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What will WildlifeNL investigate?

In the WildlifeNL project 18, societal and scientists, partners will together investigate how people and wildlife can learn to better coexist.

Why does the research take 8 years?

There are a number of reasons. The first, and most important, reason is that co-creation between scientists and societal partners is the basis of our research program. This means that social partners and scientists together determine the research agenda, research questions, research methodology and studies. 

Because of the complex issue and the large and diverse consortium, we use the entire first 2 years of the project for this purpose. Next there will be a period of 4 years in which we will carry out the studies in 2 living labs aimed at understanding and managing human-animal interactions. Finally, there will be a period of 2 years in which we will bring the results of these studies together and also scale them up outside the living labs.

Vervolgens komt er een periode van 4 jaar waarin we de studies gaan uitvoeren in 2 living labs, gericht op het begrijpen en sturen van mens-dier interacties. Tot slot komt er een periode van 2 jaar waarin we de uitkomsten van deze studies bij elkaar brengen en gaan opschalen buiten de living labs.

Which organizations participate in WildlifeNL?

ARK Rewilding, BIJ12, Crossbill Guides Foundation, Fantazm, Fontys, HAN, KNJV, RLKM, LTO, MinLNV, Natuurmonumenten, PWN, Radboud University, SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Smart Parks, Staatsbosbeheer, Utrecht University, Wageningen University and Research. (See on consortium page) 

Why are so many organizations participating in the program?

There are zo many different parties participating in the program because there are a lot of organizations involved in wildlife management in the Netherlands; from local to national level, from nature conservation to organizations representing interests with which wildlife may come into conflict, and from various government organizations to foundations and associations. 

Also participating are several organizations that will work to develop new technologies for use in wildlife management. Finally, the program consists of many different scientific disciplines, from philosophy to communication sciences, public administration and ecology, as well as computer science and information technology.

On which animals does WildlifeNL focus, on which does it not, and why not?

In the program as a whole, we focus on all wild and free-ranging large mammals that may be candidates for active wildlife management. In the two living labs, for example, we will specifically work on the interactions between large grazers (free-ranging cows and horses, wisents) and recreationists, and on the interactions between wild ungulates (wild boar, red deer, fallow deer) and land users (farmers, wildlife managers). By the way, because we are currently still in the first 2 years of co-creation, it is not yet 100% fixed on which wild or free ranging mammals we will focus primarily. This will be determined by the consortium over the next 2 years.
We are not focusing on birds because, on average, they behave very differently from mammals and move on a much larger scale, for example. And because, in our opinion, the interactions between wild mammals and humans are very different than between birds and humans, because humans as mammals are much more closely related to wild mammals.

What is difference between wild and free ranging animals? Why this distinction?

into many Dutch nature reserves to help restore biodiversity. These large grazers, such as Highlanders, konik horses but also wisents in the dunes, are formally not wild animals but domestic animals. These domesticated animals have an owner. However, in many areas these large grazers do live “in the wild,” that is, relatively independently and often with minimal human intervention. But because these animals are not formally wild animals we make this distinction from wild animals such as beavers, wild boars, roe deer and so on that are not kept and do not have an owner.

What is the added value of returning wild or free ranging animals?

These added values are very diverse and range from the important positive contribution of wildlife to people’s experience of nature, a positive contribution of wildlife to people’s well-being and health, to the various roles wildlife plays in ecosystem functioning and maintaining or promoting biodiversity. Moreover, wildlife itself is an important part of biodiversity.

Why did you choose Kempen~Broek and national Park Zuid kennemerland as living labs?

Because they both represent different, major parts of the Dutch landscape and society. The Kempen~Broek consists of a mixture of farmland and natural areas, thus representing the countryside, with many different land users and average recreational pressure. National Park Zuid Kennemerland, on the other hand, consist of a busy nature reserve near several large cities, and thus represent areas in the high-urban randstad region with extremely high recreational pressure.

What will be studied and tested in the living labs?

We are going to do a lot of different things in the living labs. What exactly we are going to study and test over the next 2 years will be determined together with the societal partners. It is already clear that in both living labs we are going to investigate the interactions between large herbivores (free-ranging cows and horses, wisents) and recreationists. 

We will also test how recreationists react to the large grazers and how they experience these interactions. In addition, we will investigate why certain interactions and behaviors of recreationists lead to conflicts with the large herbivores and others do not, and under what circumstances positive interactions between the two prevail. We will investigate similar issues for interactions between wild ungulates (wild boar, red deer, fallow deer) and land users (farmers, wildlife managers). In the living labs, we are going to look in detail at how wildlife management is set up, what the challenges are, and where the opportunities are for improvement. In doing so, we will also look specifically at governance and communication aspects.

Isn’t it very stressful for the animals to get a radio transmitter? Does it bother them?

A lot of research and experience has been done on this. This has shown that the act of being tagged itself causes a brief stress reaction, similar to other brief “natural” disturbances that animals (may) experience in their lives. Wearing the transmitter itself does not cause stress and there is no evidence that it affects the welfare or behavior of the animals. Also, the animals with transmitters will be continuously monitored. However, transmitting the animals is not something we consider lightly. Our approach is to give as few animals as possible a radio transmitter, no more than is required for good research results. The approach is also that transmitting the animals provides us with important information for the future welfare of the animals’ fellow animals.

Can visitors to the Living Labs help with the research and testing?

Absolutely. As of April 2023, there is already a study on the nature experience of visitors to the living labs, specifically on how visitors experience interactions with wildlife. Visitors can actively participate in this by downloading an app and using it after and during their visit to the living lab. In the future, more studies will be added and visitors can stay informed about them through the websites of Natuurmonumenten (for Kempen~Broek) and PWN ( National Park Zuid Kennermerland). In the future, there will be communication campaigns in the living labs focused on how visitors and residents of the living labs can learn more about the research and help out.

What does the research cost and who pays for it?

The total budget of the research is around 5 million Euros and this is largely funded from the National Science Agenda, a program of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, NWO. Ten percent of the budget is funded by the societal partners in the consortium.

Photo header: Rob Brinkhof