The amount of nitrogen deposited on nature reserves that are vulnerable to this is falling. However, this decline is not sufficient to meet the targets the Dutch government has set itself. This is the conclusion of the RIVM monitoring report ‘Nitrogen deposition in Natura 2000 areas 2023’. This annual report describes the nitrogen deposition trend, the role played by factors such as policy measures, and current data on emissions and the critical deposition value.

Nitrogen deposition trend slows down

Approximately 20% less nitrogen has been deposited in vulnerable nature since 2005. This deposition is projected to fall still further by 2030. The main causes of this decrease have been policies with regard to agriculture and traffic, in addition to less deposition from abroad. The projected nitrogen deposition was calculated on the basis of policies for which specific plans had been elaborated as at 1 May 2022. Nitrogen measures introduced after that date were not included in this calculation.

Explanation of the critical deposition value

The fact that the amount of nitrogen is on the decline does not mean that nature is healing. This is because most places still have higher nitrogen deposits than nature can handle. The critical loads of nitrogen deposition indicates the amount of nitrogen that may begin to affect the quality of nature. This is the amount of nitrogen that nature can handle without suffering any ill effects. If more nitrogen is deposited in nature, it may be negatively affected. Each habitat type has its own critical load. The law stipulates the amount of nature by surface area where the nitrogen deposition must remain below this value.

Surface area of nature with deposition below critical loads increases, but targets not met

At this moment, 28% of the surface area in Natura 2000 areas has a deposition below the critical load. This is projected to rise to 30% by 2030. After 2030, the surface area is projected to increase by 1% every five years. The Dutch government is aiming for this percentage to increase to at least 40, 50 and 74% by 2025, 2030 and 2035 respectively. The latest figures show that the policies that were in place until 1 May 2022 are not enough for the Netherlands to achieve these targets.

Changes compared to the previous monitoring report

This conclusion is less favourable than the one in the previous monitoring report, which projected that 43% of the surface area in Natura 2000 sites would have a deposition below the critical load by 2030. This is mainly due to the fact that the critical loads were reviewed in 2023 on the basis of new scientific research. This research was conducted by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. In addition, the calculated deposition amount exceeds last year’s figures because more recent measurement data was used.

Too much nitrogen is harmful to vulnerable nature

All EU Member States have a statutory duty to preserve protected species and habitat types and prevent decline. In the Netherlands, this duty has been laid down in the Nitrogen Reduction and Nature Improvement Act (Wet stikstofreductie en natuurverbetering, Wsn), which came into force on 1 July 2021. One of the main objectives of this Act is to reduce nitrogen deposition in Natura 2000 sites in order to improve nature.

Wsn monitoring

This report is part of Wsn monitoring. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, RIVM and WUR are tasked with compiling a series of reports to evaluate and monitor the achieved and projected effects of several developments (including policy developments). In 2024, they will publish reports on the effects of nitrogen reduction and nature restoration measures.