Site managers have not secretly expanded the areas with nitrogen-sensitive nature on maps of the Aerius calculation model. This is what Minister Carola Schouten of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality says in response to parliamentary questions. The extension has been actively disclosed and used by stakeholders.
The Agrifacts Foundation (Staff) presented a study on 10 November from which, according to this organization, it appears that a lot of nitrogen-sensitive nature has been added to the nature map in the Aerius calculation model over the past five years. According to Staf, this happened out of sight of stakeholders around those nature reserves.
Schouten states that the addition of the nature areas goes back to the introduction of a new Aerius calculation model on 1 September 2017. This model incorporates nitrogen-sensitive habitat for the first time, in addition to a description of the habitat types. The minister points out that this was also stated on the Aerius website at the time. She also points to the public participation responses to the amendment, in which participants pointed out the consequences for the granting of permits.
From an ecological point of view, ‘nitrogen-sensitive’ means that a habitat type or habitat can decrease in quality and surface area due to nitrogen deposition. The status ‘nitrogen sensitive’ means in concrete terms that at the location concerned, possible negative effects of nitrogen must be taken into account. Expansion of these areas can have consequences for the permits of surrounding companies or the measures they have to take to reduce their nitrogen emissions.
The relevant habitats of species were also sensitive to nitrogen before 2017, says Schouten, but their mapping was behind that of the habitat types. The reason for this was that a classification into additional nitrogen-sensitive habitats was only available in 2012, with associated critical deposition values.
After that, these habitat types still had to be mapped and linked per area to the different species that use them. This happened in particular in the years 2016-2017. Finally, the result was processed in Aerius in 2017.
The minister points out that site management or other nature organizations are not responsible for drawing up, updating and improving habitat maps. ‘These are the provinces, Rijkswaterstaat and for one area the Ministry of Defense. These authorized parties make use of information from independent ecological agencies, in particular vegetation surveys, ‘says Schouten.
The assignments for the mapping are often awarded by the land management organizations and other owners of nature reserves who receive subsidies for management and monitoring. This also includes mapping. The translation and editing of these vegetation surveys into habitat maps is done by order of the competent authorities themselves, who are also always responsible for the control. In addition, an independent validation of habitat type maps is carried out by experts, according to Schouten.
After the investigation, various farmers and landowners concluded to their own surprise that their soil was marked as nitrogen sensitive. Staf’s investigation also led to parliamentary questions from VVD, PVV, CDA and SGP, among others. In addition, questions have been asked about the report in the Provincial Council of Drenthe and Friesland, among others.