Limburg council gives “nature” the right to be heard in court

Limburg has a rolling countryside and its own language. Photo:

Eijsden-Margraten in Limburg has become the first local council in the Netherlands to declare nature a “legal entity” meaning that its interests can be defended in court.

Councillor Franklin Boon, of local progressive party PRO, proposed the motion which was approved by a majority of councillors last week.

“We are limited to rearguard action on behalf of nature when the decisions have already been made,” he told Trouw, referring to previous council decisions backing  extensions of holiday parks, the use of pesticides, and allowing mountain biking in fragile parts of the countryside.

That will change, Boon says, now that nature can have its “say” in court before the licenses are granted.

The rights of nature and wildlife will be voiced by a guardian, which could be a combination of scientists, environmental organisations and perhaps artists, Boon said.

“Nature takes and nature gives. We understand there is a need for housing. But if that is detrimental to nature then it might be combined with the development of nature in a different place,” he said.

Eijsden-Margraten is following in the footsteps of 30 states in the United States and two districts in Northern Ireland which have all made nature and wildlife a legal entity in court. In New Zealand, a river, a volcano and a wood have also been given legal rights.

Boon said he was “touched” the motion was approved by a majority of councillors. “It was an emotional moment for me, I couldn’t believe it. I am 75 years old and I have been a councillor for 13. The fact that we are now giving power to nature gives me the energy to go on for a good many years to come.”

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