Governance and Contested Land Use in the Netherlands

The Case of the Drentsche Aa
  • Severine van BommelEmail author
  • Noelle Aarts
  • Esther Turnhout
  • Niels Roling


This chapter investigates, theoretically as well as empirically, the way in which initiatives aimed at territorial governance work out in practice. The concept of territorial governance has increasingly received attention in policy plans as well as in the policy science literature. So far, little is known about how espoused shifts towards territorial governance manifest themselves in practice. By analysing the shift in governance in the Drentsche Aa in the Netherlands, this chapter sheds light on what happens when the espoused shift to territorial governance is applied to concrete situations, in which different dilemmas and opposing forces are at play. It shows that territorial governance in the Drentsche Aa area is struggling with tensions between regional multi-actor practices and hierarchical policy practices. We conclude that shifts in governance indeed occurred in this area, but that they manifested themselves in practice as hybrids between area based hierarchy and multi actor initiatives. As such the shifts are not as straightforward and unambiguous as sometimes thought and/or aimed for in literature, but instead their manifestation in practice is complex, ambiguous and context dependent.


Policy Process Policy Practice Governance Context Multi Actor Multifunctional Agriculture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

7.1 Introduction

In the Netherlands, the concept of territorial governance can increasingly be recognised in policy practice as well as in the policy science literature. In policy science literature, it makes sense of a number of important societal trends. One of these trends relates to a changing role of the state, which is thought to shift from top-down regulation to bottom-up facilitation of policy processes, involving not only state, but also non-state actors such as NGOs, businesses and citizens in area based policy governance (De Bruijn et al. 1993; Glück 2000; Van Kersbergen and van Waarden 2001). In policy practice, the concept of territorial governance is not only used to refer to this societal trend but also as a normative standard to judge the quality of an area based policy practice. The idea is that the actual steering capacity of the state is limited, especially in complex situations in which multiple “realities” and interests lead to competing claims on natural resources. Therefore non-state actors should be given more influence on policy to increase the legitimacy of the policy processes and outcomes, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of policy implementation (Verbeeck and Leroy 2006; Turnhout and Van der Zouwen 2011). Thus in the Netherlands, territorial governance as a general term referring to the management of human affairs slowly takes on a normative meaning referring especially to participatory democracy.

As from the early 1990s, Dutch nature and landscape policy, increasingly aimed at territorial governance in an attempt to improve the quality of policy practices. It started with the so called “Spatial Planning and Environmental Policy” (ROM policy in Dutch) which was introduced in 1992. The ROM policy aimed at reconciling economic activities, residential activities and the environmental functions in an area in order to guarantee liveability and environmental quality. The ROM projects actively tried to achieve this by means of negotiation among important actors such as policy makers, companies, inhabitants, etc. In the mid 1990s, territorial governance was also introduced in the National Structure Plan for Green Areas1 (VROM 1995), which emphasises interactive and participatory processes in “Strategic Green Projects”. The so-called Management Program (LNV 1997) also fits in well with this approach because it tries to involve private landowners in countryside stewardship, in addition to the traditional conservation organisations. Building on these experiences, the policy document “Nature for People, People for Nature” (LNV 2000) finally explicitly expresses the ambition that people should be able to access and use natural areas and that actors should take responsibility for the management, protection and development of natural habitats. To this end, the document encourages cooperation between government and societal actors (LNV 2000). In addition, it expresses the explicit desire to take people’s opinions into account when designing and managing natural habitats.

Although attempts at territorial governance in nature policy have definitely been made, it remains unknown what happens when the espoused shift to territorial governance is applied to concrete situations, in which different dilemmas and opposing forces are at play. It can be expected that state institutions and international treaties and market forces have not suddenly vanished or are rendered meaningless. Territorial governance initiatives will have to somehow function side by side or perhaps within the limits set by other policy coordination mechanisms, such as the state and the market but how this works out in practice is unknown. The aim of this research was therefore to investigate by elaborate case study, how espoused shifts towards territorial governance manifest themselves in practice.

To do so, we will first elaborate on the approach relevant for studying the shift to territorial governance in Sect. 7.2. Section 7.3 then presents a comparative, historical overview of governance in a case study area. In Sect. 7.4, we will analyse this situation. The article concludes with a discussion of the theoretical implications of the case study for territorial governance in Sect. 7.5.

