A nature minister who lobbies against nature conservation, in the Netherlands it is possible

2023-06-09 10:27:00

The Netherlands is too densely populated for stricter nature requirements, said Minister Van der Wal The Financial Times. On behalf of the Netherlands, she is therefore lobbying against the new European Nature Restoration Act, supported by a motion from the House of Representatives that I wrote about earlier.

She fears that the Nature Restoration Act will make it more difficult to grant permits for activities that harm nature and the environment. The law obliges the government to actually ensure nature restoration, instead of just solemnly promising that – as is customary in this country.

At her side, our minister finds the European Christian Democrats and the agricultural industry. They are busy spreading all kinds of myths. For example, the Nature Restoration Act would threaten food security and damage the economy. A travesty, because according to leading science, nature restoration is necessary to make agriculture and the economy future-proof.

Few butterflies, hoverflies and other flower pollinators

I am very concerned about this lobby. Restoration of nature and the environment is urgently needed, because many of our ecosystems are currently being hit hard, even though they are often very vulnerable. That combination is dangerous. If nature no longer has enough resilience to recover from blows, ecosystems can be irreparably damaged. That could just be at the expense of our species richness.

For example, nature lovers – myself included – have noticed that there are remarkably few butterflies, hoverflies and other flower pollinators this year. Richly flowering roadsides, grasslands and gardens that should be buzzing with insect life in May and June are now remarkably quiet.

Their impression is confirmed by the Butterfly Foundation, which coordinates the national butterfly monitoring network: hundreds of fixed walking routes along which butterflies are counted in a standardized manner. Since the start of that network, 33 years ago, there have never been so few butterflies counted.

Experts believe drought is to blame. This has greatly reduced the survival and breeding success of flower-visiting insects last year. Flowers provided too little nectar for the adult insects and, insofar as larvae were produced, they suffered from a lack of host plants, because these too dried up. That would explain why there are so few butterflies now.

In themselves, insect populations are resilient. In most species, the females lay many eggs, which means that a population can suddenly grow considerably under good conditions. But then those good conditions have to be there in time, namely before there are too few individuals left. Otherwise, reproduction will simply no longer work, and the population will die out.

Dutch resistance is short-sighted and painful

For countless insect populations, the risk of extinction is now greater than ever. They have to manage with small patches of habitat that are under great pressure and widely spaced, with endless expanses of unsuitable habitat in between. Local extinction has happened in no time, while recolonization is difficult.

The butterfly problem illustrates the great need for nature restoration. We cannot simply miss the flower-visiting insects. They are necessary for pollination of fruits and some other food crops. Some also help crop protection. For example, many hoverfly species have larvae that eat aphids. There are a lot of aphids this year, by the way.

That is why I find the Dutch opposition to the nature restoration act extremely short-sighted and even painful. It shows that our government puts vested short-term interests above the general long-term interests of the population as a whole.

And so even our minister for nature appears first and foremost to be a minister who must ensure that the business community does not suffer too much from nature and environmental protection. A nature minister who lobbies against nature conservation, in the Netherlands it is possible.

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