Policy discourses for reconnecting nature with society: The search for societal engagement in Dutch nature conservation policies.

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The recently published EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 emphasizes nature’s benefits to humans. In line with wider shifts in nature conservation discourses in many European countries, moving from nature’s intrinsic value towards its instrumental values, the EU strategy strongly focuses on a ‘Natural capital’ view. In this context of a European wide search for business opportunities and societal engagement in nature conservation, this article investigates efforts from Dutch governments to strengthen the link between nature conservation and society.
Over the past 10 years, policy responsibilities for nature conservation in the Netherlands have been decentralized from the national level to the twelve provinces, who have employed a variety of approaches to stimulate societal
engagement in nature conservation. Through discourse analysis, we show how the previously hegemonic “Ecology First” discourse – a hierarchical
mode of governance with a strong focus on intrinsic values – has transgressed towards a more flexible and adaptive "Partnership for Nature" discourse, with a strong focus on aligning with local stakeholders through network governance. In addition, we describe the emergence of three new discourses: a “Green Economy”
discourse, capitalizing on ecosystem services to unleash new financial resources; a “Relational Nature” discourse with a strong focus on people’s connections to nature; and a “Democratic Nature” discourse focusing on nature’s intrinsic and relational values combined with a mosaic governance approach. While the EU Biodiversity Strategy focus on natural capital aligns very well with the Dutch Green Economy discourse, the EU strategy gives little attention to the relational and democratic dimensions of societal engagement. Based on our analysis, we show that changing modes of governance relate to changes in values of nature.
Government’s need for new conservation partners requires opening up for new values of nature. In addition, changing values of nature require a change in governance structures to allow new actors to participate and contribute. The increasing focus on natural capital and green economy at the European level may be a first step in such diversification. However, we argue that Europe needs to develop additional strategies beyond instrumental values, to allow for further diversification of values and include all stakeholders from society.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105965
JournalLand Use Policy
Early online date18 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Active citizenship
  • Intrinsic values
  • Nature conservation
  • Relational values
  • Societal engagement
  • Values of nature


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