7.2 Approach to Investigating Shifts to Territorial Governance

Although theoretically the concept of territorial governance is not new, as we have seen above, its popularity has undoubtedly grown in the last decade because of the growing interest to deal with complex contexts marked by controversy and competing claims on natural resources, interdependence, and multiple perceptions, in which hierarchy and incentive proved less effective (Ison et al. 2007). To investigate the way in which espoused shifts towards territorial governance manifest themselves in practice, we turn to the work of a number of governance scholars who have described similar trends.

In governance literature, we can distinguish approaches similar to territorial governance such as network steering (Powell 1991), policy networks (Rhodes 1997), public–private partnerships (Wettenhall 2003), corporate governance (Williamson 1988), multi-actor governance (Bogaert 2004; Van der Zouwen and Van Tatenhove 2001), multi-level governance (Hooghe and Marks 2001; Van der Zouwen 2006), good governance (Rosenbaum and Shepherd 2000), and societal governance (Kooiman 2000). We realise that there are substantial differences among these approaches. Despite these differences, the approaches have in common that they argue that there is a shift in policy practices, from hierarchy (based on state institutions) to network (based on a network of actors, among which non-state actors). All these approaches emphasise that there is a development towards an increasing involvement of non-governmental actors in policy making (markets and civil society). As a consequence of this trend, decision-making processes resemble networks in which governmental and non-governmental actors are interdependent among each other. Policy processes and interactions among actors are increasingly located outside the classical institutions of the nation state and inside informal settings, and more ad-hoc and temporary situations.

If we interpret territorial governance as an area based on multi actor governance process, we can investigate the way in which shifts towards territorial governance manifest themselves in practice. Following literature, in the past, we can expect to encounter a hierarchical governance context characterised by a single actor that could unilaterally define problems and aims, make decisions and have them implemented. The means of policy (that is, the instruments of policy) and ultimate ends to be achieved (that is, the policy objectives) would be determined by some central agent, usually government (Jordan et al. 2005). The autonomy of the central, expert-guided government would be taken as the point of departure. This context would be based on top-down regulation and decision making in which, on the one hand, rules and decisions would be made by policy makers or by juridical order but in which, on the other hand, rules and decisions could also be the outcome of majority voting (Koppenjan et al. 1993; Teisman 1995).

As opposed to the past, we could expect to encounter a territorial governance process now. As mentioned before, this territorial governance can be defined as a mode of steering in which the role of the state changes from top-down regulation to bottom-up facilitation of horizontal cooperation, which involves non-state actors, such as NGOs, private parties and citizens (Kooiman 2000; Pierre 2000; Pierre and Peters 2000). The means and ends of policy are determined by societal actors and governmental actors together. The multiple actors involved in policy processes manage different responsibilities and political engagements and pursue different, often conflicting, interests (Koppenjan et al. 1993; Van Kersbergen and Van Waarden 2001). Territorial governance is based on the assumption that interdependence among stakeholders leads to incipient realization among them that they must come to some agreement if anyone is to have satisfactory outcomes. New challenges emerge in terms of mobilization of local actors, exploring spaces of negotiation and agenda setting for policy formulation and implementation.

In the research reported here, we are interested in these shifts in governance, or combinations of them, that can be recognised. We want to investigate to what extent the widely held beliefs about the shift to territorial governance are actually corroborated by empirical evidence, and how unique or new such shifts are from a comparative and historical perspective. We feel there is a need for conceptual clarification of the ways in which the shifts in governance are rendered operational in practice. At the same time, there is a need for more rigorous empirical and historical analysis of observed or presumed trends.

This leads to the following research question:

What happens when territorial governance is deliberately used to resolve a seemingly intractable resource dilemma marked by competing claims?

We addressed this question by means of a case study of the establishment of the National Landscape De Drentsche Aa. The Drentsche Aa comprises a network of small streams that originate on plateaus of glacial and eolian sands in the Province of Drenthe, in the north of the Netherlands. Together these brooks constitute one of the last relatively unspoilt river systems on the North German Plain. The area is considered unique in terms of bio-diversity, landscape and natural beauty. Because of the unique characteristics of the area, the regional branch of the State Forest Service has taken various initiatives to protect it. In the 1960s, the State Forest Service took the top down initiative to protect the parts of the area as a nature reserve. Later, in the 1990s a participatory process was started to nominate the entire area as a “National Landscape”. The Drentsche Aa is an interesting and relevant case study because it provides us with the opportunity to investigate and compare the governance context at these two moments in time. As such, the case study allows us to gain insight into the way in which the shift in governance manifested itself in practice.

