A holistic initiative is taking place in the Western Peat Meadows to demonstrate how best to adapt a human shaped landscape to the carrying capacity of the land.
The Western peat meadow area is a characteristic Dutch landscape. People have shaped the landscape since the Middle Ages and today it is managed for dairy farming. Bordered by major cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem and Utrecht, farmers in the Western peat meadows have long supplied products for urban residents. And nowadays Dutch farmers feed the world; although a small country, the Netherlands is the 2nd largest exporter of agricultural products in the world.
Much of the landscape is wetland systems. In a healthy state wetlands absorb carbon, control water quality, prevent flooding and create habitat for meadow birds. Yet the intensification of farming in the Western peat meadows greatly impacts the ecology of the area. Because to farm peat meadows, it is first necessary to drain them and lower the water table.
Continuous drainage leads to peat oxidation emitting large amounts of CO2 and ammonia while the soil subsides. Due to the deep dewatering of the polders and intensification of agriculture, the natural values in peat meadows have also deteriorated. Meadow bird populations have dropped dramatically in the last two decades and approximately 75% of the insect population is gone.
Despite the intensification of agriculture , farmers struggle financially. It is becoming clear that we are reaching the boundaries of what the Western Peat Meadows and its inhabitants can carry. We have come to a point that both farmers, conservationists and policy-makers are searching for a new way forward.
Wij.land works in the western peat meadows to promote a healthy and resilient landscape. They believe it is possible for agriculture and nature to be intertwined in sustainable business models. In collaboration with Commonland, Natuurmonumenten, a group of >50 farmers in action, and businesses like Ptthee, Boeren van Amstel work is taking place to bring farming in the Dutch Western peat meadows within the carrying capacity of the land.
A new Dutch polder landscape
20 year vision
By 2040, farmers in the Western Peat Meadows provide major Dutch cities with healthy and nutritious products. But the farmers do a lot more than produce food. Farmers are now landscape managers; they produce and create an ecosystem, and each farm strives for local ecosystem optimization. That means that range of income for farmers is now diverse – including the continued dairy production, payments for ecosystem services, carbon offsetting, biodiversity and water credits. And as farms themselves are now important habitats for flora and fauna, visitors for nature conservation provides an extra source of income.
Lives of people and their sense of purpose in the Netherlands have significantly improved as a result of the project, people are engaged and participate in and initiate 4 returns initiatives throughout the land. High valuation of farmers and nature conservationists in their profession.
Wij.land hosted a sold-out festival in September 2020 (Photo credit: Wij.land)
500 farmers are in transition towards regenerative farming practices, with financially sustainable business models and long-term job creation. Several connections (short value chain) have been created in between the countryside and the cities, thereby more than halving average food kilometres.
Checking richness of soil structure and life in the Western peat meadows (Photo credit Tom Baas)
Restoration of ecological functions on 125.000 hectares, with positive effects on soil fertility, water quality, biodiversity and CO2-emissions. Land-use is in balance with the carrying capacity of the ecosystem.
Grasses are essential for landscape restoration; diverse and healthy meadows improve soil fertility and boost biodiveristy (Photo credit: Tom Baas)
Several scaled up 4 returns business models and enterprises in the landscape. Landscape restoration has become a mainstream investment.
Monique van der Laan farms and sells organic dairy products at De Beekhoeve (Photo credit: Tom Baas)
In the western peat meadows, the landscape where Wij.land works, there are water and nature areas (natural zone), peat meadows (combined zone) and economic zones (cities and peri-urban areas). Planning of new nature areas is in progress and also the mapping of the zones has just begun.
Swamps and wetlands absorb carbon, control water quality, prevent flooding and create wildlife habitat (photo credit: Natuurmonumenten, W. Reinink)
Wij.land is focusing on the peat meadows (combined zone) in working together with farmers to improve their practices (mostly by implementing regenerative dairy farming practices); This is where Wij.land builds and enforces partnerships between farmers and nature conservationists to optimally combine their efforts in the area.
Extensive cattle grazing helps put dairy production within the ecological carrying capacity of the land (Photo credit: Tom Baas)
Wij.land spearheads activities on the ground on three pillars:
- Sustainable farming: together with farmers Wij.land explores how farming and nature strengthen each other. Wij.land offers farmers the possibility to pilot nature-inclusive farming methods
- Sustainable business models: business cases for nature-inclusive farming in development; researching how to drive landscape restoration through value chain or financial mechanisms
- Community and inspiration: Wij.land inspire, inform and challenge farmers, urban residents and other stakeholders to innovative, co-create and develop practical solutions to the balance between agriculture and nature
Soil health is central to sustainable farming (Photo: Erica ten Broeke)
Role of business
There is great opportunity to connect sustainable business based on healthy landscapes in the Western peat meadows. Wij.land promotes sustainable business and entrepreneurship which enables farmers to transition to regenerative business. Current examples include:
- Boeren van Amstel: a 20-farmer strong dairy cooperative, which sells dairy products locally on Amsterdam markets, while encouraging bird-friendly peat meadow farming.
- Ptthee: a tea-company which restores biodiversity on farmlands to produce dutch-grown
- MOMA: a brand which connects Amsterdam with the countryside and processes and markets organic dairy
- Aardpeer: a fund for land purchase which is in development
Tea company Ptthee won the ASN Bank Prize, helping them to grow their business
Achieved so far
- 626 ha is now under improved management
- 63 ha planted with herb rich grasses by Farmers for Biodiversiry
- 58 farmers are experimenting with regenerative pilot activities on their farms
- 500,000 exposed to people Wij.land’s work in 2019
- 45 regenerative farming practice videos
- Pttthe won ASN Bank prize
- Pilot initiative Boeren van Amstel entered the Market