Ask the average nature lover what Natura 2000 is and they will probably not be able to tell you. And yet, the Netherlands already has more than 160 Natura 2000 areas. A new app for iPhones and Android allows citizens to get acquainted with these areas. The development of the app was commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, formerly Economics, Agriculture and Innovation.
Frans Lips, policy maker Geo-information at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, sees mobile applications as a suitable way to gain experience in new technology. “We’ve had little experience with this so far. With this project we want to show that using modern technology can help improve the communication with citizens and other parties. And it offers the possibility of making unknown information more accessible.
Network of European nature reserves
Most citizens are unfamiliar with Natura 2000. It is the name of a network of European nature reserves where important flora and fauna exist. Because biodiversity is deteriorating in Europe, these areas must be protected, states the European Union. And as animals and plants ignore national boundaries, it is essential that there is a European approach to protect the biodiversity.
In the Netherlands there are 166 nature reserves like Natura 2000 areas. In many areas humans are more than welcome. The Natura 2000 app gives visitors answers to questions as: Where can I find the nearest Natura 2000 area? Which plants and animals can be found there? And where can the boundary of this area be found?
The app works with the LAYAR technology of augmented reality. LAYAR is a mobile application that adds extra ‘layers’ to a real situation by using a mobile phone's camera. Lips: "You get to see information based on your location. It is a great tool for communicating between the government and its citizens, and conveniently provides tailored information. And the information isn’t just static. During the pilot we enriched it with videos about the cultural and historical significance of the Natura 2000 area in which the user is located. Users can also interact by uploading photos of the area and sharing in with the whole world. And in the future it will also be possible to share observations with app of, for example, if you spot a godwit. Or if you spot a rubbish dump.”
Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra)
A lot of the static information comes from the Ministry’s Natura 2000 database that is managed by Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra). There is a fixed route to this knowledge institute belonging to Wageningen UR, explains Lips: “We lay our questions before Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) because they have the required scientific knowledge. In this case, we wanted to create a practical and accessible product. Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) is very good at translating fundamental knowledge into something useful."
This product will be build upon, says Lips. “Companies in the water recreational industry see the app as a beautiful tool to make recreationists aware of the rules of conduct in certain areas. One can think of new applications, like an automatic warning to keep people away from vulnerable breeding grounds.”