What could be more optimistic than restoration? During my career I have been lucky enough to visit forests being re-planted by hand in India, to see bitterns and cranes splashing through fens where there used to be carrot fields in the UK, and to see tree kangaroos moving through forest corridors that used to be cattle pasture in Australia. The idea that nature can be repaired, that wild ecosystems can grow where there were once farms or factories, brings a little hope to even the most hardened pessimists. This is why I am delighted that Conservation Evidence, where I work, is partnering with the Endangered Landscapes Programme to launch a new website all about what works in ecological restoration.
restorationevidence.org is a project to collate all the evidence for different restoration solutions, so that practitioners and policy-makers can make the most informed decisions about how to spend restoration funds. A subset of conservationevidence.com focussed entirely on restoration, this database has collected the evidence for interventions to restore peatlands, forests and shrublands/heathlands, with more habitats such as grasslands and marine habitats on the way soon. For each intervention (such as ‘rewet peat’), the relevant studies are summarised in a paragraph, and a digest of all the studies is presented to help readers gain a rapid overview of the evidence. Eventually, the plan is to collect the evidence for tests of interventions to restore all habitats and biodiversity. Focusing on solutions, rather than simply documenting declines, is a practical way in which we can make conservation change happen.
By looking at what works to restore different vegetation types – and what doesn’t – we can spend money on the best strategies, and improve our chances of successful outcomes. Across many disciplines, we are learning that many – maybe most – interventions don’t work. For example, 90% of Institute for Education studies found weak or no positive effects of education interventions, and 30% of papers in the Conservation Evidence journal found that the interventions tested did not work as desired. But by focussing on optimising the strategies that do work, and avoid the opportunity cost of wasting time on effective interventions, we can make a real difference.
Using the evidence in this database can help us reach ambitious goals to repair the damage of the past. The Convention on Biological Diversity aims to restore at least 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020, while the Bonn Challenge sets out to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2030. Clearly, restoration is being taken seriously at international levels; and with serious funds available, we need to maximise this opportunity.
So restore a little optimism to your conservation work by focussing on effective solutions. It is possible to put back some of what has been lost – and we have the evidence to prove it.