The empirical material presented, was collected in the context of a big research project reported in Van Bommel (2008). The analysis presented here is based on a media analysis (170 newspaper clippings), archive research (75 documents), transcripts of 74 open interviews and 12 multi stakeholder meetings.

7.3 Governance in the Drentsche Aa

7.3.1 The Drentsche Aa Water Meadows Become a Nature Reserve (1960–1975)

In the early 1960s, the landscapes and the biodiversity that pre-fertiliser and mechanisation farming had generated were threatened by agricultural modernisation, including the heavy use of fertilisers, pesticides and machinery, land “rationalisation”, drainage, river canalisation and so on, that swept across age-old landscapes all over Europe. A number of State Forest Service officials in the Province of Drenthe feared that this would pose a major threat to the preservation of the biodiversity-rich water meadows along the brooks that make up the Drentsche Aa and they took the initiative to fight it. They decided to develop a nature conservation plan and submit it to the Ministry of Culture and Spatial Planning. But before doing so, they asked the RIVON to provide a scientific basis for their plan. The RIVON had been established in 1955 as part of the State Forest Service, the largest landowner in the country, with the aim of supporting the management of its nature reserves with sound scientific and professional advice.

During the formulation of the plan, the State Forest Service officials also invested in building good relationships with the Provincial Government. They knew that in order for their plans to become successful they needed to involve policy makers. During an interview, one of the now retired State Forest Service officials said:

We contacted the Province. Contacts between State Forest Service officials and policy makers hardly existed at that time. As we wanted to be involved in the planning of the area, we contacted the Commissioner of the Queen in the Province and the elected Provincial Deputy. In Drenthe we were obviously quite successful. At that time, I used to have a weekly appointment with the Provincial Deputy and a monthly appointment with the Commissioner of the Queen” – State Forest Service official, interviewed on 8 November 2005 in Heino.

Soon, the State Forest Service officials developed a close relationship with the Commissioner of the Queen and other provincial officials. They kept them up to date and informed them about their plans for the conservation of the water meadows. The Commissioner of the Queen and the other provincial officials became enthusiastic about the plan and supported it.

In the summer of 1963, the final version of the nature conservation plan, called Stroomdallandschap Drentsche Aa2 (State Forest Service 1965) but usually referred to as the Gedachtenplan3 was submitted to the Ministry of Education, Art and Science (OK and W in Dutch). Nature conservation came under this ministry because, at that time, the cultural element of conservation – which, in a broad sense, included aspects of the sciences, the arts, and recreation – was dominant politically.

The Gedachtenplan argued strongly for the establishment of a 2,100 ha reserve to protect the biodiversity-rich water meadows along the brooks making up the Drentsche Aa. The State Forest Service representatives used arguments and theory from the RIVON to legitimate their preservation. But the Gedachtenplan was more than just a scientific report. The representatives of the State Forest Service also strategically included a section on the potential recreational value of the area to emphasise the societal relevance of the protection of nature and landscape.

The ministry forwarded the Gedachtenplan to the Provisional Council for the Protection of Nature, asking for its advice. This was the usual procedure at that time. The Provisional Council advised the ministry to accept it. When the ministry’s response was too long in coming, the enterprising State Forest Service officials, together with the Commissioner of the Queen in Drenthe, requested a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of OKandW in 1964. During this meeting, the Commissioner of the Queen declared that the Province of Drenthe supported the plan. The Assistant Secretary then decided that the ministry would buy the brook meadows for the benefit of the State. The State Forest Service – which already owned some small pieces of forests in the area – was charged with the management of the areas that needed to be purchased (State Forest Service 1965).

Immediately after the plan was officially published, the farmers opposed it. They were angry that the policy-making process had bypassed them. This is illustrated by the following quote:

The severe indignation and concern that was expressed after the publication of the report is largely due to the “about us, without us, against us” politics” – Drents Landbouwgenootschap, 1967, p. 34.

