The province of Drenthe has acted well when it comes to the use of plant protection products in addition to Natura 2000 areas. The judge will rule that today. Much is still unclear about the situation, little is factually substantiated and it is not possible to immediately establish a violation.

    Interest association Meten=Weten went to court because it believes that the province should have intervened in the use of crop protection products on two plots next to the Drents-Friese Wold near Diever. She would prefer a ban on plant protection products next to protected natural areas to conserve species. That is a step too far for the judge.

    Risk assessment must be done through ecological assessment

    The farmer who uses the land, Maatschap Joling, is required by the province to carry out a so-called ‘ecological preliminary test’ to rule out any effects on nature. This includes looking at how the resources are used, what kind of machines are used and then an assessment is made of the risks.

    Despite the fact that this test has not yet been carried out, cultivation has already started in May. The province sent a warning letter to the farmer, but is not yet enforcing the situation. “This case concerns an enforcement request. But then there must first be a violation. And before you say that there is a violation, a few things must be established,” said the lawyer on behalf of the province two weeks ago. in court.

    ‘Consequences for nature must be excluded’

    Meten=Weten thinks this is too lenient for the province. She states that according to the European Habitats Directive, the consequences for nature must be ruled out with scientific certainty, ie with the burden of proof, before cultivation can start.

    According to the judge, it is understandable that the province did not immediately proceed with enforcement, but first started with a warning and a request for more information about the activities in the form of an ecological pre-test. “At the time of the enforcement request, it was not clear to the Defendant (Province of Drenthe, ed.) who carried out the activity and what the activity entailed. Defendant needed time to gather that information,” the ruling reads.

    Meten=Weten increased the pressure and wanted the province to quickly switch to enforcement. The lawsuit was filed while an objection procedure is still pending with the province itself. The judge called it ‘understandable’ that the province did not enforce this. The argument that the effect of plant protection products on nature must first be determined does not hold. The judge ruled that Meten=Weten had not submitted any concrete and objective information for this.

    Changing crops makes assessment difficult

    Joling has been working since 1990 and changes crops and plots. Lilies are grown on the relevant plot once every six to seven years, followed by other crops in the intervening years. The first time lilies were grown on this plot was in 1996. The judge therefore stated that it was unclear whether the lily cultivation already took place before the Habitats Directive came into effect or whether it concerns new activities for which permission must first be requested.

    Partnership Joling can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being. They can complete the lily season and provide the buyers of the flowers with a new stock. “We would have made it through this season anyway,” says Joling. “But if the judge had ruled otherwise, it would have had far-reaching consequences. Almost more than the nitrogen rules. We do not only use crop protection products for lily cultivation, but also for other crops such as potatoes and beets, and then we would no longer have them for anything.” can use.”

    ‘There is no company that can do the ecological test’

    Still, Joling is not out of the woods yet. The judge does say that if Joling does not meet the term for the ecological pre-test, the province will still be advised to switch to enforcement. “But there is no company in the Netherlands that can perform such an ecological preliminary test,” explains Joling. “There must still be a research bureau that can do that. Even the province cannot find a research bureau for this.”

    Measuring=Knowing recognizes that problem. “The difficult thing about a preliminary test is that it is not feasible to test whether the use of pesticides causes damage in Natura 2000 areas,” says Geert Starre on behalf of the club. “The province is thus giving the grower an impossible task. You cannot predict per crop how the substances will move and how they will behave in a Natura 2000 area. What is really difficult is what the substances used do together, they form a cocktail which is even more dangerous.”

    Starre calls the judge’s ruling a pity, but thinks that Meten=Weten can draw its lessons from it. “This is an intermediate step, not yet the final. The main pity is that we have to fight this out with individuals in court. While it is actually the province that lets the farmers struggle. For us, this is the only way to get the province moving.” and come up with rules.”