Plan for the Caribbean Netherlands emphasizes sustainable use of nature on the islands.

Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten just as the Netherlands are independent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The islands Bonaire, Saba en St. Eustatius (Statia) are are Dutch overseas public bodies and as such are part of the country of the Netherlands. These are known as Caribbean Netherlands and/or as BES islands. The Kingdom of the Netherlands is party to international treaties that are of importance to nature conservation in the Carribean, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol). The obligations that follow from these treaties are anchored in the Nature Conservation Framework Act BES (Wet grondslagen natuurbeheer en -bescherming BES, in Dutch). This law also regulates the distributions of executive power and responsibilities between the national government and the islands’ governing bodies. For the protection of marine resources the Fisheries Act BES (Visserijwet BES, in Dutch) and the Maritime Management Act BES (Wet Maritiem Beheer BES, in Dutch) complement the Nature legislation.

Every five years the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality must approve a Nature Policy Plan in consultation with the islands’ governing bodies. The Nature Policy Plan serves as the generic framework for the Nature policy. It contains goals, priorities, nature conservation values and a list of national parks both terrestrial as well as marine.

The first Nature Policy Plan Caribbean Netherlands 2013-2017 was adopted in April 2013 (see also the letter to parliament by the then state secretary Dijksma, in Dutch). This Plan approaches nature on the islands as an integral part of society. Nature on the Caribbean Islands is an important economic driving force. Starting point for the concrete actions in the plan therefor is that it still needs to be possible to sustainably make use of nature. Furthermore the protected and candidate protected areas are described. Under these are 3 candidate World heritage sites, 5 Ramsar locations (wetlands), 3 SPAW locations and 5 National Parks. The plan also provided for the implementation of measures related to mainstreaming of nature policy, communication, research and natural management and restoration. In 2020 the Nature and environment policy plan Caribbean Netherlands 2020 -2030 was published (see also the letter to parliament by minister Schouten, in Dutch).

Nature in Caribbean Netherlands suffers from overgrazing and the resulting erosion. Marine areas are threatened by pollution and coral bleaching as a result of climate change. Also invasive species, both terrestrial as well as marine are a serious threat to biodiversity. A total of 51 species are on the IUCN Red list of threatened species and are listed as ‘Critically endangered’ (CR), ‘Endangered’ (EN) or ‘Vulnerable’ (VU).

For the management of nature the islands’ governing body has set up management organizations: Stichting Nationale parken Bonaire (STINAPA Bonaire), Sint Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA) en Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF). These organizations are responsible for the planning and implementation of management plans and also have the authority to enforce these. Furthermore many non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and businesses are active, for example in relation to the protection of turtles and parrots.

The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) is a regional network which assists the nature conservation organizations in the Caribbean Netherlands in protecting nature and the enhancement of sustainable management of natural resources of the islands. DCNA functions as network between the islands, builds local capacity for nature conservation and represents the regional interests of the islands. Furthermore DCNA manages a fund to guarantee a sustainable financial future for the designated protected areas throughout the Caribbean Netherlands.

For Bonaire the value of nature in monetary terms was established: 105 million US dollars. 37 million dollars are the actual revenues to Bonaire. The rest of the amount is based on a so called willingness to pay study. This is a study into the willingness to pay of both residents of the Netherlands as well as Caribbean residents for the maintenance of nature on Bonaire. This shows that nature is a major source of income of the island which is worth to be protected. The study was part of the TEEB program (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity).

Management of protected areas

In order to maintain their natural and landscape values, nature reserves in the Netherlands are being managed. Forests for example are being rejuvenated by planting new trees or by natural recruitment of young trees. Heathlands are grazed or sod cutting is being applied on a regular basis. Waterflows are being regulated. All these measures and their purposes are laid down in management plans. The responsibility for these plans lies with the owners or management organizations. The government (since 2013 at provincial level) sets the overall goals and targets.

Many nature reserves that are part of the National Ecological Network, Natura 2000 or beyond are being managed by nature conservation organizations such as Staatsbosbeheer, Natuurmonumenten (website in Dutch), en de Provinciale Landschappen (website in Dutch).

These are also called are ‘areas management organizations’. Staatsbosbeheer manages over 270.000 hectares of forests and nature reserves owned by the state. The other organizations are private associations or foundations which jointly manage over 215.000 hectares. Rijkswaterstaat manages substantive aquatic nature conservation areas (some 70% of Natura 2000 surface area in the Netherlands exist of water).

The ministry of Defense manages about 30.000 hectares of nature conservation areas on military training grounds. The rest of nature reserves and conservation areas are owned by municipalities, water boards, drinking water companies, financial institutions and individuals. They manage these areas themselves or hire a steward or other professional manager.

Private owners such as farmers, estate- forest or nature reserve owners and recreational entrepreneurs can give their lands a legal ‘nature reserve’ status. They then are entitled to receive compensation if the real estate value of their lands has diminished due to this change in function status. Also they can receive a subsidy to shape their terrain (for example by ecological restoration measures). This can for example through the so called ‘Quality impulse for Nature and Landscape’ subsidy scheme (in Dutch: Subsidieregeling Kwaliteitsimpuls voor Natuur en Landschap (SKNL). Many private owners are united in different interest groups, such as ‘the federation of private land ownership’ (in Dutch: Federatie Particulier Grondbezit - FPG), the ‘foundation for management of Nature and Rural area’ (in Dutch: de Stichting Beheer Natuur en Landelijk gebied - SBNL), and the ‘Union of Forest Groups' (in Dutch: Unie van Bosgroepen).

Private owners under certain prerequisites can apply for subsidies for the management of their nature reserves or conservation areas. This can for example through the so called ‘Subsidy system Nature and Landscape (SNL)’ (in Dutch: Subsidiestelsel Natuur en Landschap, SNL).

The ‘Dutch National Fund for Green Investments’ (in Dutch: Nationaal Groenfonds) was founded in 1994 by provinces and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. It offers and developpes financial facilities for nature, forest and landscape. For public parties such as local governments, but also for private parties and individuals.