In the Netherlands 80% of the country is rural, supporting 40% of the population. The dividing line between town and country is beginning to disappear. Many rural areas may lose their specific character as a result. The government wants rural areas to provide space for nature, agriculture, forestry, and for homes and recreation.
Agriculture determines what the rural area looks like
The Netherlands is more urbanised than most countries in Europe, with a built-up area three times as dense as elsewhere. Less than 40% of the Dutch population live in rural areas. Yet 60% of the land is in the hands of farmers and growers. Agriculture may no longer be the dominant economic sector in the rural area but it will still define its character in the future.
Risks of urbanisation
In economic and cultural terms towns and countryside are increasingly merging. The dividing line between town and countryside is getting blurred. This could be a risk. More houses, businesses and roads may be built at the expense of quiet, space, landscape, biodiversity and the necessary space for water storage.
The government wishes to keep the countryside liveable. This means that rural areas must provide enough facilities, jobs and houses to keep the population from moving away and leaving the area with fewer schools, jobs, shops and services. The government encourages communities to join forces to combat the problem of depopulation.
Improving the quality of life in rural areas
The rural development scheme Plattelandsontwikkelingsprogramma Nederland 2007–2013 (POP2) is a programme subsidised by the EU to improve the quality of life in Dutch rural areas. This is to be achieved by:
- improving sustainability and competitiveness for farming;
- modernising farms;
- improving rural infrastructure;
- combating groundwater depletion;
- supporting small businesses;
- promoting agri-environmental schemes;
- promoting rural tourism.
More recreational facilities
The government wants to make the countryside more accessible to visitors. Each year a thousand million people go out on a day trip. A quarter of them go to the countryside. The government therefore aims to improve the walking, cycling and boating links between towns and the countryside. It also wants to make farmland, embankments, nature areas and waterways more attractive to day visitors.