Learning to recover biodiversity in three 'living labs'

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Learning to recover biodiversity in three 'living labs'


What actually works when it comes to protecting plants and animals, and increasing natural diversity in the Dutch countryside? Researchers are joining forces with businesses and societal organisations in three 'living labs' to find out. Funding from the Dutch Research Agenda and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality is available. NIOO is to lead one of the labs, and carry out soil biodiversity research in another.

The NIOO-led programme is called Living Lab B7. Its aim is to work towards more biodiversity in the Duin- en Bollenstreek (Dutch dune and bulb region), together with farmers, residents, visitors and policy makers. "In Living Lab B7, we're joining forces with local partners to make bulb-growing more sustainable and nature-inclusive", explains programme manager and NIOO researcher Wolf Mooij. "This will bring added value to both the landscape and the growers."

Integrated knowledge chain

Restoring biodiversity in the Dutch countryside is the ultimate aim of a special programme within the Dutch Research Council's National Research Agenda. Funding has now been granted under this programme to three so-called 'living labs', with the aim of finding out which measures actually work in practice.

"Do, learn, do better" is how the Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery, the main source of inspiration for the labs, describes the process. It includes developing joint measures, measuring the effects with closely targeted indicators and then going on to get better results by fine-tuning or retooling the measures. This integrated knowledge-chain approach offers a fast track to real success.

    Lilith Kramer & Dianneke van Wijk
    • Living Lab B7: working towards more biodiversity for the Duin- en Bollenstreek (dune and bulb region) with farmers, residents, visitors and policy makers The main goal of Living Lab B7 can best be defined as producing new insights and KPIs for the Greenport Duin- en Bollenstreek, Hollandse Duinen National Park and the Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery, contributing to efforts to restore biodiversity in rural areas at a local, regional and national level.

    • Living Lab Ooijpolder: upscaling a successful socio-ecological experiment for biodiversity restoration The Ooijpolder area in the Rivierengebied (rivers region) is an example of a landscape where natural elements have been restored, at least partially. This NWA living lab will study the underlying processes responsible for the results obtained so far, and foster new initiatives aimed at consolidating and upscaling these regional successes.

    • Living Lab Alblasserwaard: towards a biodiverse, productive and liveable polder The iconic Dutch peatlands have lost most of their biodiversity. This living lab aims to reverse the negative trend by studying which control measures strengthen biodiversity, how to integrate these into business models (farmers, authorities, NGOs) and how farmers and other parties can be induced to strengthen biodiversity.

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    World-famous flower garden

    In each of the three labs, researchers will work together with businesses and societal organisations. That's because it's an issue with obvious social and economic aspects, as well as ecological ones. In the case of the NIOO-led B7 lab, the partners are a varied bunch every bit as colourful as the local landscape in spring.

    "The initiators of Living Lab B7 are NIOO-KNAW, Radboud University and HAS University of Applied Sciences", clarifies programme manager Mooij. In total, more than thirty organisations are involved, including an agrarian collective, a district water board, the world-famous Keukenhof flower garden and a local nature conservation group.

    "Together, we contribute to realising the targets of the Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery, as well as those of Hollandse Duinen National Park ánd the Greenport Duin- en Bollenstreek."

    Getting down to the bottom

    Research questions asked by Living Lab B7 include which technical innovations in bulb-growing can increase biodiversity. Wolf Mooij adds: "What is needed to make these techniques profitable from a business economic perspective? And which changes to or reorganisations of the landscape will lead to biodiversity recovery? The role of partnerships is also important."

    Meanwhile, another living lab is being set up in the Ooijpolder area, coordinated from nearby Nijmegen by Radboud University. NIOO is involved in this living lab as well: researcher Wim van der Putten is to study soil biodiversity in the Ooijpolder.

    A diverse soil life ensures healthy soil, providing a solid basis for biodiversity at large. This may not be visible to most people, but that doesn't make it any less important. For the living labs, therefore, soil fungi and bacteria are a key indicator.

    Nationwide approach

    The plan is not for the three labs to tackle biodiversity recovery on their own, each from its own little 'island'. On the contrary: the labs are developing an integral approach in order to make a successful transition to 'ecological profit'. Over the next six months, the three living labs will be 'welded together' into a single, large-scale programme in close coordination with the Delta Plan and the Ministry. It should be ready to take off in early 2021.

    Funding to the tune of 4.3 million euros - co-financed by the Ministry - will be available to the three broad-based consortia of knowledge institutions and societal organisations for the coming period. This should enable them to play a vanguard role, as ultimately, a wide range of similar living labs is to be created. These are to represent all landscape types in the Netherlands, and be suitable for all possible practical scenarios for preserving biodiversity in rural areas - including the realisation of circular agriculture.

    Consortium partners Living Lab B7: Radboud Universiteit, Universiteit Utrecht, University of Victoria, HAS Hogeschool, AERES Hogeschool, Agrarisch Collectief De Groene Klaver, Agrarische Natuur- en Landschapsvereniging de Geestgrond, Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS), de Natuurverdubbelaars, Dunea Duin en Water, Economic Board Duin- en Bollenstreek, Gebiedsprogramma Duin- en Bollenstreek, Greenport Duin- en Bollenstreek, Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland, Huiberts Biologische Bloembollen, Keukenhof, KAVB Kring Duin- en Bollenstreek, Nationaal Park Hollandse Duinen, NMF Zuid-Holland, Natuurmonumenten, Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving, Provincie Zuid-Holland, Staatsbosbeheer, Vereniging voor Natuur- en Vogelbescherming Noordwijk, Wageningen Environmental Research (WENR), Waternet, Witteveen+Bos, Zuid-Hollands Landschap, Stockholm Resilience Center