Farmers argued that their interests had not sufficiently been taken into account by the nature conservationists in their Gedachtenplan. Furthermore, the farmers feared that the Gedachtenplan would hinder the ongoing land re-adjudication procedures, i.e. the state-supported land development’ of the plateau’s wityh arable farming in the area, including drainage, infrastructural development, etc. These procedures were fully prepared and the farmers were afraid that they would now be severely delayed. The farmers questioned whose interests were in fact served by the implementation of the Gedachtenplan. The farmers also feared being hemmed in by nature conservation and no longer being able to respond adequately to pressures from the market, in terms of crop choices, investment, new technologies, expansion, etc. Farmers argued that the Gedachtenplan would have serious negative consequences for their livelihoods.

At first these protests were largely ignored, but then an upheaval followed during which the farmers agreed among themselves not to sell any land to the State Forest Service. During an interview, a now retired State Forest Service official responsible for buying agricultural plots remembers:

We had an exact overview of all farmers in the area and the land that they owned. We knew exactly which farmer owned which piece of land. When I started working in the Drentsche Aa area in the late 1960s, I started by visiting a different farmer every day. With my Amsterdam mentality I thought I would come and conquer the Drentsche Aa. Well, it did not work that way. After 6 months I was begging my superiors to please assign a different area to me. I could not even get a single penny or a single hectare from these farmers. And well, the agricultural land that I wanted was of a very low quality so I could not offer them all that much for it either” – State Forest Service official, interviewed on 14 June 2005 in Yde.

Following this set-back, the Ministry agreed to make additional funds available (10 million guilders, equivalent to 1 million per year over a 10-year period) that would facilitate the purchase of the ancient brook meadows and hay lands in the broad glacial valley bottoms. The agricultural value of brook meadows was estimated between €570 and €3,600 per ha. The brook meadows were purchased at €1,800 per ha more than the going price: i.e. at from €2,370 up to €5,400 per ha (Bakker and De Vries 1983; Ernst 1976).

The farmers became divided. Individual farmers were willing to sell their water meadows. They were too wet to farm with the heavy equipment that farmers had begun to rely on. The extra payments proved a real incentive. It became relatively easy to acquire the lands involved. Decisions could be quickly made by the small number of people involved. Soon SBB became the largest landowner in the area by acquiring about 3,500 ha of brook meadows, 12% of the total water catchment of 30,000 ha. Many farmers in the area resented the purchase of farmland for purposes of nature conservation and considered those who sold out as “traitors” to the farmers’ cause.

From this point onwards, the nature conservationists and the farmers seemed to have come to a truce. But the apparent peace was misleading. Beneath the surface, the conflict continued to simmer. Farmers continued to feel hemmed in by nature and were afraid that the reserve would have negative consequences for their future farm development. Nature conservationists continued to feel that the modern intensive type of farming posed a threat to the conserved areas. Tensions remained and, although divergent views were not always expressed openly, they continued to inspire mutually antagonistic feelings between nature conservationists and farmers. This hidden conflict remained unacknowledged in the 1980s and early 1990s. The conflict would resurface again in the late 1990s, which we address in the next section.

7.4 The Drentsche Aa Area as a National Landscape (1993–2007)

7.4.1 The Multi-Actor Platform

In 1990s, the Provincial Government nominated the Drentsche Aa area as a National Park (i.e. an area dedicated to nature conservation). They soon found that the Drentsche Aa was the subject of a fierce conflict between farmers and conservationists that dated back more than 40 years. Farmers fiercely opposed this proposition. The designation would have meant that all land use in the park area would have nature conservation as its sole purpose. Many farmers considered this nomination plan an outright threat to agriculture in the area. There was much public protest against the perceived elitism of the policy makers and experts who wanted to declare the Drentsche Aa area a National Park. As a result, the Province hastily shifted its tactics. Instead of a National Park, it now aimed for a National Landscape (“a National Park with extended objectives” that allow multifunctional land use). To avoid open conflict and gain public support, a multi-actor platform was created in 1999 to negotiate the design and management of the Drentsche Aa area as a National Landscape. The platform included representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries, the Province of Drenthe, the State Forest Service, the Farmers’ Union, the BOKD (representing the interests of small villages), and the tourist industry.

In the first 1.5 years, the multi actor platform negotiated what to do with the Drentsche Aa area. They decided to go for a National Landscape nomination instead of a National Park nomination.

It was clear to everyone that the Drentsche Aa area is not a National Park in a strict sense. The Drentsche Aa area is more than a strict nature reserve such as other national parks in the Netherlands are. Agriculture and villages are an integral part of the area… Therefore we have chosen to call it a National Brook and Village Landscape Drentsche Aa instead of a National Park – Chairman of the multi actor platform in Arcadis 2002, p. 5.

