Healthy Landscape is a major collaboration involving ecologists, policy and communication experts, lawyers and historians associated with Radboud University. Its objective is to tackle biodiversity decline. “Collectively, all of us in Nijmegen can make a unique contribution to how we address issues like Nitrogen deposition.”Back in October 2017, Hans de Kroon’s research group published a study based on data from Germany on the problem of insect decline. The study captured global attention. “Everyone kind of knew that insects weren’t doing so well,” says De Kroon. “But through this study, we were able to support that idea with solid scientific data. In 27 years, flying insect abundance had declined by 75%. That percentage delivered an uncomfortable feeling. It became an iconic number. From then on, biodiversity was in the spotlight, and its importance was understood.”It’s impossible to imagine life without insects. They play a crucial role in pollination, they’re important ‘cleaners’ of our waters and soils, and they are a staple food for larger animals. “If they would disappear... Even those who really hate insects would understand that a 75% loss is not a good situation.”The question that De Kroon has now asked is: how can we, as a broad research university, contribute to solving this problem? “Scientists from different faculties were already working on the quality of the rural environment, without being aware of each other. When we invited a big group of different people to discuss it, we saw that if we’re going to tackle this problem, we need to do it together. That’s what led to Healthy Landscape,” says De Kroon.Ecologists helping lawyers“In terms of legal issues, we can immediately work together on the PAS judgement,” says Huub Ploegmakers, who has been appointed to coordinate the collaboration. The PAS judgement put a legal arrest to the Nitrogen Action Programme (Programma Aanpak Stikstof) as a basis for issuing permits for economic activities that release Nitrogen. “A lot of our policy in the Netherlands is based on models that predict the consequences of policy actions. These models are important in jurisprudence, and there’s growing debate about how to handle them.”“Because spatial planning often conflicts with environmental legislation, lawyers now turn to ecologists to ask: can we rely on the predicted impacts of ecological restoration measures?"De Kroon: “Our collaboration in Nijmegen can make a unique contribution to that kind of discussion. Our national landscape is very diverse, and everyone has something to say about it, from local and provincial governments to the water authorities and farmers. How can change be realised in such complex discourse? That’s what we want to shed some light on.”Change requires a joint effort“Change requires a joint effort,” says Sander Turnhout, who works alongside Ploegmakers as a coordinator of Healthy Landscape. “If you want people to change their behaviour, you have to come to some agreement about the problems and the solutions. That’s why we use a process of ‘participative monitoring’ in which we jointly look at what’s being measured and why, who is doing the measuring, how are they doing it, and how are we working with the data. That’s how we hope to bring about change. But the question of values also has to be taken into consideration. What sort of country do we want to live in? That’s how the strands of a solution can emerge.”Ploegmakers adds: “Having shared values isn’t quite enough. Those values need to fit in with existing food production and consumption paradigms, and how we use our landscapes. Economic, legal and social issues also come into play. What we’re doing is researching whether shared values really can unite all the various parties, or whether existing discrepancies will endure.”Déjà vu“Occasionally I have a sense of déjà vu,” says De Kroon. “Our publication on insect decline unleashed all kinds of emotions, and disbelief about the data. You can see the same thing now with the Nitrogen crisis. At some point, the dust will settle and we’re going to enter a new phase. Then we're ready to assist. We can offer our ecological knowledge for science-based recovery of biodiversity, as well as apply our broad expertise for inducing a constructive dialog towards supported and truly sustainable solutions."You have a part to playOur society is facing major challenges. Radboud University wants to contribute to a healthy, free world with equal chances for everyone. With ‘Je bent nodig’ (You have a part to play), Radboud University aims to reach people who want to contribute to that goal. At Jebentnodig.nl you’ll find more articles and a link to our job opportunities.Do you want to be kept updated of our articles? Register at Radboud Recharge.Image by rihaij via Pixabay.