The promised forest: what about the forests in the Netherlands?

The recently released documentary on Zembla, ‘The Promised Forest’ took a look at the trees and forests in the Netherlands. Although there is increasing attention for the importance of forests in the environment, it seems that the forests in the Netherlands are not doing well. What is the situation of the country and what exactly does the Forestry Strategy entail?

Forest in the Netherlands

Ever since the 9th century, forests have been cut down in the Netherlands. Land is scarce and in order to build more cities, among other things, more and more forest has disappeared. In 1850 only 1% of the Dutch land was still covered by forest. After the Second World War people realised that things had to be done differently and it was decided to plant more trees. This was successful and the amount of forest grew steadily, but unfortunately between 2013 and 2017 more forest was cut down than planted.

Because of the great pressure on land, the Netherlands is now one of the European countries with the least forest. Only Malta and Iceland are less forested. By way of comparison: in Sweden 69% of the land area is forest, in the Netherlands this percentage is only 10%. This is well below the European average of 43% in 2015.

Positive impact of forest

Forests have different functions. They produce oxygen, protect from soil erosion and regulate groundwater and the local climate. They also offer animals a place to live and forests are loved by many people.

Since the climate crisis, there is an additional reason to protect forests. Trees are able to store large quantities ofCO2. By signing the Kyoto Protocol, the Netherlands has agreed to reduceCO2 emissions. Trees can contribute to achieving the climate objectives and are therefore valuable resources. However, when trees are cut down, the storedCO2 is released again. Deforestation is therefore a major problem.

Measures to protect the forest

Because trees play an important role in reducingCO2 in the atmosphere, since 2017 it is mandatory to compensate forest that is cut down. The number of trees felled must be replanted in another location within three years. This should ensure that the released CO2 can be stored again. This does not apply to felling of trees by Staatsbosbeheer, but it does apply to deforestation due to infrastructure and construction.

Planting a new forest

The planting of new forests is of course good for the environment, but there is one note to add. New trees store about 40 times lessCO2 than the average tree that is cut down does. So quite some time passes before newly planted forest has the same positive impact on the environment as cut forest.

In addition, it is important to look at the type of tree being planted. A Douglas fir, for example, can store a relatively large amount ofCO2 in a short period of time, and conifers are generally better at storing particulate matter than deciduous trees. A new forest with different types of trees is again good for biodiversity. Creating extra forest or compensating for forest loss, requires several choices.

The promised forest: the current state of affairs

The episode ‘The Promised Forest’ concluded that not all the forest that has been cut down in recent years has been compensated. In the last 10 years even more forest has disappeared than has been added. Wageningen University calculated that between 2013 and 2017, 20 000 ha of forest were cut down and 9 000 ha were planted. This deforestation is caused, among other things, by housing construction and the widening of roads.

Minister Schouten of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality has also noticed this and agreed with the provinces in 2020 that 10% more forest will be created in the next ten years. This accounts for some 37,400 ha of new forest. These agreements are laid down in the Forestry Strategy. This Forestry Strategy will also contribute to achieving the climate objectives set out in the Dutch and international climate agreements.

Staatsbosbeheer will plant a part of the new forest, 5.000 ha, and says it has already started. If we manage to achieve the 10% increase in forestry, that’s very good news. This will make it possible to take moreCO2 out of the air and come a step closer to a greener Netherlands.

What does Ecoteers do?

Ecoteers supports the Forest Strategy and hopes that it will be adhered to. We also want to contribute to the realization of more forest in the Netherlands. We have therefore started our own tree project and hope to plant our first trees soon. In this way we want to guarantee that this piece of forest will always remain forest and will have a permanent positive impact on the environment.

Want to know more about our green plans? Check out our green goals here.

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