Is Dutch nature vulnerable?

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Dutch nature can be protected with far fewer rules and regulations and far less money, says the government. But the cabinet's plans have alarmed and dismayed many environmental organisations and ordinary people. Many fear that plant and animal life will become endangered or extinct and the biodiversity in the Netherlands will decrease. Meanwhile, the hunting season has opened and wild boar, roe and red deer are on the menu.

Biodiversity in the Netherlands: click your way through the Dutch landscape.

 The Dutch government has proposed a bill reducing the number of regulations, prohibitions and licences that currently protect Dutch flora and fauna and the environment. The bill transfers environmental protection from the government to private citizens and entrepreneurs. Deputy Economic Affairs and Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker says:

"Why must The Hague licence or ban everything? If people have a nice bit of nature in their area, won't they do everything to protect it and make sure it stays nice?"

The minister wants to abolish the strict laws protecting 150 types of flora and fauna in the Netherlands. According to Natuurmonumenten, an organisation working to protect and preserve Dutch nature, landscape and cultural history, the government move could mean the end for typical Dutch animals such as the hedgehog, the badger, crayfish and the fire salamander.

The bill will also more than double the number of animals that can be hunted and will include wild swine, red deer, roe deer and fallow deer. Mr Bleker says none of these animals are endangered and they all do significant damage to crops and the environment.

The cabinet also wants to give the economy more room, which in the case of Mr Bleker means drastic subsidy cuts. He has already slashed the nature conservation budget and is proposing increasing "free market processes in nature conservancy". Exactly how that will play out is not clear at the moment.

Barbarian
Criticism of the government's plans has been savage; more than 40 environmental and conservation organisations have severely criticised the plans and Mr Bleker has been dubbed "the nature barbarian". Green Left MP Ineke van Gent says: "Bleker hasn't gone after nature with a pruning knife, he's attacked it with a chainsaw."

Mr Bleker's bill has also worried ordinary people and some 5,000 citizens have contacted the government to express their concerns. For the Netherlands, this is a huge public outcry as normally a bill will only attract a few dozen responses. Natuurmonumenten says it is clear that the bill has very little support in the Netherlands.

Mr Bleker has dismissed criticism and maintains that the proposal adheres to all European Union nature conservancy regulations. The lower house of parliament will debate the bill on 12 December.

Text by Gerhard Verduijn and Erik Klooster; graphic by Tamar Visscher

(jric/hs/imm)