Towns and cities, the road network and industry are continuing to expand. This is placing Dutch nature under increasing pressure and nature reserves are becoming very fragmented. In order to protect nature, the Dutch government is creating larger nature reserves. The Nature Network of the Netherlands is a network of existing and newly created nature reserves, within which nature is a priority.

In the Nature Network, nature reserves are connected to create larger nature reserves and to enable plants and animals to spread more easily. The result is that nature is better protected against negative environmental influences. Via the Nature Pact the provincial governments together with social organisations have been given full responsibility for realising the Nature Network.

The Nature Network covers an area of more than 750 thousand hectares. Approximately 25% of these consist of areas larger than 5,000 hectares, such as the Veluwe National Park. More than 100 thousand hectares of the Nature Network are areas smaller than 100 hectares. Many nature reserves are therefore still extremely fragmented. The idea is to have the Nature Network link up with ecological connecting zones abroad, to form an interconnected pan-European Ecological Network (PEEN).

The Nature Network is made up of:

National parks, National landscapes and Natura 2000

The National Parks and all Natura 2000-areas are part of the Ecological Main Structure (EMS): a network of nature reserves in the Netherlands. Natura 2000-areas are nature reserves which are covered by the European Birds Directive and Habitats Directive. These are subject to stricter rules than the other EMS areas. The European report entitled State of Nature shows that the creation and maintenance of Natura 2000-areas has a positive impact on species diversity. In addition to national parks the Netherlands also has twenty national landscapes. In these areas nature and ancient cultural elements have been preserved. In contrast to a National Park these areas also include space for houses, agriculture and small-scale companies.

Nature Conservation Act

All nature reserves in the Netherlands are subject to the Nature Conservation Act. It regulates the protection of nature reserves and plant and animal species. It also includes provisions relating to hunting and timber vegetation. According to this act the provincial governments are responsible for an area. They arrange the permits and exemptions. The Nature Pact of 2013 already assigned responsibility for the Nature Network to the provincial governments and social organisations. The national government continues to be responsible for the policy on large areas of water and the international nature policy.

National parks

The state is responsible for designating and demarcating National Parks. The protection and reinforcement of the brand and system of National Parks is also still a state responsibility. The budget and organisation of the National Parks is left to regional authorities.

Natura 2000

Natura 2000-areas were created at European level in order to protect the most endangered species and habitats in Europe. In addition to the Nature Conservancy Act the European Birds Directive and Habitats Directive are also applicable. These are subject to stricter rules than the other EMS areas.

National landscapes

A National Landscape includes space for socio-economic developments, provided the exceptional qualities of the area are retained and preferably also enhanced. Plans for large-scale new residential areas, industrial estates and infrastructural projects will therefore be rejected. For example, it will only be permitted to build homes in order to accommodate the growth in domestic population (zero net migration). In addition to the Nature Conservation Act, specific areas in a National Landscape are also subject to the Estates Act for country estates while the Monuments and Historic Buildings Act 1988 applies to historical buildings or village conservation areas.

Permits and exemptions

An application for an All-in-one Permit for Physical Aspects to the municipality is assessed against the Nature Conservation Act. 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.

The Nature Network consists of magnificent nature reserves. The vast majority of these are easily accessible. Some areas contain 'rambling areas' which are freely accessible, including outside the established paths. The regulations governing the nature reserves differ per area. For example, there are rules about the times you are allowed to be in the area. Often this is from sunrise to sunset. Other rules relate to keeping dogs on a leash and using motorbikes/bicycles. The rules can be found on signs at the entrance to the area. In the case of many nature reserves a ban applies on flying drones. You can view these areas on the Atlas map of the Drone no-fly zones.

Reporting waste and nuisance

Waste does not belong in nature. Unfortunately, cigarette butts, cans and bottles often end up littering the countryside. However, people sometimes also dump household items, building materials and even waste from drugs laboratories. It is best to report litter to your municipality or the forest ranger who is in charge of the area. If you witness illegal dumping or a suspect situation, please contact the police. Forest rangers are responsible for supervision and enforcement in nature reserves. It is best to report nuisance or vandalism in the countryside to your local forest ranger.

Activities in nature

Most national parks have a visitors centre or information point and activities which are organised on a regular basis. On the website of the national parks you can find information about the accessibility, availability, routes and parking rules. National Forest Service in the Netherlands and IVN also organise all kinds of activities in nature for young and old.

On National Tree Day children can help to plant trees. Every year, an average of 200,000 trees are planted throughout the Netherlands. On the National Clean-up Day people throughout the country come together to clean up litter in a certain public area.

It is also possible to contribute to nature by doing voluntary work. The national Nature Work Day takes place on every first Saturday in November. However, there are opportunities throughout the year to get involved.

On the website of In green spaces it is better you can find all kinds of activities taking place in a natural environment. These range from weekly walking groups and outdoor sports lessons to child therapy and reintegration into green spaces. These take place either in a nature reserve or indeed close to home. You can search by postcode or place for the selection of opportunities offered by In green spaces is better.