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Navigating the waterways: experience of Dutch regions

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The demand for recreational and tourism activities in riverside territories and waterways is growing as rivers offer a wide range of opportunities for experiencing the natural areas and practicing water tourism activities. Many waterway regions in Europe are facing the need to adopt new holistic models of heritage management that take into account regional and spatial characteristics of the territory.

The practice from the Netherlands identified by the province of Zuid-Holland, a partner in SWARE project, is a positive step in applying such a holistic approach. In particular, it is an inspiring example of cooperation by creating a broad network for waterways navigation.  

Sloepennetwerk (Sloop Network): from fragmentation to creating a uniform network

The Green Heart is a natural area in the Netherlands consisting of beautiful blue and green environment and surrounded by the Randstad (the cities of the Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam). The area is characterised by an extensive water network and offers diverse recreational and cultural activities.

However, the waterways in the area were not connected which was an obstacle for their optimal use and tourism development. To better experience the nature and stimulate the business activity, a broad and uniform network for navigating the waterways was introduced. This was done with the active and participatory involvement of municipalities, institutions, SMEs and NGOs in the planning and implementation process. 

The co-operation between the Dutch regions and stakeholders resulted in identifying specific opportunities for tourism development in different regions taking into account their particular assets. Over 400 kilometers of waterways have been connected thus far, which is probably the largest network in Europe. Besides, this resulted in improved connections between urban and rural areas and brought benefits for both users and entrepreneurs

Users can obtain information about the marked waterway routes as well as plan their route taking the length and duration of the trip into account by visiting the website www.sloepennetwerk.nl and using the Sloepennetwerk app. The waterway network covers several regions in the Netherlands and is rapidly growing. New nodes are added regularly, enabling the users to create new routes and discover other water areas of the Netherlands. In addition, clearance heights are mentioned and water depths are taken into account to prevent delays or long waiting times at bridges. 

What can other regions learn from the Dutch experience?

The initiative is a positive step towards strengthening people’s connection with nature and generating recreational and economic benefits for settlements along the waterways. The development of a uniform waterways network in the Green Heart of Holland can serve as a model for other regions. In the Action Plan of Vidzeme Planning region (North East of Latvia), one of the SWARE partners, the transferability potential of the Sloeppennetwerk Zuid-Holland practice was highlighted, in particular the following learning elements:

  • Local municipalities should engage people to participate in the development of projects enabling them to volunteer in gathering information, discussion of problems and solutions, etc.
  • The network of stakeholders should be increased in cooperation with other municipalities and regions to ensure the sustainability of the project.
  • Stakeholders (regions, entrepreneurs, etc.) should be informed about the benefits of the projects implemented by municipalities as well as on the business opportunities they create.

Further information about the practice is available at the Sloop Network website and in the Interreg Europe Good practices database.

The way forward for Zuid-Holland province

Meanwhile, the province of Zuid-Holland continues to work together with the stakeholders towards making the province greener. The topic 'Water-rich Zuid-Holland' including water recreation as described in the implementation agenda of the province is still a leading policy for achieving the shared ambitions.

The implementation agenda document 'Rijke Groenblauwe Leefomgeving', drafted together with companies, governments and civil society/organizations, explains how this topic will be addressed. As part of SWARE project the Stakeholder and Institutional Learning Group was involved in the drafting process and has partially influenced the part 'Healthy and attractive connection in a water-rich Zuid-Holland' (Annex p. 19-29, especially p. 24-25).

In addition, thematic input from SWARE project was integrated in another policy document, 'Ambitie Blauwe Cirkels', which puts a spotlight on water recreation. Good practices stemming from  SWARE  project (e.g.

from Ireland), have been highlighted in the document and will be considered during the implementation of future small investment projects.

Image credit: Photo by Marko Zirdum from Pexels