Its report, the BIO Plan, i.e. the plan for Design, Management and Organisation of the National Landscape (Arcadis 2002), was accepted and on 4 December 2002 the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries, officially declared the area a National Landscape (“National Brook and Village Landscape, the Drentsche Aa”). The Committee that now guides the implementation of the National Landscape is virtually the same as the Deliberation Committee that prepared the BIO Plan.

The National Landscape formula was chosen deliberately because, in a national park, all land use is dedicated to nature, whereas in a National Landscape multifunctional land use is accepted to a certain extent. Therefore the label, National Landscape, was thought to lead to less resistance than the label, National Park.

After taking this decision, the multi actor platform had to elaborate on the meaning of a National Landscape. They had to do so in little more than a year because the national government required them to. Although the national government had indicated that they supported the new nomination, the Drentsche Aa area was among the first areas in the Netherlands to be nominated as such. There was little Dutch experience of what being a National Landscape entails. The multi actor platform therefore faced the challenge of giving meaning to this new concept in the form of a so-called “Management, Design and Organisation Plan” (called Beheer, Inrichting en Ontwikkelingsplan or BIO Plan for short).

The BIO Plan was completed under time pressure by a major Dutch consultant (Arcadis) and is based on the idea of “Conservation through Renewal”. It uses the existing landscape as point of departure and aims at collaboration among involved parties to develop the area on the basis of what has emerged in history. The source of inspiration is cultural history. The BIO-plan elaborated separate plans for five functions: water, agriculture, nature, recreation and living, each with a vision for the future. In the end, there was no time to address the conflicting interests of nature conservationists and the farmers and bring their views together. This resulted in a collection of sectoral statements as there was no time to bring the different sectors together. The BIO Plan therefore did not discuss the history of conflict between nature conservationists and farmers and did not pay attention to the solutions for the contested land use.

7.5 Bargaining Without Wanting to Compromise

Efforts were made to use participatory methods that involved local actors in the writing of the Bio Plan. The assumption was that if the local actors were well informed they would understand and appreciate the plan. Several information and discussion evenings were organized to inform local people about the BIO Plan. Some local actors took this opportunity to hold decision makers accountable. Instead of public support for the BIO Plan in terms of understanding and appreciation, however, the participation of these farmers in the information and discussion evenings led to frustration.

During one of the first discussion meetings that I joined, a provincial official told me: “whether the Drentsche Aa area is called a National Park or not, we will just implement our policy plans anyway”. That is what he told me straight to my face. He was honest, but I always keep this in the back of my mind. The province has laid a certain claim to this area whatever we say or do – Farmer, interviewed on 11 Augustus 2005 in Tynaarloo.

Local actors throughout the region shared the view that the multi-actor platform did not intend to share any responsibilities with them. They were allowed to have a say in the matter, but it remained up to the members of the multi-actor platform whether or not their say would be taken into account. This gave them the feeling that they were not respected and that their input was not taken seriously. As a result, the local actors distanced themselves from the plan and felt increasingly disconnected from it. So despite the attempts to actively involve the local actors in its formulation, the BIO Plan did not achieve the desired legitimacy and recognition. On the contrary, reporting to local actors aggravated feelings of disconnection and alienation.

The Farmer Union’s representative on the Committee also criticised the BIO Plan. Although it reaffirmed time and again, that there should be space for farmers in the area, and that the Drentsche Aa could not maintain its character without farmers, the BIO Plan offered very little in terms of concrete prospects for the farmers.

We need much more discussion on agriculture in the Drentsche Aa region. At this moment, the discussion focuses mainly on multifunctional agriculture. It seems that some people assume that conventional agriculture is not feasible. This does not correspond to the way my constituency experiences the situation” – Farmers’ representative, Meeting of the Preparation Committee on 8 October 2001.

