Nature-Based Solutions

The role of local social support

Department of Social Sciences

Rather than building dykes or other hard structures to counter the effects of climate change, let nature work for you. That is the core of the Nature-Based Solutions concept. While such projects are promising on paper, it’s a challenge to actually make them happen. According to Andries Richter of Wageningen University & Research, the success of nature-based projects depends in part on its social support from locals.

This research contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities.

The Netherlands is fully committed to nature-based solutions. With their rich knowledge and experience in the field of water management, they like to make use of this in their own country, but they also want to turn this expertise into an important export product. Examples of Nature-Based Solutions in the Netherlands are the construction of salt marshes off the coast or wet natural areas along rivers. In countries like Bangladesh, for example, a Nature-Based Solution would be creating mangrove forests off the coast. These are solutions that not only offer protection against flooding, but are also good for nature and offer economic benefits. Mangrove forests, for example, are rich in fish and offer opportunities for shellfish farming.

“On paper, these are fantastic projects, yet they are not always successful. This is often due to the many uncertainties associated with these solutions,” says Andries Richter, researcher at the Environmental Economics and Natural Resource Group (ENR) of Wageningen University & Research. These uncertainties are often not so much about the technical or ecological aspects of the interventions, but more often about the social and economic factors: “Project failures are very often due to a combination of eroded political will, social resistance and economic uncertainties.”

Projects are

more likely to fail if

there’s eroded political will, social resistance and economic uncertainties

Socio-economic aspects

determine the success or failure

of nature-based projects

The ultimate goal is to

create an integrated learning environment

as a decision support tool for Nature-Based Solutions

The role of social scientists

Researchers from ENR look at which design principles are needed for social support and economic resilience in Nature-Based Solutions projects. They do this for an ambitious and long-running Nature-Based Solutions project in the Netherlands: the Grensmaas in South Limburg. Since 2008, the Grensmaas Consortium, in which gravel companies, contractors and Natuurmonumenten [an organisation that protects and maintains Dutch nature, ed.] work together, has been active in the area between Maastricht and Roosteren, where they combine [‘better protection against high water with ecological recovery. This immense project is being financed by extracting around 54 million tonnes of gravel and 10 million tonnes of sand from the river Maas, which makes the river wider.

“Social scientists should be involved in this type of project from the outset, because socio-economic aspects determine the success or failure of these projects,” says Andries Richter. “The Grensmaas project is doing quite well on its own, but you can also see that the foundation of support among local residents is rather shaky; there is distrust towards the central government. Years of sand excavation have caused a great deal of inconvenience, and the changes are sometimes quite drastic — the village of Maasband, for example, is becoming an island at high tide. The collapse of the gravel market in 2007 due to the economic crisis has also created uncertainty.”

Want to know more about the Grensmaas project?

Social scientists should be involved in such projects from the outset

Citizen science

Within the Grensmaas project, ENR participates in a transdisciplinary consortium by cooperating with academic partners (Maastricht University, University of Twente, Wageningen Environmental Research, Hanze University of Applied Sciences) and stakeholders (companies, governments and NGOs). The research is scientifically innovative through the combination of quantitative and innovative qualitative research methods, such as continuous participatory narrative inquiry, a method that retrieves the experiences and stories of people in the region to continuously measure the development of support.

Through citizen science [a method that employs citizens to conduct research, ed.] residents will collect data in order to monitor the development of biodiversity in their nature-based area. This will provide interesting insights, but — at least as important — will make people co-owners, which will help to strengthen public support.

“Our aim is to use this project to build an infrastructure that will continue to exist — even after the project has ended and we as scientists are gone again,” says Andries Richter. “The ultimate goal is to create an integrated learning environment as a decision support tool for Nature-Based Solutions.”

Want to know more about nature-based solutions? Ask our expert

Andries Richter

Associate Professor Environmental Economics and Natural Resources

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