A common future for the Dutch peat meadows

16 and 17 June, Broek in Waterland

21 June 2016

Healthy landscapes and water systems are the basis of our life; they provide food, water, clean air, a stable climate, biodiversity, good health, safety and happiness. This also applies to the ecosystems around Amsterdam and Utrecht, where the peat area plays a crucial role.

Commonland works on conservation and restoration of landscapes based on sustainable business cases. These landscapes deliver 4 returns®: return of inspiration, return of social capital, return of natural capital and return on financial capital. Commonland is currently active in South Africa, Spain and Australia.

Recently Commonland formulated the ambition to show that economic drivers can realize 4 returns landscape restoration in the Netherlands.This is what Commonland aims at and with this co-initiation workshop they investigated the initiatives and challenges that are currently present in the peatland areas and to generate together with farmers the four returns of this special landscape.The co-initiation workshop is linked tothe Commonland/AWS pilot project: 'Accelerating peat meadow restoration and climate resilience through sustainable business development and integrated urban-rural systems'. 

Outdoor programme

Given the rainy weather forecasts and a schedule that included a comprehensive outdoor programme, the ‘co-initation’ workshop organized by Commonland and AWS on Thursday the 16 and Friday 17 June appeared to be heading for a false start. However, together with over fifty participants, the sun managed to find its way to Broek in Waterland and set the mood for the coming two days. The mission objective: create a common intend to work towards a sustainable future for the peatlands surrounding Amsterdam. With 50 participants from various backgrounds and a complex case to solve, the program was bound to be both extensive and intensive.


The start of the workshop. Photo: UvA

Short reflection

On Thursday the workshop took off with a short reflection on the current landscape from four different perspectives. An entrepreneur, the province, the bank and Commonland shortly explained how they saw the peatlands and their involvement in the landscape. Afterwards, Ko van Huissteden gave a small presentation on peat oxidation and emissions of greenhouse gases and then it was off to ‘de Marsen’, a nearby farm in ‘t Twiske, where the participants were invited to experience the peatlands in a variety of interactive learning journeys. Four different experts gave an interactive lecture that involved milk tasting, greenhouse gas emission measurements by Ko, a history lesson by Mark Bokhorst based on peat samples that were drilled on sight and a farm tour.


Slideshow: First day activities: opening, talk by Ko van Huissteden, visit to 'De Marsen' farm, milk tasting and peat drilling by Mark Bokhorst

The rest of the day was spent modeling the landscape in a fun exercise that involved clay and Lego. The models that were created helped to discern the current situation and understand how each participant had a stake in the landscape. After modeling the present situation, the participants were asked to change the model into a desired future situation and also how they could contribute to this change. The day ended with a short reflection after which it was time to go home.


Slideshow 16 June, afternoon: modeling the current and future state of the landscape.

Meditative exercise

After starting the second day with a meditative exercise, Friday was all about translating the lessons learned into feasible pilot projects that could contribute to a sustainable future for the peatlands. Democracy decided on which prototypes were further developed throughout the day by allowing participants to put forward their idea and others to join in on it. The ideas consisted of a test farm for sustainable agriculture and climate research, a business incubator based on the four returns framework by Commonland, Azolla as a possible economic crop for rewetted peatlands, new communication tools for farmers, new marketing channels for nature-inclusive agriculture and economic models for peat formation. Prototypes were created using the same modeling techniques as the day before and each team was allowed to present its prototype in a prototype market. The market led to cross-pollination between prototypes and stimulated new strategic partnerships between participants.


Slideshow 17 June: prototyping and concluding.

Generally, the workshop was said to be a great success. Several participants expressed their intend to put prototypes into practice by taking ownership, providing expertise or other forms of assets. As such, a willingness to contribute to change appeared and it was felt that the first small steps towards a sustainable future were taken.

AWS would like to warmly thank organisers for delivering a beautiful, professional and inspiring workshop!

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Film: Two days co-initiation Veenweide workshop. With thanks to the cameraman Kasper Hoex.

Written by: Vidar Bakker, Commonland

Published by  IBED Water