The representatives of the NLTO Farmers’ Union on the Committee were young farmers who had taken over conventional (intensive) farms from their fathers. They were full-time professionals who had survived the scale enlargement and learned one lesson: survival means being able to be more competitive than the Belgians, Germans, and one’s neighbours. They knew that they were totally dependent on exports and hence on competitiveness within Europe, where all farmers had equal access to subsidies. This should not be taken lightly. The moment the professional farmer feels he is hemmed in and has lost his space for responding to pressures from the market, in terms of crop choices, investment, new technologies, etc., he believes that he will not survive (Van Bommel and Röling 2004). The farmers’ representatives did not want farms that made their income from nature management, or other compromises. When it came to multi-functional farming, they feared that the supply would be much greater than the demand. They wanted farms that could adapt to the demands of that market without being hampered by regulatory frameworks to protect nature.

The State Forest Service representatives were annoyed by the insistent demand for space for intensive agriculture by the farmers’ representatives. They felt threatened by the farmers’ resolve to resist until their demands were met. The unique and precious herbal flora in the brook meadows, and its 40 years of turbulent conservation (the intractable conflict with the farmers), had instilled a strong awareness among the State Forest Service staff of the vulnerability of the nature under their protection. This awareness had, in turn, instilled a deep suspicion and antipathy with respect to modern agriculture that was seen as a major threat to their unique area. The State Forest Service was subsidised under a national scheme to revive rare flora and fauna. The rarer the vegetation and the more that vegetation adhered to the criteria set nationally, the higher the payment. Hence, the State Forest Service had strong incentives emanating from the national level to fight for conditions that allowed meadow orchids, black rapunzel (Phyteuma nigrum) and other rare plants to flourish. Hydrological research from the University of Groningen had provided the State Forest Service with new ammunition. It had shown that the rainwater that infiltrates on the plateaus charges the seepage on which the rare vegetation in the water meadows depends. As the plateaus are used for intensive farming, the State Forest Service feared that the pollution associated with these modern farming practices would resurface as seepage in the water meadows. A time bomb was ticking away. So the incentive structure (payment for acreage of vegetation types), and the conviction that its rare flora required nutrient-poor conditions and that any compromise with farmers implied its destruction, led the State Forest Service to the opinion that there was little room for modern agriculture in the Drentsche Aa area.

The formal negotiations, for some time, amounted to little more than bargaining without wanting to compromise. The process became stalled, and provided an instance where multi-actor negotiation seemed to be failing. This is no surprise, given the external incentives for both farmers and nature conservationists NOT to come to an agreement, what with farmers having no option but to stay on the treadmill, and the State Forest Service depending for its funding on the extent of rare vegetation it manages to produce and protect. The BIO Plan was, therefore, no more than a set of sectoral statements with the farmers not even agreeing with the statement about agriculture.

7.6 Official Platform By-Passed by Local Initiatives

In the meantime, while negotiations among representatives with official mandates were bogged down, their constituencies were experimenting with all kinds of creative ideas. A number of agricultural entrepreneurs saw possibilities to enlarge or specialise their enterprises. Some decided to sell their farms and move to other parts of the country where sufficient land was available. Others decided to experiment and invest together, for example in collective meadow ownership and management.

I’m prepared to invest in a farm with suckling cows, in which the agriculture is subservient to nature, landscape and water. However, I am a businessman, and I require security over a long period of time for all of my major investments” – Arable farmer from Amen taken from NLTO and Alterra, 2005.

At first, the actors on the official formal platform ignored these local experiments. On the formal platform, the official NLTO position was still that part-time and multifunctional farming would dilute the voice of the conventional intensive farm interest, a position that obviously did not represent the interests of the many hobby farmers, part-time farmers and multi-functional farmers in the Drentsche Aa area. Furthermore, numerically, part-time farmers and hobby farmers now form a larger category than the professional farmers (Van Bommel and Röling 2004).

More and more initiatives emerged in which farmers organised things themselves, sometimes with other actors in the countryside sharing similar problems or similar ideals, explicitly avoiding government involvement. As a result of distrust they did not want to be dependent on subsidies or other bureaucratic procedures. At a certain moment, the local developments overtook the developments on the platform and it became clear that the position of the NLTO did not represent the interests of local farmers at all. As a result, it was decided to make use of the creativity of local actors. The official position of the multi-actor platform became that it wanted the local actors themselves to be active and take responsibility. It now sees its own role as helping to open doors that would otherwise remain closed. The creative solutions that exist at the local (field) level form and shape the specific implementation of the BIO Plan. According to its chairman:

Let’s stop talking and start doing. We have nice plans but now we need people to generate projects. Come up with those ideas! We cannot change the world by just writing plans and visions. So we need people to formulate projects. I am a kind of director; I try to find those people” – Chairman of the Deliberation Committee, interviewed on 6-12-2006 in Groningen.

