Academic journal article Environmental Values

Pushing the Radical Nature Development Policy Concept in the Netherlands: An Agency Perspective

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Pushing the Radical Nature Development Policy Concept in the Netherlands: An Agency Perspective

Article excerpt


In the 1990s, Dutch nature policy adopted a new policy concept, 'nature development', whereas, until then, 'nature preservation' had largely dominated both the discourses and practices of nature policy-making. Nature development can be regarded as the Dutch counterpart of concepts such as ecological restoration, emerging simultaneously in other national nature policies. This paper argues that the rise of the nature development concept in the Netherlands is mainly due to the entrepreneurial strategies of a relatively small group of individuals. To study the impact of the latter's entrepreneurial strategies on the adoption and implementation of the new concept, we first made a content analysis of nature-policy documents issued between 1977, when the concept of nature development was coined for the first time, and 2012. Next, we analysed newspaper articles covering the debate on Dutch nature policy. Third, we conducted semi-structured interviews with the key individuals involved. This article deliberately takes an agency perspective, emphasising the complementary roles that policy entrepreneurs played in the different phases of the policy change process, with concept developers, early adopters and translators, and early implementers. Their success is to be attributed to a smart combination of discursive and network strategies.


Nature development, policy entrepreneurs, policy change, discursive framing


In the 1990s, after a long tradition of 'nature preservation', Dutch nature policy gradually adopted a new policy concept, 'nature development'. Up until then, nature policy in the Netherlands had mainly focused on preserving natural values as these were known before 1850, when Dutch society underwent large-scale industrialisation, urbanisation and intensified land use (Keulartz, 1999; Keulartz et al., 2004). According to a handful of academic researchers, however, and a small group of civil servants in the then-Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries and the Directorate-General for Transport, Public Works and Water Management, it was time to break with this past. First, they believed nature should not be preserved, rather restored through the facilitation of natural processes. Second, nature restoration or development should not refer to a pre-industrial stage from the mid-nineteenth century, but to a pre-human era. It was, the group argued, human domestication of the landscape that made mankind forget what 'real nature' or 'primeval nature' was like (Drenthen, 2009b). Third, areas for nature development should be clearly separated from other, conflicting forms of land use, agriculture in particular. The latter meant a break with practices in which nature preservation was interwoven with other functions. The governmental departments then responsible for nature preservation, however, still advocated a conservationist approach, and were not particularly receptive to these ideas. This small group of individuals therefore searched for other ways to put large-scale nature development on the agenda. Eventually, they were successful, since the concept of nature development was adopted in policy documents from the late 1980s onwards, and gradually implemented into concrete policy plans from the 1990s onwards, as illustrated below.

The main question that this paper addresses is how this group of individuals managed to effect this change in Dutch nature policy. Other scholars, ranging from natural sciences such as (landscape) ecology to philosophy of science, comprehensively discussed the concepts and values of nature development, ecological restoration, creative conservation and the like. This article only briefly touches upon the scientific background and context of these concepts (Section 3). Instead, it takes a social-sciences' perspective in looking at the discursive and networking strategies behind the successful rise of these concepts. …

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