Dutch innovators are bringing forward cutting-edge ideas to clean up the North Sea – and are now attempting to stack technology and ecology on top of each other to preserve the precious little space in the deep blue.

Scotland can learn lessons from the Netherlands and The Hague in particular, in its mission to overhaul how the North Sea is cultivated and looked after.

As you travel from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to The Hague, it’s clear to see the Netherlands’ past relationship with wind power – famed for its traditional windmills – with some still dotted around the landscape.

Laurens Kok, head of foreign direct investments and The Hague and Partners, has spoken of the frustration the country has not capitalised on that legacy, much like Scotland’s vast number of wind turbines are constructed and assembled overseas.

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He said: “We missed an opportunity – we were the first ones with windmills and now we don’t have any stake in manufacturing those things anymore.”

Like Scotland, the Netherlands’ past also centres around oil and gas – which Mr Kok insists is why the roads are flat in his country compared to his Belgium neighbours from a successful wealth fund.

He said: “We don’t have holes in our roads like the Belgians and that’s only for one reason – because of the money from the oil and gas field.”

He added: “But that’s closed down now because it’s somewhat end-of-life.

“The government policy is very forward-looking. We started later in the North Sea with wind than Belgium, Germany and even Scotland, but we are keeping up pace now.

“The tenders are flavoured with innovation as criteria to win them.”

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Mr Kok said that energy companies and start-ups choose The Hague, thinking “this will be our footprint in Europe”, adding “they need to be sure that they will be successful here”.

He added: “Winning over Belgium is not very hard when you look at the red tape which is there.

“The political climate is stable and that’s what businesses like.”

But Shell is moving its headquarters from The Hague to London in a move the company said will “simplify operations” in post-Brexit Britain.

The Hague takes sustainability seriously – made easier by the flatness of the Netherlands.

That close relationship with sea level puts the climate crisis front and centre of the mindset in the Netherlands with the country literally on the front line.

As in most of the Netherlands, cyclists outnumber pedestrians, there is a no-fuss tram in The Hague which is busy, while no cars are allowed in parts of the city centre.

The Herald: Offshore wind farm in the North SeaOffshore wind farm in the North Sea (Image: PR)

The Hague attracts innovators, climate enthusiasts and energy companies, in part by offering a flagship live offshore test site easily accessible from Scheveningen harbour.

The test site is set to become even more exciting for innovators when it becomes electrified.

The Hague takes its responsibility to look after the North Sea so seriously it has appointed a mayor to be an ambassador for the water.

The mayor for the North Sea, Marcelien Bos-de Koning, said that she “gives a voice to the North Sea and informs people on what is happening”.

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She added: “About 85% of everything that we touch in the Netherlands comes from the sea. Everybody lives with the sea, but they don’t necessarily know about the sea.”

Campus@Sea aims to “connect a lot of different parties to each other” who want to test their innovations at The Hague, according to Annemarie Smabers, co-founder of the organisation.

She added: “Everyone is focusing on their special project but if you look at the bigger picture and go together you can go much further.

“Get people together to share their knowledge about innovation.

“We say just fail, but fail together. You need to fail to be able to have a really successful innovation.”

Ms Smabers describes the 10 by 10 nautical miles test site just off the coast of The Hague as “the smartest area of the North Sea”.

Campus@Sea boats that the “unusual environmental factors of water, wind and current make this ‘field lab in the North Sea unique in the world’.

Ms Smabers added the zone is “a sand box environment in real life”.

She said: “This progamme is coming to an end this year, but we’d like to prolong it for another four or five years.

“It was initiated around sports innovations, particularly sailing.

“Now we have these big three transitions – energy, food and nature – so that’s why we are wanting to prolong the programme.”

The official offshore test site, a 6km2 area was initially set up under licence by seaweed innovators, North Sea Farmers.

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But energy companies, including those attempting to bring forward floating wind projects, are using the site to give their kit a run-out.

There are plans to electrify the offshore test site which would “make it unique across the whole world” and allow companies to test output for their innovations, Ms Smabers added.

Ms Smabers pointed to an EU subsidy that Campus@Sea is applying for this month through a consortium with France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands – all countries with offshore test sites.

She added: “What we would like to do is make it visible to users of offshore test sites, which is the best one for their innovations to use.

“We used to apply for European money with UK projects but since they left the EU, they miss out.

“We would like to do that because it’s much better to include the greater North Sea, but if you apply for European money, the UK can’t join.”

But Ms Smabers has highlighted the importance of leaving some of the North Sea to nature.

She said: “Now, only about one per cent of the Dutch North Sea is now regarded for nature but actually it should be way more.

“You have all the economic activities that have to be there as well so it’s quite a balancing act.

“The North Sea is actually quite empty so maybe we should add some more sealife to it and then leave it alone.

“It’s a good idea to have more muscles and oysters growing but don’t see this as an opportunity to harvest more food from the North Sea.”

The North Sea Farmers was set up in 2014 to focus on seaweed production in the Dutch North Sea.

Zinzi Reimert, from North Sea Farmers, said it was important to make the test site, which she manages, “open for everyone that wants something tested in sustainable development” and includes artificial reefs.

She added that talks are taking place over “putting a seaweed farm within a wind farm”.

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Ms Reimert added: “It should be multi-use, we should combine the areas.

“It should be within the wind farms as we don’t want to claim more sea – it’s one of the busiest seas in the world, it’s really crowded.

“The Dutch government is pushing all the developments in the wind farms instead of outside. If you want to get a permit for outside a wind farm, it will be more difficult.”

The Herald:

Seaweed farming is traditionally an Asian concept, but is relatively new in Europe.

Scotland installed the UK’s first experimental seaweed farm in 2012.

But in April of this year, UN adviser Vincent Doumeizel called on Scotland to develop seaweed farming and pioneer a “revolution” which he said could solve “the climate crisis, the social crisis, and the environmental crisis”.

Ms Reimert said: “We believe it’s quite a unique resource as you can grow it in a sustainable way without the need of land, without the need of fresh water.

“The feeling is that is can boost ecosystems.”

There is growing interest in supermarkets and big multi-nationals looking at seaweed to replace plastic packaging for food.

Ms Reimert said: “If we can use seaweed as a biomaterial instead of plastic, then you are using less carbon.”

She said that “the majority doesn’t really care” about eating seaweed, but stressed that “in restaurants, there’s more seaweed on the agenda”.