Guess who wrote more than two years ago that to restore nature, nitrogen emissions must be reduced by 50 percent within ten years?

    It was Johan Remkes, chairman of the advisory board on nitrogen issues in the report ‘Not everything is possible everywhere’. Remkes is the man under whose leadership the cabinet and a delegation of angry farmers in Utrecht discussed possible relaxation of the measures on Friday. According to the farmers, Remkes is not the most obvious independent chairman of the talks that should lead to a reconciliation, and they have a point there; it was Remkes who, with his advisory board, legitimized the subsequent cabinet measures. The 50 percent reduction is necessary, Remkes wrote, in order to ensure that the ‘critical deposition value’ for nitrogen is no longer exceeded by 2040 at the latest. That value is “the amount of deposition that an ecosystem can still tolerate without being damaged”, Remkes quotes scientific researchers from Wageningen.

    Damage to nature

    It is these objectives and the calculation of this critical deposition value of the current cabinet that many farmers’ organizations are now questioning, from the trade union LTO Nederland to the more radical Farmers Defense Force. Not only are the targets and the pace of reduction unattainable according to the farmers, they also believe that the rigid statement that if a certain amount of nitrogen ends up in vulnerable nature, this will lead to irreparable damage. The question is not only whether the Netherlands should always continue to protect the same vulnerable plant and animal species, because nature is constantly changing and other nature is also worthwhile, they argue. They also believe that it is not only the assumed surplus of nitrogen that kills vulnerable nature. They are supported in this by Member of Parliament Derk Boswijk (CDA). He wrote in Friday The Telegraph that there are also areas where that damned critical deposition value is exceeded, “but nature is in much better shape than you might think based on the models.” Boswijk: “In practice, the quality of nature depends on more factors than just nitrogen. Water management and nature management are also of great importance.”

    Grit to the mill of the farmers, who usually add to this reasoning that if too much nitrogen ends up in vulnerable nature, there are other methods for nature restoration than simply requiring farmers to emit less nitrogen.


    Still, the criticism makes no sense, say scientific researchers. Time and again research shows that it is indeed possible to establish that serious damage is caused to vulnerable nature areas above a certain nitrogen limit. And that conclusion is all the more robust, says nitrogen expert Jan Willem Erisman, since the studies were conducted in areas where other factors, such as drought, were in order. Erisman acknowledges that there will certainly be differences in the quality of nature of, for example, the blue grasslands in Friesland and those in South Holland, but the critical deposition limit is the same. According to Erisman, this ‘black-and-white legal measure’ would be better accompanied by other critical limits, such as for lack of water or for nature management – ​​but there are hardly any such criteria.