The exploitation and protection of natural capital can contribute to the sustainability of food production, drinking water production and water safety. Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) has indicated on national maps where the best opportunities are located. Policy makers can use the maps to lead the way towards new, more nature-inclusive policy.
The development of the maps is in line with government objectives to have the benefits that nature can provide play a meaningful role in the decision-making process. The maps help by illustrating the match between the ‘demand’ for ecosystem services coming from a use function and the 'supply’ of those ecosystem services provided by the natural capital. For this purpose Wageningen Environmental Research, commissioned by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), developed a new method.
For example, the map for food production shows that there are opportunities available in the Veenkoloniën (peat districts) for increasing the supply of the service 'combating wind erosion’. In eastern Brabant, food production would primarily benefit from the strengthening of the service ‘soil fertility’. An additional advantage is that it also benefits the service ‘water storage’. There are opportunities for the reclaimed land in Flevoland in terms of pest suppression and pollination and of which water purification can also benefit. In parts of the eastern Netherlands, natural capital already supports food production well; supply and demand of the necessary ecosystem services are in balance.
Similarly, the maps for drinking water production and water safety show in which way the ecosystem services can respond to a need and which services can subsequently benefit. Looking at all the maps together, it is clear that sustainability is the primary concern in the case of food production and drinking water production, while the opportunities for synergy between or the linking of ecosystem services are a primary focus when considering water safety.
From case study to national application
The opportunity maps are a follow-up to the seven local practical projects of the Natural Capital Netherlands programme of PBL. The maps help to scale the knowledge gained from the practical projects up to a national level. They also show where the social urgency for meeting the challenges, including policy challenges, is the greatest. These areas may potentially benefit the most from the use of natural capital. The maps contain points of reference for measures that can actually be taken to develop the ecosystem services and to identify the relevant actors. This is the first step towards a perspective for concrete action.
For other policy challenges, opportunity maps can also be developed to support policy development. This is relevant for all the challenges in which the sustainable use of natural capital can help to realise objectives such as biodiversity objectives, water quality objectives and climate objectives.