Otters, beavers and peregrine falcons do well in the Netherlands. But with rabbit, hedgehog and viper it goes downhill. Despite positive bright spots, the World Wildlife Fund draws no happy conclusions from its Living Planet Report 2023 about nature in our country.
“Even a number of common species threaten to slip through our fingers,” says Kirsten Haanraads, head of the Netherlands program at WWF. “I find it sad that the hedgehog and the rabbit are doing so badly.” Without large-scale nature restoration, important habitats for flora and fauna are in danger of disappearing, the nature organization warns.
In the biennial Living Planet Report, the naturalists from Zeist look at the state of the various types of nature in the Netherlands. They rely, among other things, on the Living Planet Index, with population trends of several hundred common species. But they also have an eye for developments among less common animals and plants.
The good news: our water-rich nature is doing well. Partly because the water in rivers and marshes has been a lot cleaner for decades, but also because many wetland habitats are in contact with each other. It explains, among other things, the spectacular advance of the otter and the beaver. “Although the beaver also benefits from the fact that the species can no longer be hunted,” says Sander Turnhout, an expert at Stichting DierenNL.
Animal species in forest areas are also doing relatively well. That’s how it goes with the woodpecker, who loves dead wood. Haanraads: ,,We used to have a lot of Scots pine for mining in Limburg. Today our forests are a lot more diverse and older.” This also results in more biodiversity. The peregrine falcon also benefits from better conditions throughout Europe. At the same time, an excessive accumulation of nitrogen in forest soils is a problem.
Nature has a tough time in three types of landscapes, says WWF. This applies to the heathland, dry dune areas and the agricultural landscape. “The biggest threats are nitrogen, desiccation and fragmentation,” says Haanraads. “By that I mean that the areas are too small and not connected. If you work on one of those three, nature restoration will already have a chance.”
Provide an accessible mess garden, so that there is food and places to stay. Gardening as little as possible is best for the hedgehog
The rabbit is perhaps the most unlucky one. Nitrogen deposition causes its favorite habitat, open countryside, to grow dense. In addition, the rodent is suffering from the second virus Pandemic in a short time. Myxomatosis first caused a battlefield, now many rabbits die from the virus disease VHS. In some locations, the rabbit has really been decimated. Turnhout: ,,If you have a healthy functioning ecosystem, there are also diseases. But now it seems more difficult for the rabbit to recover.”
Another appealing species that is in decline is the hedgehog. Drought and traffic accidents are a problem, but habitat degradation does not help either. In agricultural areas, hedgerows and small bushes are disappearing, and in cities, tiled gardens and fences are a real obstacle. All in all, the hedgehog population seems to have halved in the Netherlands since 1997.
Nevertheless, every citizen with a garden can contribute to turn the tide for the hedgehog, believes Haanraads: ,,Provide an accessible mess garden, so that there is food and places to stay. Gardening as little as possible is best for the hedgehog.”
Finally, the viper is mainly affected by organizations such as Staatsbosbeheer and Natuurmonumenten itself. The desiccation of heathland does not help, but the intensive management of sod cutting and excavation – with which both forest rangers’ clubs create new sparse nature – has a detrimental effect on the venomous snake. At the same time, if the habitat is enlarged, there is hope, as evidenced by the positive development of the smooth snake in Brabant.
The worrying conclusions of the World Wildlife Fund are remarkable, because CBS figures on the same Living Planet Index (LPI) earlier this month showed that on average animal numbers are doing better in ten of the twelve provinces. But there are some things to be said about that apparent success, Turnhout knows.
Bottom of the well
“Many species, such as mushrooms, plants and pollinators, are not included in that LPI. And that’s pretty bad. The more we know, the worse things seem to be going.” And the starting year of the LPI in 1990 is seen as a historic low point for many species in the Netherlands. “A slight recovery at the bottom of the well does not mean that things are going well,” says the species expert.
Full commitment to large-scale nature restoration is therefore the only good direction, according to WWF. The positive development in the water-rich nature shows that it is possible. “More than half of the species and habitats that are legally protected depend on habitats outside the Natura2000 areas,” says Turnhout. And so the ambitions will also have to be raised outside the 162 Natura2000 areas.
Haanraads: “Nature is resilient and can recover, but that is only possible if we remove the threats and give nature a helping hand.”
Free unlimited access to Showbytes? Which can!
Log in or create an account and don’t miss a thing of the stars.