How can I make the best use of the potential of the soil when planning a nature reserve? The Landscape Key provides the answers

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People who have to make plans for the development and management of nature often experience difficulties interpreting maps. These maps – for example geomorphological maps, that show the shapes and processes of landscapes, and soil maps, that provide information on the type and the development of soil – are frequently quite abstract. We have developed the Landscape Key, an online tool showing the possibilities and bottlenecks relevant to a specific area.

The Landscape Key is a valuable tool for all those concerned with nature development and wishing to make the best of the potential 

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Nature is not makeable. You cannot haphazardly make plans for nature reserves. Nature can only come into being under the right conditions. The area must have the right type of soil, and the level of humidity must suit the vegetation. In addition, knowledge of things like soil acid level is required.

So when you want to set up a nature reserve or solve bottlenecks in an existing nature reserve, it’s of major importance to know about the soil and geology of the area. Is it a sandy soil, suitable for heathland? Or is it located along a river, where a riparian forest would be appropriate? When you start to study this, you come across all kinds of bottlenecks. Former agricultural land is often transformed into a nature reserve. However, that means that the soil contains lots of manure. Phosphate in particular is long-lasting, because it adheres strongly to the soil. So what are you going to do with that? Another possibility is that ground water levels are low, and the soil is too dry. All these issues require appropriate measures.

Geomorphological maps and soil maps of areas throughout the Netherlands are available, and these give a fair idea of the nature of the soil. However, these maps serve mainly to provide you with a high level understanding. When it comes to the development and management of nature, more detailed information is required.

Through questionnaires, the landscape Key – an online tool -  asks you questions about the soil. If you cannot answer these using existing maps, you are given advice on what you can do to collect the required information. So eventually you will know exactly whether or not your plans are suitable for a particular area and if your aim can be achieved. You still have to collect specific information regarding your particular area yourself; you will always need to do fieldwork on the site in question.

Practical Examples

We already frequently use the landscape Key methodology when giving advice on a variety of issues regarding the design and management of nature reserves. The method is also used to teach students at the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. As soon as the tool has been made available online, several institutions will start using it. 

Why is this so important

It is important to have a good understanding of the area to begin with, to prevent you from making plans that turn out to be unsuitable, which has happened frequently in the past. This is an unnecessary waste of much time and money, and it can inflict irreparable damage on the landscape. Organisations that assess plans for the design will also be able to make good use of the Landscape Key.

Biography

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Since 1984, I have been working as a soil scientist on the natural potential and bottlenecks of forests and nature reserves. Together with colleagues, I have published dozens of reports and articles on soil research and ecohydrological research concerning nature. We have also established an ecological soil typology, and issued a field guide for humus formation classification (also for Europe) and the Landscape Key. In addition, I have provided advice on design and management in respect of dozens of nature (development) reserves in the Netherlands and Flanders.

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Social and Commercial opportunities

The Landscape Key is a valuable tool for a wide range of engineering firms, especially the smaller ones that do not employ their own ecologists. For them this is really a godsend. For plan assessors (those who evaluate the plans), this is also an effective tool which enables them to decide whether a plan is well prepared. Legislation these days also increasingly requires validated systems for the development of nature reserves.

My dream for this project

It would be great if the landscape Key methodology were to become a standard for the development of plans for nature reserves. But the method can be put to good use in other environments as well. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to multiple forms of development of both rural and urban areas. 

My expertise

Soil science, nature development, landscape ecology