Restoration of the Vecht
The Transboundary Vecht Vision Document describes in broad terms what needs to restore the River Vecht to its former condition as a pleasant, safe river with clean water, healthy flora and fauna, and a flourishing economic environment. Decisions about what exactly has to be done, and how, still have to be taken. So there is plenty of room for new ideas and initiatives (www.devecht.eu).
Awareness-raising and valuation
One of these new ideas and initiatives is to conduct a practical trial in the form of a pilot study of the innovative ecosystems services concept. Ecosystems provide many useful services that benefit society. Protection against floods, food production and biodiversity for our enjoyment are just some examples of services of this kind. In order to raise awareness of these services, and to value them, the scientific concepts of ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘payment for ecosystem services’ (PES for short) have been developed.
Costs and benefits in the picture
The pilot study will develop a PES structure for the allocation of the expected costs and benefits of the planned restoration of flood plains in the transboundary Vecht region. The research area is located between the German municipality of Laar and the Dutch municipality of Hardenberg, and it therefore extends approximately 10 km upstream (into Germany) and 10 km downstream (into the Netherlands) from the border.
We used the ecosystems services concept in a participative study in parallel with the ongoing planning process for the restoration of flood plains in the research area. A range of interviews and local meetings (workshops) were organised with local stakeholders. On the basis of a provisional design for the restoration approach to the flood plains, they teamed up to identify – with supervision from us – the costs and benefits of the approach. On that basis, we drafted a proposal for a PES structure. In a final workshop, the stakeholders used this structure as a basis for negotiations about the allocation of the costs and benefits.
Contribution from municipal authorities
The main – not unexpected – conclusion is that nature conservationists are, alongside the water management authorities, the principal beneficiaries of the approach. In addition, the tourism sector, the municipalities and farmers will benefit from the restoration of the flood plain. However, the degree to which the benefits will actually emerge – and this applies particularly to tourism and the agricultural sector – depends on the specific details of the design of the approach, and also on other factors such as the creation of, for example, bicycle paths to provide access to the area. After the final PES negotiations, the municipal authorities involved stated that they wish to contribute. This means that this pilot study is – to the satisfaction of the principals – a successful demonstration of a practical application of the ecosystem services concept in transboundary water management.
The project is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Göttingen and the Bureau Interessen Im Fluss. There is close involvement with all relevant local stakeholders, such as the Vechtstromen water management authority.