Lessons from 20 years of common hamster policy
The common or European hamster was once a source of conflict between nature and farming. Partly because of the learning approach taken in the common hamster policy, this conflict was turned into a synergy. Experimental management revealed, among other things, that management measures can also bring benefits in the form of ecosystem services such as soil fertility and historic landscape.
The common hamster policy is a form of agricultural nature management in the province of Zuid-Limburg in which the farmers taking part receive compensation for making their production methods more accommodating of this species of wild hamster. In this analysis PBL looked at 20 years of government policy on the common hamster. The focus of this policy during this period shifted from species conservation to an adaptive policy providing more coherence between nature goals and economic goals. PBL identified the factors that influenced this turnaround. The researchers also looked at the role played by ecosystem services in the acceptance of new measures.
The study investigated the common hamster policy from when it began in 1995 to 2015.
- External pressure can force government to take responsibility
Through the courts the Vereniging Das & Boom (nature conservation society) forced the government to meet its international commitment to protect the common hamster and improve policy. It was only after exerting this external pressure that central government began the process of formulating policy with public acceptance. The experimental management of the European hamster began in 2004.
- The use of adaptive, learning policy led to a new understanding of the measures that bring benefits to both nature and the economy
From the experimental management the government learned a lot more about the effects of measures for the common hamster and the commercial activities of farmers. For example, it was initially assumed that the presence of a suitable range of foods would be most effective for protection of the species. But research showed that cover to provide protection from predation had the highest priority in the management programme. The hamster measures also turned out to bring benefits for farmers in the form of regulating ecosystem services such as improved soil fertility and reduced soil erosion. Gains were also made in the area of cultural services, such as biodiversity and a typically Zuid-Limburg historic landscape with small-scale corn fields.
- Learning policy increases public acceptance of measures
The new learning policy led to a growing awareness of common interests and motives, local solutions and greater mutual trust. The level of acceptance among stakeholders has increased so much that the wild hamster population has increased.
- Frequent policy changes increase costs and uncertainty among stakeholders
Policy changes based on new insights improves the policy, but frequent changes can also lead to uncertainty among those involved. These uncertainties can actually undermine the policy. Therefore it is necessary to consider whether to continue with less than ideal policy or make frequent changes. Less than optimum policy may in some cases be preferable. Another drawback of adaptive policy is the higher transaction costs involved; changes also take time and effort.
- A central coordinator can maintain the balance between the various interests at stake
An area coordinator serves as an intermediary between the farmers, nature conservation societies, the provincial authorities and researchers and can take their interests and motives into account. The coordinator makes agreements with farmers about the plots of land to be managed and monitors the hamster-friendly management of these. For the farmers taking part this has the added benefit that more attention is given to their economic interests.
Study conducted by
Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)