Cleaner air means less particulate matter captured by ecosystems

Trees and plants filter harmful particulate matter from the air. Between 2013 and 2021, the amount of particulate matter that was captured each year by natural ecosystems fell by over a third. This was because there was less particulate matter in the air. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports this on the basis of the Natural Capital Accounts.

In 2021, natural ecosystems were responsible for removing 14.9 million kg of particulate matter (PM2.5) from the air. That was down from 23.8 million kg in 2013. The capture of particulate matter by natural ecosystems has been falling steadily, and is down by 37.5 percent since 2013.

This decrease has occurred mainly because there is less particulate matter in the air. According to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), particulate matter concentrations in urban areas were 30 percent lower in 2021 than in 2013.

Total capture of particulate matter by ecosystems*
PeriodenUrban green space (mln kg)Arable farming and horticulture (mln kg)Grassland (mln kg)Woodland (mln kg)Other (mln kg)
*provisional figures

The economic utility of particulate matter removal

Particulate matter is harmful to human health. The capture of particulate matter by natural ecosystems is beneficial to people’s well-being and also has economic benefits, such as reducing healthcare costs. The total economic value of the removal of particulate matter by ecosystems stood at nearly 152 million euros in 2021.

Urban green space provides particular health benefits
The volume of particulate matter that is captured varies between different types of ecosystem. Wooded areas contribute the most and were responsible for 70 percent of particulate matter capture in 2021. A further 10 percent of particulate matter was captured in areas used for arable farming and horticulture, and 9 percent in grassland. Urban green space captured 6 percent of particulate matter by volume.

Even though urban green space was only responsible for capturing 6 percent of particulate matter in 2021, the socio-economic importance of that is much higher. This is because more people live close to urban green spaces than close to woods and forests, which means that more people benefit from the positive health effects. When expressed in monetary terms, urban green space actually accounts for 37 percent of particulate matter capture. The reverse is true for woods and forests: they capture 70 percent of particulate matter by volume, but in monetary terms that represents only 42 percent of the total.

Capture of particulate matter by different types of ecosystem, 2021*
 Urban green space (%)Arable farming and horticulture (%)Grassland (%)Woodland (%)Other (%)
Monetary value3779424
*provisional figures

Ecosystems in Gelderland and Noord-Brabant make the largest contribution

In 2021, the most particulate matter was captured by ecosystems in the provinces of Gelderland and Noord-Brabant. Together, ecosystems in these provinces accounted for around 46 percent of the total volume captured. This is because they have the most woods and forests by area: 47 percent of all the wooded areas in the Netherlands.

Capture of particulate matter by ecosystems, by physical volume, 2021*
Regio'sVolume of particulate matter captured ( million kg)
*provisional figures

In monetary terms, the contribution of ecosystems was also highest in Gelderland and Noord-Brabant, but at 35 percent this was lower than their contribution by volume. This is because fewer people benefit from particulate capture by wooded areas in Gelderland and Noord-Brabant, in relative terms. In the province of Zuid-Holland the reverse is true. Ecosystems in Zuid-Holland removed just over 4 percent of particular matter by volume. However, because of its larger population, the contribution of ecosystems in Zuid-Holland was 14 percent in monetary terms.

Capture of particulate matter by ecosystems, by monetary value, 2021*
Regio'sMonetary value as ecosystem service ( million euro)
*provisional figures

Natural Capital Accounts for the Netherlands

The figures in this article are taken from the Natural Capital Accounts. The description of ecosystems in the Netherlands is a central aspect of these accounts, which provide information on both the current state of ecosystems (their scale and quality) and their contribution to our well-being and economy by providing ‘ecosystem services’. The filtering and purification of our air is one such ecosystem service. Natural ecosystems provide countless other services: woods and forests provide timber and leisure opportunities, for example. A complete overview of the ecosystem services evaluated to date can be found in this StatLine table.

Not all ecosystem services relevant to the Netherlands have yet been calculated. The intention is to assess more ecosystem services in the coming years. The Natural Capital Accounts have been developed in partnership with Wageningen University & Research (WUR). They are drawn up according to United Nations guidelines: Ecosystem Accounting | System of Environmental Economic Accounting.