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A project connected to our Urban-Rural research theme has led to a prestigious €6.5 million Horizon Europe grant for NATURESCAPES. This grant will enable researchers to explore how Nature Based Solutions (NBS) can be more effectively linked to promote sustainable transformations and positive changes in the living environment.

Synergy in Nature Based Solutions

The phrase “Nature Based Solutions” refers to sustainability initiatives rooted in nature. Despite the numerous social and environmental benefits, there is a lack of understanding of the synergy and exchange between NBS initiatives.

“Most Nature Based Solutions are isolated solutions” says Katrin Merfeld, economist at Utrecht University and co-initiator in the NATURESCAPES project. “NBS need to be connected, for example to really contribute to biodiversity. We need to investigate how best to do that. Especially since several initiatives are being implemented with limited access to, or at the expense of, vulnerable groups.”

As an example, Merfeld cites a project in South America, where mangrove forests are being planted to store carbon. “With more mangroves and more water for them to grow in, there will also be more mosquitoes, with a risk of more malaria cases. That will have a negative impact on people who don’t have the means to protect themselves against it. So there is a trade-off with a benefit for nature and society as a whole on one side, but worse health conditions for some on the other. We need to figure out how to strengthen the overarching implementation of NBS to generate a more inclusive and sustainable development that is socially equitable”.

To address this challenge, a consortium of researchers from various universities and NGOs will embark on an exploration of this issue starting November 2023. Multiple case studies will be conducted in both the global ‘South’ and the ‘North’. Ideally, this will lead to a comprehensive manual that enables successful implementation of local initiatives, working collaboratively with relevant stakeholders, including previously disadvantaged groups.

Role of EWUU alliance

In 2021 and 2022, EWUU-grants were awarded to fund research on Nature Based Solutions (NBS). Not only did those projects produce valuable reseacrch results, they also presented an opportunity to compete for the prestigious Horizon grant. The EWUU alliance provided financial support to two researchers, Katrin Merfeld and Helen Toxopeus, to aid them in crafting the Horizon proposal focused on NBS.

Furthermore, a new research line dedicated to NBS in Circular and Inclusive Cities was developed within the EWUU. This initiative ensured that NBS now holds a prominent position in our newly established thematic hub, Urban Rural Circularity, which was launched in 2023 as part of the Circular Society programme.

Research partners

Involved researchers: Eveline van Leeuwen (WUR), Katrin Merfeld (UU), Helen Toxopeus (UU), Harriet Bulkeley (UU)

The project involves collaborations with external partners: the Central European University, Nature Conservancy Europe, Trinity College Dublin, Lund University, ICS University of Lisbon, WWF and consultancy Grupo Leara and with local partners and communities in Colombia, Peru, the United States, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and Romania.