With a new research group helmed by Ellen Weerman, NIOO and HAS University of Applied Sciences are asking how alternative forms of agriculture can contribute to improving water quality and biodiversity, through smart land use.
Over the next four years, we want to set up research that will help implement the transition to a climate-robust landscape. The group's research programme focuses on three areas: landscape integration and cultivation techniques, water quality and biodiversity, and agricultural craftsmanship.
We want to determine what's possible in these areas from the perspective of the natural soil-water system, especially when it comes to agriculture and nature. We're eager to involve businesses, nature organisations, government bodies, and in particular students. They're the next generation, whose task it will be to further shape the transition for the benefit of our living environment.
Climate-robust by 2050
So what makes a landscape 'climate-robust'? The term is featured in a major Dutch policy document, the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment (NOVI). This document calls for the entire Dutch landscape to be made climate-robust by 2050.
It warns that if nothing is done, climate change will increasingly lead to water shortages and drought stress in the Netherlands. The risk of torrential rains will also increase. Such extreme weather will have a major impact on both agriculture and nature, reducing yields for farmers while causing untold damage to the environment.
To prevent this, authorities at various levels are to boost the landscape's resilience. Measures so far include water boards returning artificially straightened streams to their original course, so that the water remains in the same area longer and can be used as a resource during periods of drought. Meanwhile around wetlands, the original groundwater levels are being restored.
These measures significantly increase the water content of soil in the surrounding agricultural areas, making it desirable to change the way the land is used so that it's more in harmony with the natural soil-water system. This presents opportunities for alternative, less intensive forms of agriculture compatible with nature restoration efforts.
Closer links between nature and agriculture will have a positive impact on both the biodiversity and the water quality in an area. At the same time, farmers will have a viable future for plots that couldn't be farmed profitably in the traditional way when groundwater levels go up.
It's a radical transition, and one that won't be easy. That's why the focus in Ellen Weerman's research group is on the knowledge and experience needed to foster these changes.
Stream valley experiments
The group will initially carry out the practical part of its research in the stream valley landscapes of North Brabant. Recent developments in the province include the Van Gogh National Park and the Peelhorst en Maasvallei Geopark, both of which are currently under construction.
These areas have a broad focus, giving top priority to connecting nature and landscape while also emphasising quality of life, active involvement of citizens and businesses and boosting the economy. It makes them perfect as spaces for experiment, and HAS University of Applied Sciences already has a number of individual projects underway.
NIOO's involvement in the joint research group will provide these experiments with more structure, and take the results to a higher level.
Connecting science and practice
According to NIOO, the added value of the collaboration lies in the close connection between scientific and practical research. This shortens the path by which knowledge questions from the daily practice of a range of social partners and people in education reach the scientists, while NIOO's expertise and research facilities guarantee high scientific standards.
In the coming years, and working closely with other researchers, this will enable the new lecturer to develop fundamental knowledge as well as effective predictive models.
About Ellen Weerman
Ellen Weerman has over 15 years of experience in research, and nine years of experience in higher education. She studied Aquatic Ecology at Wageningen University, and went on to do her PhD research at NIOO and Radboud University into predicting the resilience and stability of ecosystems based on spatial patterns of algae.
Over the past three years, Ellen has focused on climate-robust agriculture, including various projects implemented under the auspices of the 'Innovative Entrepreneurship in Rural Areas' research group.
About the lectureship
The research group ‘Climate-robust landscapes: connecting agriculture and nature’ is partly financed by the grant scheme L.INT Lecturer positions at Institutes of the Taskforce for Applied Research SIA (Regieorgaan SIA) and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
Under this scheme, a lecturer can work at both a university of applied sciences and a research institute. This allows the lecturer to link the fundamental research of the institute with the practice-oriented research of the university of applied sciences.
The research group will work closely with the research group 'Earning capacity of nature-inclusive agriculture', which focuses on earning models for business.