Students Forest and Nature Management came up with creative plans to keep the management of dunes and forest in the Dutch municipality of Den Helder affordable. Those ranged from placing windmills in the nature area to running a care home that offers 'treatments in nature'. One group of students suggested: "Introduce paid parking."
“Paid parking? That is one of the most sensitive tax measures out there," commented Willem Stam of the municipality of Den Helder, who had asked the students for advice. On Friday, March 14th, the students Forest and Nature Conservation at Wageningen University presented their ideas to him. Stam was not immediately enthusiastic about the paid parking plan, but the students had the plans worked out so well that he afterwards said: "Perhaps these students should come over to Den Helder to explain their plans."
Students find answers to real questions
After three weeks of lectures on business and management, the students had a week to work on a real case. They had gone to Den Helder for a day to look around and speak with stakeholders. The municipality of Den Helder and Wageningen University had been put in contact with each other through Knowledge Workshop. Ilse Markesteijn, coordinator of the Knowledge Workshop Wageningen University, said: "Interest for projects of Knowledge Workshop is growing rapidly within the university. We help to implement real questions of organisations into the existing curriculum of students. Knowledge Workshop offers a challenging learning environment: students get to test their academic skills by working on current, complex issues. This leads to new insights that benefit both education and the parties that were looking for answers to their issues."
Realising that nature has ecological and economic aspect
Student Hugo Smorenburg said: "This is the first time that we, as students of Forest and Nature Management, have to make plans that are also financially viable. Normally we work on fictional cases and then the economic aspect is usually not considered. Thanks to this course (Management of Forest and Nature Organisations) I now realise now that finances have to always be taken into account. It is not only about the ecology, as I used to think.”
The teachers were also excited about working on a real case study, commissioned by the municipality of Den Helder. "My students really do not have to all get involved in economics," said lecturer Marjanke Hoogstra, "but it is good to be aware that funding plays an increasingly important role in forest and nature management."
‘Paid parking' best presentation
The plan to introduce paid parking was voted best presentation by the jury, with Stam being the chairman. The students had come up with a solid plan to make sure that each euro spent on parking would guaranteed be used for maintenance of the park. The money would go straight into a dedicated bank account, instead of landing in the books of the municipality of Den Helder, where it could be used for other purposes. Also, signs had to be placed at the parking area explaining exactly how the money was being spent. And, most importantly, parking would still be very affordable in the plans of the students.
Regular visitors, such as dog owners, could become ‘friend’ of the nature area for 15 euros a year, which includes free parking, the students suggested. And one-time visitors should pay only 3 euros per half day or 5 euro for the whole day. Moreover, this parking ticket would include a coupon for ten percent discount at the catering businesses in the area, like the pancake house and the snack bar. "Even if just one in fifteen visitors decides to buy a cup of coffee, whereas he would not have done so without the discount, then it's already beneficial for entrepreneurs to join this initiative", said student Glenn Potvliet like a real salesman. His group had already spoken with some entrepreneurs and they seemed enthusiastic. Client Willem Stam, advisor at the municipality of Den Helder, was also impressed by the convincing presentation of the students, who had worked out various scenarios to support their plans.
Green child care centre
An idea for an after-school child care centre with extra attention to environmental and nature education was also received well by Stam. It was chosen as ‘best poster’ (half of the students gave a presentation during the plenary part, the other half presented their plans on a poster).