The Deliberation Committee did not want to play first fiddle anymore. Instead, it wanted to create conditions and provide the means for fulfilling them.

7.7 Shifts in Governance in the Drentsche Aa Area?

We stated earlier that we wanted to study what happens when territorial governance is deliberately used to resolve a seemingly intractable resource dilemma marked by competing claims. In this section we will analyse our empirical data by linking it back to theory on governance. This will allow us to get insight into the manifestation of territorial governance in practice.

7.8 The 1960s and 1970s: Predominantly Hierarchical Policy Practice

In the 1960s and 1970s, during the formulation of the Gedachtenplan and the related decision-making, the State Forest Service, the RIVON scientists, and the Ministry of OKW played important roles. The Gedachtenplan was developed at the provincial level by the State Forest Service and then submitted to the ministry. Decision-making power rested with the ministry. The actors involved were all traditional governmental policy actors or scientific experts. The latter provided the input and the governmental policy actors had the decision-making power. Thus, governance in this context can be interpreted as a predominantly hierarchical. However, at the same time it is interesting to note that there was concern about public support: the State Forest Service officials had to show that their nature conservation plan was relevant for society in terms of recreation and tourism. This concern about public support points towards some multi-actor influences, but the way in which the concern about public support was addressed was very much in line with the previously established hierarchical approach. The State Forest Service officials formulated and implemented policy by means of which they protected the interests of tourists, without the involvement of tourists themselves or tourist representatives. Farmers were excluded from the formulation and decision-making process even though they would have wanted to be included; neither were their interests represented in the decision-making process.

The implementation of the Gedachtenplan involved negotiations between nature conservationists and farmers. However, the state still had a great deal of influence on the outcome of these negotiations. It made additional funds available for the land to be purchased by the State Forest Service for more than the market price, which proved a real incentive, and this made it relatively easy for the State Forest Service to acquire the lands. The formulation and implementation of the Gedachtenplan was approached as if there were consensus on the goal (protection of biodiversity), as well as on the knowledge for reaching this goal. Despite the concern about public support, the decision-making process was first and foremost a top-down process in which decisions were made by policy makers. We can interpret this as a hierarchical context (top-down approach) with multi-actor influences (concern with public support).

7.9 The Late 1990s and Early Twenty-First Century: Predominantly Multi-Actor Policy Practice

If we compare this situation to that prevailing in the late 1990s and early twenty-first century, we observe considerable changes in the number, as well as in the type of actors involved. During the formulation of the BIO Plan, new non-traditional policy actors who had been excluded from the decision-making process in the past – such as the BOKD representatives and farmers’ representatives – became involved alongside the more traditional policy actors such as policy makers and State Forest Service experts. These actors all had their own goals and interests, and therefore it became clear that the goal of biodiversity protection in the Drentsche Aa area was contested and political. The involvement of new policy actors suggests that the context changed towards increasing territorial governance.

However, when we look carefully at this situation, not all actors had equal influence on the outcome of the process. Despite the multi-actor setting that was deliberately created, the policy goals were still determined by traditional policy actors. They explicitly took the existing policy as a framework for negotiation, thereby restricting its scope. Actors whose views were not in line with the existing policy, such as the intensive farmers, were not able to benefit very much from the formulation of the BIO Plan. This suggests that the multi-actor context was quite hierarchical. This is confirmed when we look at the information and discussion evenings. The organisation of these evenings was based on the assumption that well-informed local actors would understand and appreciate the BIO Plan as well as the National Landscape. Although the evenings may have been intended to give local actors influence on the outcome of the policy process, in practice it did not work out that way. In response, local actors decided to by-pass the formal platform and organise things themselves. As the formal multi-actor platform could not deliver the solution to the problems they were experiencing, they explicitly avoided it. Through self-organisation, they created space alongside it to define their own problems, goals and the knowledge required to reach those goals. This allowed them to invest jointly in creative solutions to solve their problems.

So, all in all, a formal multi-actor negotiation process was created to involve non-traditional policy actors in the policy process, but, because of dissatisfaction with it, processes of self-organisation in which the non-traditional policy actors decided to create their own space for change occurred outside the formal platform. We can interpret this territorial governance context as a predominantly multi-actor context with hierarchical influences in which processes of self-organisation emerged when the formal multi-actor negotiation process lost credibility with local actors.

