Campus area

Utrecht University owns approximately 300 hectares. That is larger than the entire city centre of Utrecht. These grounds are used for building, living, working, research, education and with space left for nature. The theme ‘Area’ is about the management of all the university's campuses. In 2018 Utrecht University, together with area partners, laid down a new ambition and vision for a green campus in the Utrecht Science Park Ambition Document. A green campus safeguards biodiversity, facilitates a healthy, green working environment and is prepared for a changing climate.

Due to the large size of the campus sites, Utrecht University has many opportunities to contribute to sustainability and biodiversity, but also to the welfare of students and employees. For example, the university is working on measures that stimulate biodiversity, nature-friendly water drainage and nature-rich places that are accessible to everyone.

Tiny Forest Planting Day

Sustainability goes beyond reducing CO2 emissions. Sustainability is also about dealing responsibly with our natural resources. The diversity of plants and animals around us determines the functioning of ecosystems and thus the provision of crucial ecosystem services such as pollination. It is important that Utrecht University also makes its impact on global biodiversity visible, and strives to reduce negative impacts - and increase positive their impacts. Through canteens and the purchase of materials, the overseas biodiversity footprint can be minimised. Closer to home in the Utrecht Science Park, there are opportunities to strengthen regional biodiversity. This can be achieved by taking better account of the requirements that characteristic plant and animal species, such as the tawny owl, kingfisher and lapwing, need from their habitats.

Merel Soons, Professor of Plant Dissemination Ecology & Nature Conservation


To measure sustainability for this theme, the university monitors three elements. The capacity for water storage, the development of biodiversity on the campus and the amount of green spaces. Water storage is an important element in climate adaptation. Increased water storage capacity ensures that the campus is prepared for extreme rainfall. Biodiversity is measured by the presence of certain animal and plant species. These species, called guide species, are an important clue for the development of biodiversity on campus. The number of green spaces - outside seating locations with lots of greenery - shows the extent to which the campus is a healthy and nature-friendly place to stay.

KPIs for measuring sustainability in the university area

7.1 Surface water storage

Making sure the campus can cope with large amounts of rainwater and sparing the sewer system at times of extreme rainfall is an important way for the university to adapt to the changing climate. Where possible, Utrecht University wants to use its own grounds and buildings (roofs) for water storage.

As a result, the Leuvenplein was redeveloped in 2019. Here, a special sewer system was applied for the first time in the USP. This system ensures ensures that rainwater is discharged into the soil. In this way, the area retains water longer and relieves the normal sewage system. The capacity is 200 m³, equivalent to 200,000 litres. By way of comparison: on a ‘wet day’ (KNMI: 10 millimetres of rain), 50,000 litres of water falls on on a football pitch.

In addition, in 2019 the total surface water in the USP was calculated: 119,102 m². This number is used as the zero point. The university wants to expand this amount in the coming years. In 2020 students will look for opportunities for more surface water in urban areas in the USP, in a Green Office Living Lab project.

7.2 Biodiversity development

Diversity in species is an important indicator of biodiversity. Insect hotels have been placed to stimulate insect biodiversity. In addition, the development of ecological road verges is important because species-rich grasslands form a habitat for many plant and animal species and provide ‘ecological infrastructure’.

To indicate how the biodiversity on the campus will develop over time, Utrecht University works with a small group of guide species. As the presence of these species depends on how well the entire ecosystem functions. The following species were chosen as USP guide species in 2018: the little owl, kingfisher and lapwing.

In 2019, the Eelerwoude agency drew up a new USP nature conservation map. This year four guide species have been added: the black redstart, great spotted woodpecker, broad wasp orchid and spotted orchid. A guide species is named when a suitable habitat for that species has been found in the USP. The guide species each say something about the quality of a specific habitat:

  • Tawny owl (small-scale farmland with pollarded trees): not found in 2019. In 2015, it was observed at two locations.
  • Lapwing (meadow bird grasslands): of all the meadow birds on the USP site, only the lapwing has one remaining habitat in the sheep pasture. This location is less intensively fertilised than the other grasslands in the USP and is therefore suitable. By 2015, four pairs (i.e. eight individuals) had been found.
  • Kingfisher (pools and watercourses): The kingfisher was also not found in the Eelerwoude Nature Value Survey of 2019. The kingfisher was found twice for the first time in the Eelerwoude nature conservation study of 2015.
From left to right: little owl, kingfisher, lapwing, spotted woodpecker, black redstart, spotted orchid and broad wasp orchid.

In addition, plant species such as the broad wasp orchid and spotted orchid have been added to the species for monitoring. These species are general guide species, not specific to a particular habitat

  • The black redstart is scattered throughout the USP between the university buildings. Five territories of the black redstart and two for the great spotted woodpecker have been found.
  • On the Hoofddijk, near the Lundlaan, there are some areas where herbal plants have developed. The wasp orchid is present here. Although it is also a suitable habitat for the spotted orchid, this plant was not found during the 2019 nature conservation study.

The general conclusion is that campus biodiversity is declining, in line with the national trend. For this reason, the university will draw up a biodiversity plan in 2020.

daktuin foto parnassos cultuurcentrum utopia

7.3 Green places to stay

In 2019, two more green spaces have been added. Along the Genèvelaan four hammocks have been placed and at the Tiny Forest a hammock has also been installed. In total there are now 23 hammocks.

Activities 2019

  • Nature workday. In October 2019, the University Administration, Botanical Gardens and Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht organised a Nature Workday for university staff. More than 50 participants planted 10,000 flower bulbs. In addition, in a small nature reserve in the USP a dense pond was cleared of vegetation so that sunlight can penetrate and the surface water is clear again.
  • Tiny Forest. A Tiny Forest has been created at the junction of Cambridgelaan and Bisschopssteeg. The Tiny Forest is about the same size as a tennis court and there are almost 600 indigenous trees and plants. This makes it a great place for birds, insects and other animals to nest.

Outlook 2020

  • In 2020, Real Estate & Campus will develop the Utrecht Science Park Ambition Document into an agenda. This will result in measures and targets for biodiversity. This agenda also provides additional indicators, which will be reported on in the next Sustainability Report.
  • In 2020, the Real Estate & Campus will draw up a plan to replace pavement with greenery to combat heat stress and draft policy on the reuse of materials in the public space.
  • Biodiversity plan. Globally, biodiversity is under severe pressure due to unsustainable land use. Biodiversity in the Utrecht Science Park (USP) and the surrounding area has also been declining for several decades. In 2019, a start was made with a biodiversity plan for the campus; this plan will be presented in 2020.
  • In 2020, the municipality of Utrecht will create an Environmental Vision for the USP. The university will take part in this as landowner, implementing the ambitions for a green campus. Part of the Environmental Vision is a working group on green space. The aim of this working group is to link nature, greenery and the landscape more closely to the built environment.