Urban nature is the green infrastructure in the town or city. These are parks, gardens, cemeteries, ditches, moats, canals and rivers (including the banks). Green roofs, walls full of climbing plants, façade gardens, flowerbeds and road verges contribute to greenery in the town or city. This greenery improves the living environment due to its cooling effect, the opportunities it creates/offers for recreation, peace and quiet, air quality, flood prevention and a certain degree of soundproofing. On top of this, green space contributes to the ecological structure and biodiversity and it can also be important from a cultural-historical perspective. Examples are the springs in Arnhem which were used for laundry purposes and the famous Anne Frank tree which stood in the centre of Amsterdam.
Green in the city is always under pressure from (increased) 'petrification' by buildings and infrastructure because space in the city is scarce. Nevertheless many initiatives are being taken by (local) government bodies, companies, residents and neighbourhood groups to create space for nature in the town or city.
Research has shown that the link between small-scale green spaces in the urban living environment and self-reported health is at least as strong as larger green areas. In this context the quality of the green spaces plays a significant role. The health value of green spaces increases in proportion to the quality of green spaces. A healthy urban environment is therefore an environment in which the existing green spaces are attractive, accessible and usable. You can find more information on green living environment.
Residents of towns and cities are using wasteland more and more frequently to cultivate vegetables with other people in the neighbourhood. Research by RIVM has revealed that these neighbourhood vegetable gardens can contribute to people's health and the quality of the living environment. People exercise more by working in the neighbourhood vegetable gardens and eat more vegetables and fruit that they have grown themselves. There are also indications that it leads to reduced stress and more social contacts in the neighbourhood. What's more, a link can be established via the neighbourhood vegetable gardens between policy for health and policy for the living environment. This helps when it comes to tackling social issues, such as growing old healthily.
1,000 ha. new urban nature Green Deal
A Green Deal is a partnership between the government and various companies and organisations. The 1,000 ha. new urban nature Green Deal intends to create 1,000 ha of new urban nature in the Netherlands before 2019. Landowners can register their location as being suitable for urban nature. Organisations affiliated with the Green Deal provide help and advice on the development of nature at the registered location. For example, a 440m² green-blue roof has already been created in Amsterdam and in Groningen a boring field has been transformed into a flower-rich oasis.
'Values of green and blue in the town or city' City Deal
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management are going to cooperate with seven towns and other partners in order to improve the way the values of natural capital in the town or city are expressed in monetary terms. This has been documented in ‘Values of green and blue in the city' City Deal The City Deal is intended to ensure that green and water play a greater role in municipal decision-making. Municipalities, private parties and knowledge institutes are going to share their user experiences and knowledge in order to refine the TEEB city tool and the Atlas of Natural Capital and to ensure that they link up even more effectively with the implementation practice.
A number of protected species like the house sparrow, the stone marten, the swift and various bats like to nest in houses and buildings. Home insulation and the use of flat roof tiles are making it difficult for them to find suitable nesting locations. In 2017 the 'nature-inclusive renovations' code of conduct was introduced for building projects with the zero energy (NOM) quality mark. This involves nest provisions being included as standard in NOM renovation concepts for the protected species of bird and bats, even if no protected species are found prior to the renovation work. The benefit for construction companies is that they no longer have to apply for a regular flora and fauna dispensation.
More and more city residents are taking the initiative to make their town greener. In the centre of Eindhoven local residents have joined forces to turn a deserted site into a public garden. Without there being any clear plan, they cleared, mowed, pruned and sowed and planted. This site has now been designated as a green area and can therefore continue to exist. In some towns green initiatives are actively supported by the municipality. In Rotterdam, for example, specific policy has been developed within the framework of the Sustainable Programme 2015 -2018 in order to encourage urban farming. Citizens and entrepreneurs are challenged on the basis of this policy to develop urban farming.
Nature Conservation Act
The Nature Conservation Act came into force in the Netherlands on 1 January 2017. This act replaces three other acts, namely the Flora and Fauna Act, the Nature Conservation Act 1998 and the Forestry Act.
An application for an All-in-one Permit for Physical Aspects to the municipality is assessed against the Nature Conservation Act. According to this act you are not allowed to cause any damage to birds and other protected animals or plants. It is also possible to apply directly to the provincial government for a nature permit or exemption. More information about permits and exemptions under the Nature Conservation Act can be found on the site of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.
Temporary nature regulations
A wasteland site which has been allowed to grow wild can attract certain protected animals and plants. Landowners often regard this as an undesirable development because it obliges them to compensate nature when they clear the site. For that reason many landowners opt to make the site unsuitable for protected flora and fauna. The 'temporary nature' regulations have made it attractive for wasteland to be made available for nature. This eliminates the obligation to pay compensation and means that protected species can be removed as soon as the development work begins. The advantage for plants, animals and often local residents as well is that they can enjoy the temporary area of nature for at least one (growing) season. This is particularly beneficial to pioneer species, such as poppies and the natterjack toad.
Subsidies for greenery in the town or city
A number of municipalities have set up subsidy schemes which homeowners can use to create green roofs or façades. An overview map of these incentives can be found at Greenery above all else. Municipalities are also collaborating on policy for green roofs in the Green Roofs Green Deal.
Add green to your garden, balcony or street
As a town or city resident, you can yourself contribute to making the living environment greener. You can start with your own garden. Less stone and more green spaces will attract bees, butterflies and birds, reduce flooding, increase cooling and improve the neighbourhood's image.
Under Operation Steenbreek you will find information and advice about a nature-friendly garden.
If you do not have a garden, you can create a façade garden, plant flowers and plants around the base of a tree or add greenery to your balcony. That will make your street look a lot greener and more inviting.
Protected species in and around your house
Besides making your neighbourhood greener you can also contribute to the habitat of protected species such as the house sparrow. By placing a spacious nesting box you can offer them a safe place to breed. House sparrows, swifts, stone martens and bats are protected and their living environment may not be disturbed. Tips about improving the living environment of these species can be found at The Dutch House Sparrow Protection Association, The Swift Protection Association or on the website of the Mammals Association.
Participation in municipalities
This means that residents inform the municipality of their views with regard to a certain plan. This can take place in writing or verbally, for example at a hearing. It is an opportunity for you to discuss spatial (greenery) plans with your municipality. The spatial plans are published in the local newspaper or you can read them at Ruimtelijkeplannen.nl. In a number of cities and municipalities you can join neighbourhood councils who advise the municipality on request or voluntarily. The citizen initiative is a way for you to place a certain issue or proposal on the municipal council's agenda.
Complaints or requests about green spaces?
If you have a complaint or request about maintaining the quality of public green spaces, please contact your municipality or submit your message via Improve the neighbourhood.
What can landowners do?
If you own a piece of land you can choose to make it available for temporary nature. By doing so, you are taking your corporate social responsibility, improving your relationship with your neighbours and you will no longer have to comply with the obligation to compensate nature if legally protected species appear on your land. You can also obtain free advice if you register the area with the 1,000 ha. new urban nature Green Deal.
What can the municipality do?
As a municipality you can opt to provide sufficient green spaces when designing streets and neighbourhoods. You can manage existing green spaces using ecological methods. You can find more information on this in the Atlas of Natural Capital under Design and construction of green spaces in the city and Managing green spaces in the city. You can also find inspiring ideas in the Healthy Design Guide. When planning and managing green spaces it is important to involve local residents. This can be done, for example, through organised consultation groups, citizen panels or digital consultation rounds. You can also use the activities package from Operation Steenbreek. At Wageningen University you can share knowledge with the Green citizen participation learning community.
You can stimulate the construction of green roofs and façade gardens by providing subsidies.