In (Western) Europe and the south of the United States, where wilderness is rare, (former) country estates play a significant role in nature conservation . Although there are many studies about the aesthetic, historic and natural values of cultural landscapes and many more on the history of estates and great landholdings, the environmental history of private estates as a distinctive category is rarely the subject of investigation . In the Netherlands, a small, densely populated country with virtually no undisturbed nature, private landowners were, at least until the mid-20th century, indispensable in the development of nature conservation. The introduction of the Nature Scenery Act of 1928 eased the taxation pressures on estates, and many endangered estates were saved. The law obliged owners to keep their estates intact and open them up to the public if they wanted to reap the full benefits of the law. Until the early 1950s, at a time when the green movement was still in its infancy, some 1.000 larger and smaller landed estates and privately owned forests became strong pillars of nature conservation in the Netherlands.
In this paper I will track the origins of the Dutch Nature Scenery Act. It will consider the public and political debate about the conservation of landed estates in the inter-war years. The role of the instigators of this law, a lobby of nature-conservationists, large (often noble) landowners, forest managers and tourist organisations, is taken into account. It will also describe what kind of landscapes were protected and why: were they protected for ecological, economic or for purely aesthetic reasons? Furthermore, the aims and results of the law will be considered.
Fiscal data and descriptions in government archives about the estates in question are used for analysis why the law became such a success and what was protected. The hypothesis is that Dutch fiscal policy in the first half of the 20th century caused as well as solved the financial problems of the estate owners. Heavy taxation on property, due to the financial troubles of the Dutch government after World War I and World War II, drained the resources of estate owners. The Nature Scenery Act proved the best way to undo the unwanted results of fiscal policies. Finally, as the Dutch government was looking abroad for examples, especially to France, England , Germany, the US and Italy, comparisons will be made with legislation concerning the preservation of nature, aesthetic landscapes and landed estates in other European countries in the first half of the 20th century.