7.10 Conclusion and Discussion

In the Drentsche Aa area the governance context changed from a hierarchical context with multi-actor influences to a multi-actor context with hierarchical influences. We can conclude that the shift in governance did not result in a clear transition from hierarchy to territorial governance. Instead, we observed mixed or hybrid contexts in which various governance practices existed side by side. What is particularly interesting is that the effort by the Provincial Government to use territorial governance as a means to resolve serious resource dilemmas failed miserably partly because it was not willing to let go of its control. In the end, it could not break the stalemate, and local actors took initiatives alongside the formal deliberation platform. These were then taken as implementations of the BIOPLAN. After formal territorial governance failed, the final outcome suggests that more informal territorial governance took over. Meanwhile, it cannot be denied that the strong opposition to farm modernisation over a period of half a century has preserved a unique area from destruction.

This research shows that shifts towards territorial governance are not as straightforward and unambiguous as sometimes thought and/or aimed for. This research has shown that shifts in governance indeed occurred, but that their manifestation in practice is complex and ambiguous. The specific manifestation turned out to be the outcome of power struggles over cognitive and political authority leading to inclusion of some and exclusion of others, that finally gave rise to a “local movement” over which formal actors had little control.

Recent literature on governance, participation and expertise supports our conclusions. Boonstra (2004) and Van der Zouwen (2006) show that officially instigated shifts in governance are not always perfect. Boonstra (2004) shows that interactive policy-making initiatives in three areas in the Netherlands had to function within boundaries set by policy frameworks. She reveals that the regional and local initiatives did not always correspond with these existing frameworks. Van der Zouwen (2006) in her study of the Yorkshire Dales, Doñana and the Veluwe, shows that, despite involvement of non-governmental actors in policy processes, the policy processes are often still dominated by governmental actors. They determine not only who takes part and who does not, but also what is done with participants’ input. Pierre and Peters (2000) also argue that “government organizations remain a part of the networks in these emerging models of (territorial) governance, but they are conceptualized as dependent on the other actors to the same extent that those actors are dependent on government (organisations). This easily leads to a blending of public-sector and private-sector resources …. An increasing number of hybrid organizational formats appear to have materialized as components of the governance framework”. Jordan et al. (2005) also argue that “by now, it should be apparent that government (i.e. hierarchy) and governance (i.e. territorial governance) are actually much more intertwined than is implied by some governance theorists”. This implies that at the heart of the new territorial governance some very old assumptions of hierarchical governance may still reside. In the Drentsche Aa, we have seen a similar outcome, until local actors began to go at it alone. But what is most interesting about this, is the way in which such a hybrid manifests itself in practice and the consequences that this hybrid has.

It is important to realize that territorial governance is an ideal type, that is, a non-existent thought experiments to tease out core aspects. If we forget this then a hybrid form of territorial governance can easily lead to disappointment if, for example, the room for negotiation turns out to be more limited than expected. Attempts at territorial governance can easily be put aside as unsubstantiated and empty rhetoric. Such criticism will only frustrate actors who view themselves as operating in good faith and to high professional standards. Rather than viewing hybrid forms of territorial governance as unfortunate flaws, we feel that in practice the emergence of complex mixtures between area based hierarchy and multi actor initiatives are inevitable. Therefore, rather than trying to undermine innovative and important public initiatives to shift the form of governance, the intention of this chapter has been to draw attention to the specific practices in which territorial governance is negotiated, in order to acknowledge, explore and scrutinise their character and, as necessary, open them up to wider debate and enquiry.

What seems to stand is that resolving policy dilemmas, marked by complexity, controversy and competing but interdependent claims on natural resources, do seem to require some form of territorial governance in which official actors have to relinquish some of their control. Formal attempts at territorial governance as a sneaky way to maintain control, at least in this case, seem to have served the goal of nature conservation against very initially powerful farming interests, and created a new context for multi-functional land use that serves that goal.


  1. 1.

    Structuurschema Groene Ruimte.

  2. 2.

    Watercatchment landscape Drentsche Aa.

  3. 3.

    Thought piece.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Severine van Bommel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Noelle Aarts
    • 1
  • Esther Turnhout
    • 2
  • Niels Roling
    • 1
  1. 1.Communication Science GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenNetherlands
  2. 2.Forest and Nature Conservation Policy GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenNetherlands

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