Healthy environment, biodiversity and health care

We work on a healthy environment and sufficient food, while preserving biodiversity and other natural capital. Research on multifunctional land use and biodiversity focuses on changes in land use and its effects on biodiversity and agricultural production and management.

Our research focuses on changes in land use and its effects on biodiversity and agricultural production and management. Examples include studies on functional agro-biodiversity, nature conservation on farmland, use of natural grasslands, farm bird protection and the greening policy of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). To preserve natural capital and for the provision of ecosystem services, it is particularly important to document the balance between ecology and economy using relevant data.

Our research involves the role and function of a green environment, for example care farming, citizen initiatives and citizen involvement in the management of green spaces in an urban environment. We also study the possibilities of employing plants in monitoring potentially harmful emissions from industry (biomonitoring) and the role of landscaping to limit the spread of particulates (small particles suspended in the air) from stables and traffic.

Biomonitoring: measuring air quality with plants

Industries that release airborne particulates must meet strict emission standards set by the Dutch government. Even so, farmers and local residents still routinely question whether these emissions are ending up in their immediate surroundings. Biomonitoring - using plants to measure air quality - addresses the concerns of area farmers and residents.

Indicator plants

Some plants, being highly sensitive to air quality, develop visible and specifically attributable symptoms. Cultivating these so-called 'indicator plants' in at-risk areas facilitates local air-quality monitoring. Plants that absorb and store airborne particulates without developing visible symptoms are known as 'accumulators'. Samples collected from these plants can be analysed for substances such as heavy metals, PAHs, dioxins and PCBs. Biomonitoring has been shown to be a powerful tool for monitoring air quality near waste incinerators, ore processing plants and airports.

Biomonitoring as a prevention measure

Biomonitoring measurement points were set up around Lelystad Airport to determine the local air quality. At the same time, the future consequences of Lelystad Airport's planned expansion on crops in the immediate surroundings were determined by taking biomonitoring measurements near Bremen Airport, which, in terms of its activity levels, is comparable with the future Lelystad Airport. Based on these measurements, the aeroplanes' exhaust gas emissions did not appear to have an adverse impact on the health of the crops in the immediate surroundings of Bremen Airport.

Would you like to know more about what biomonitoring could mean for your organisation? We are happy to provider further information about the possibilities for your specific situation!

What could biomonitoring mean for your organisation?

Multifunctional land use

Space is a scarcity in the Netherlands. Various functions such as agriculture, housing, infrastructure, nature and recreation all compete for the same space. Multifunctional land use is the quest to combine several functions on the same piece of land.

In recent years, a great deal of attention has been devoted to the effects of greening of the new European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), especially in the so-called ecological focus areas.

In the Dutch rural region of Winterswijk, we have provided support for rural development projects aimed at multifunctional and sustainable land use, farming with landscape and nature, and in a pilot project aimed at gaining experience through the ambitions of the new CAP.

Want to know more about the benefits of multifunctional land use?

Biodiversity and agrarian nature conservation

Our research in Wageningen has yielded a lot of knowledge on management of semi-natural grasslands, particularly regarding re-introduction, development and management of species-rich grasslands. Experiences from long-term grassland experiments on both clay, sand and peat soils have been translated into recommendations for nature conservation on farm land.


Valuable data has been derived from the Ossekampen Grassland Experiment, a unique experiment near Wageningen. Knowledge is also tested and put into practice at the De Marke experimental farm and on commercial farms. In De Marke, we have set up a network of different ecological elements. The property has been made accessible to the public by means of a 5-km nature trail: the Markepad.

Species-rich grasslands

On a total of approximately 1 million hectares of grassland in the Netherlands, only 3% can be considered species-rich. In the early 50s of last century, this was still more than 50%. This shows how drastically biodiversity has declined on permanent grasslands. However, species-rich grasslands are still an important habitat for flora and fauna. For meadow birds, these grasslands are essential in providing adequate food (insects) for their chicks. Species-rich grass also provides healthy roughage, rich in minerals and fibre, which can be incorporated perfectly into the ration of dairy cattle.

Nature conservation on farm land

Nature conservation on farm land is one of the most important tools to maintain and improve biodiversity in rural areas. It addresses the care required for major bird species on grassland and arable land, botanical grassland management and management of field margins and landscape features. The effectiveness of these agri-ecological areas can be increased by improving spatial coherence and enhancing the so-called green/blue interconnectivity.

The policy governing nature conservation on farm land is to make it more result-oriented, efficient and cost-effective. Collectives of agrarian nature conservation organisations are going to shape the future of nature and landscape conservation on farmland. Agrosystems Research is closely involved in a consulting role in one of these: VALA, Agricultural Landscape Association in the Achterhoek.

Want to know more about biodiversity and agrarian nature conservation?

Care farming

Some farmers open their doors to people who benefit from a stay in a green environment. In placing their green surroundings at the disposal of others, these farmers fulfil an important social responsibility, and it brings in some extra income.

These days, business in agriculture and horticulture is more than just the production and marketing of agricultural products. The farmer, man or woman, is an entrepreneur in a playing field where multiple goals must be achieved, such as caring for nature and the environment.

Combination agriculture and healthcare

Some farmers take it a step further and open their doors to people who, for whatever reason, need or benefit from a stay in a green environment. In placing their pleasant surroundings at the disposal of others, they fulfil an important social responsibility. And – not unimportantly – it brings in some extra income.

Care givers, clients and health authorities

The combination of agriculture and healthcare may seem obvious - there are hundreds of care farms in the Netherlands after all – but their performance is not always adequate. Care farmers have different aspirations and abilities in their role as caregiver. Clients come with a variety of (more or less severe) care needs and health authorities demand guarantees regarding effectiveness and cost efficiency.

Research from different perspectives

In our research, we address these issues, both from the perspective of the care farmer, the client and the care authority. We work together with a variety of organisations. In addition to farming, we are increasingly focusing on citizens' initiatives in the management of green spaces, even in the urban environment.

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Examples of projects