Value of forest, heath and built-up areas mapped out

07/09/2017 11:40 / Author: Masja de Ree / Photography: Hollandse Hoogte / Category: Innovation and development
Fresh water, salt water, woodland and heathland: these are some of the existing ecosystems in the Netherlands. But what is their value? Statistics Netherlands (CBS) is currently developing a brand new statistic on this ‘natural capital’. This statistic, which is to complement the National Accounts, will be useful in assessing the quality of life in the Netherlands.


Natural capital is a broad concept. CBS is looking primarily at ecosystems: woodland, heathland, salt water and fresh water, but also the built-up area, for example. Acting project manager Sjoerd Schenau (on behalf of Rixt de Jong): ‘What we are mapping is first of all the distribution of the ecosystems over the Netherlands: how much land is forested, how much is covered with heather? In addition, we assess the quality of these ecosystems as well as their contribution to the economy and society.’ The latter is referred to as ‘ecosystem services’. Statistical researcher Elze Polman explains: ‘These services could be the volumes of timber that are produced by one forest, or how many recreational activities are taking place in an area, or the amount of fine dust the trees can absorb, an important feature in improving air quality in the Netherlands.’

Comprehensive picture of well-being

As one of the first countries in the world, the Netherlands is setting up a comprehensive system of tables with data on natural capital. This system will complement the National Accounts, which have traditionally focused on the economic aspects of well-being. Schenau: ‘By adding natural capital, we are creating a broader picture of well-being. We are doing so in cooperation with other countries and international organisations such as the UN, World Bank and Eurostat.’ The statistic is currently in development, but a map with ecosystems is already available <kaart invoegen>. A table on carbon storage will be published by the end of September and the first table on ecosystem services is underway. After that, we will release figures on biodiversity in the Netherlands and the condition of the ecosystems.

Economic value

The development does not stop there. Schenau: ‘We are also developing a method to express these services in monetary terms. This will be helpful for policy makers who need to assess the value of ecosystems and make comparisons. Suppose they have to choose between preserving and urbanising woodland, then it is important to know how productive the woodland is in economic terms; for instance, its timber yield or revenues from tourism. We will first research how we can best express the ecosystem services in monetary terms in a way that is consistent with the National Accounts.’ Of course, the ecosystems are strictly assessed in terms of their economic value. Their intrinsic value, e.g. how much enjoyment is derived from them, cannot be expressed in money.

Graphical display

In the future, this new statistic will provide a tool to monitor natural capital in the Netherlands over a longer period of time, and even show relations in quality between the various ecosystems. ‘This is quite innovative,’ says Polman, also referring to the fact that all the data will be displayed graphically on maps, offering users an easy way to zoom in on certain regions or areas. ‘It will be easy to do comparisons between regions.’ During production of the statistic, CBS will deploy as many existing data as possible, but will also use data from other organisations including the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). During development of the method for the new statistic, CBS is working closely with Wageningen University.