Societal challenge

Societal challenge

Forests are an important element of the landscape in the Netherlands. They perform important functions for society, for example as recreational areas, nature and wood production, and they also contribute to clean air and water. These functions are sometimes called ecosystem services. Forests are being managed sustainably to allow them to continue providing these services.

The management of forests in the Netherlands was focused very much on producing wood until midway through the 20th century. Today, multiple functions are usually pursued simultaneously when managing forests, including nature and recreation. The production of wood figures less prominently in present-day management, although interest in using wood as a source of energy is increasing.

Sustainable forest management starts by creating forests responsibly. The right choice of such matters as tree species (they must be compatible with the properties of the growing area), plant material, mixing patterns and plot structures will determine many of the future possibilities of a forest for a long time. Forests are usually planted in keeping with their principal functions (recreation, nature and wood production).   For sustainable forest management there are quality labels such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC™).

With systematic management it is possible to make a forest attractive to recreation-seekers. Ways of doing this include planting different types of trees, ensuring the co-existence of old and young forest, alternating dense vegetation with open spots and creating variety in the structure of land plots, roads and paths. The resulting variation is beneficial for both recreation and nature.

Usually the principal functions (recreation, nature and wood production) are taken into account.



The way most forests are managed in the Netherlands leans towards three functions: nature, wood production and recreation. The forest owner chooses the functions. The choice will be influenced by the financing of forest management. The financing of nature and forest management is undergoing major change at present. Subsidies are decreasing and new markets and funds are developing (see for example A forest can yield a greater economic return by focusing management on multiple ecosystem services that a forest provides and society needs.

Wood has recently seen a popularity revival as a renewable commodity and energy source. But it is debatable whether the return is sufficiently high; when you harvest trees from a forest, you have to fertilise to supplement the nutrients.

A forest provides us – more or less automatically – with ecosystem services for capturing carbon and purifying air and water. The services can be optimised by means of sustainable and targeted management. However, this kind of management involves extra costs. The development of a mechanism to foot the bill for these costs is still under development.

More might also be done with other products and services from the forest, such as wildlife and decorative greenery. The idea of having food forests fits in with this concept and is in line with the trend of using natural products.

Forests can play a far greater role in human health. Besides giving us healthy air, forests do a lot more. Many people feel at ease in green surroundings. They also provide us with a place to take exercise and to relax in green surroundings, both of which have a positive effect on our health. The first healthy walking routes have already been marked out.

To utilise the possibilities of natural capital sustainably and optimally, it is desirable to pre-identify the ecosystem services and to zoom in on those with the potential to be transformed into deliverable and usable services. Besides analysing the appearance and configuration of forests, this necessitates an analysis of the users and stakeholders.



The legal frameworks for protecting biodiversity in the Netherlands were laid down in the new Nature Conservancy Act of 2014. It will replace (probably in 2015) the existing Nature Conservancy Act, the Flora and Fauna Act and the Forests Act. Provincial authorities are going to have an important task in implementing the provisions of the Act, because they will be made responsible for protecting all nature within their boundaries. Subsidies for forest management are obtainable under the Nature and Landscape Subsidy System (SNL). Policy on forests and their management will remain focused in the Netherlands on the sustainable maintenance of forests and the optimum performance of their function. For sustainable maintenance it is mandatory to replant trees within three years of felling. The National Landscape Act (1928) is also relevant to the maintenance and creation of new forests. The Act is directed towards the upkeep of estates through tax incentives.



The Amerongen Forest 

The Amerongen Forest is an old forestry location situated on the Utrecht Hill Ridge, a ridge of low sand hills in the centre of the Netherlands. The forest exhibits a lot of mixed forestry on sandy ground, with predominantly coniferous and deciduous trees. It is managed with a view to retaining and strengthening the nature and cultural values. This is being accomplished in such ways as maintaining historical lanes and old trees and by improving the mixture of different types of trees. Insofar as nature values permit, wood is also harvested. The composition and structure of the forest enable changes to meet future objectives without the need for rigorous alterations. This means the forest will be managed with a certain degree of flexibility for the years ahead.

Zelle Estate

A plan for the future was written in 2005 for the Zelle Estate (province of Gelderland). The plan is built principally on the pursuit of quality and (new) economic drivers. To manage the quality of the estate a number of different nature projects have already been carried out, including restoration of the original system of lanes with its seven-way intersection. A few plots of grassland have been converted to forestry and others to natural grassland. Some new economic drivers have also been created, including the laying of an 18-hole golf course set against the attractive backdrop of forests, groups of trees and other nature elements. Its rental to a golf club provides good income. Good cooperation has also been set up with a care institution.

Schuytgraaf residential district

A play forest has been created in the Schuytgraaf residential district of Arnhem. The forest is dedicated entirely to giving children an experience. They can build a cabin in the dark woods, for example. They can also walk across water on suspended walkways and enjoy themselves at the water pump. There is even a picnic spot to take a break from all the exciting adventures.

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