Lowland peat meadows are a typical Dutch landscape with high natural and cultural value. The quality of this historic landscape has been degraded by intensive agriculture, urbanisation and climate change, resulting in land subsidence, biodiversity loss, increased greenhouse gas emissions and reduced water quality. To reverse these negative impacts land use needs to adapt so that it can support biodiversity, stop peat decomposition, enable a good income for farmers and an attractive landscape for citizens. This requires a systemic change of all actors involved in the area, for which a transdisciplinary research project was set up.
VeenVitaal aims to research which interventions in the landscape are effective for restoration of species diversity and soil health, while guaranteeing an income for land users and owners, and maintaining perceived livability and attractiveness for citizens. We do this by investigating how the restoration of species diversity and soil health contributes to the improvement of different ecosystem services in the area. These ecosystem services are then translated to sustainable business models for farmers and nature management organisations that provide a long-term perspective to improve land use. We engage various actors throughout these (parallel) research cycles, for reflection and collaborative sense making of (in-between) insights gained. Through this participatory approach, VeenVitaal aims to enable a transition to sustainable use of the lowland peat meadows with a positive effect on human well-being.
Using a Living Lab approach VeenVitaal continuously involves consortium members as well as other societal stakeholders with a link to the area of Amsterdam and beyond. Farmers and other stakeholders are involved in research design, data collection and reflection on results. In addition to bilateral and larger multi-stakeholder reflection and knowledge exchange meetings, Living Lab activities also include experimental research into the effect and potential for practical and economic application of different interventions. Being a Living Lab, VeenVitaal is open to research into other topics encountered by consortium members, such as successful collaboration models for farmers or how to improve trust in governance structures.
For VeenVitaal, Athena Institute provides knowledge and experience in setting up, running and investigating transdisciplinary collaboration and system transformation processes. In our local and international projects, we have often applied, facilitated, and investigated Living Lab approaches. Through VeenVitaal, we aim to improve our insights into methodologies for transdisciplinary research approaches to system transformation, while simultaneously experimenting with these approaches. One stream of research centers around the participatory process of developing transdisciplinary indicators through which the sustainability of the peat meadows can be continuously monitored and improved.