APPENDIX 1 - Relationship of ecological restoration to other environmental repair activities

As terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem degradation continues to expand across the globe, many countries and communities have been adopting policies and measures designed to conserve biodiversity and improve the way societies integrate with nature in a healing and sustainable way.

This is largely done in three ways; corresponding with three zones of the biosphere:

  1. Creating protected areas to conserve intact or near-intact ecosystems;
  2. Improving habitats for locally indigenous species in broader production (e.g. rural, fisheries ) or urban zones outside reserves; and,
  3. Reducing impacts in already transformed zones closest to human habitation.

Ecological restoration is the appropriate means of repairing damage in natural areas wherever it attainable and desirable, irrespective of zone. In production and urban areas however, many areas have undergone extreme and extensive past modification and the lands and waters within them may be of high economic or cultural value. This can make ecological restoration undesirable or unattainable in such cases. Here the next ‘highest and best’ level of repair should be aspired to – termed here as rehabilitation. Improved environmental management activities in already transformed production and urban areas (termed here mitigation) are critical to the success of all ecological restoration and rehabilitation; as even intact ecosystems are affected by how we live and work. That is, substantialimprovements in the ecological sustainability of urban and production zones are needed to reduce society’s impacts on biodiversity, soils, water, air quality and climate – thereby securing longer term rehabilitation and ecological restoration.

It can be helpful to align these three broad pursuits on a spectrum of broader environmental repair (Fig 3). The point along that spectrum where the label ‘ecological restoration’ is applied is the point where an appropriate local indigenous ecosystem is adopted as a model and there is an aspiration for the site to be comprehensively restored in the long-term. Sound mitigation and rehabilitation provide a supportive foundation for restoration.

Cross disciplinary skills in project design and implementation (including but not restricted to the fields of landscape architecture, engineering, agronomy and horticulture) are highly valued in the improved management of ecosystems, whether the goal is restoration, rehabilitation or mitigation.


Fig 3. Broader context of 'environmental repair'. Ecological restoration fits within a range of complementary activities undertaken by various sectors of society to repair damage to the broader environment, with the broader context referred to in the Standards as 'environmental repair'. The pyramid arrangement depicted here applies only to transformed urban or production landscapes where the degree of success or failure of ecological restoration will be greatly influenced by the degree of success or failure of rehabilitation and mitigation.

REHABILITATION

Rehabilitation is the process of reinstating degrees of ecosystem functionalityon degraded sites where restoration is not the aspiration, to permit ongoing provision of ecosystem goods and services including support of biodiversity.

Examples of rehabilitation

Where rehabilitation is the highest and best outcome possible at a site and represents an improvement in condition to the prior state, it can expand and buffer available habitats for indigenous species. At larger scales, rehabilitation can play an ecologically highly significant role in improving the resilience of ecosystems and individual species to rapid environmental change particularly in the transitional zones between natural areas and altered/degraded areas. As such, rehabilitation can be highly complementary to ecological restoration.

Current best practice in rehabilitation (indeed, in ecological restoration) has largely arisen from professional or voluntary efforts made within a range of industry, government and community sectors, the mining industry, forestry, agriculture, fisheries, utilities corridors, urban bushland and urban parks and gardens sectors.

The Standards seek to encourage all industry, government and community sectors to continue to adopt the practice of ecological restoration wherever appropriate; and where not appropriate, to undertake rehabilitation to the highest possible recovery level (Refer to 5-star system of recovery.)

Further detail on current engagement of a range of industries in rehabilitation is outlined below, with comments included on the degree to which ecological restoration is also practiced (or could be increasingly practiced) in the particular industry sector..

Mining
A regulator (government) consent authority will determine the level of repair and restitution required under law for a project – i.e. whether proponents will require the highest standard of ecological restoration or a lower standard of rehabilitation. The decision is usually based on a number of factors, particularly the condition of the site prior to the commencement of ground-disturbing activities. That is, some mines on already modified lands, are asked to achieve what would be defined here as a rehabilitation standard to bring the condition of the site to at least its prior, if not an improved condition. Other mines are asked to achieve what would be defined here as ecological restoration, with many adopting and aspiring to this goal voluntarily.

Ready-made, off-the-shelf post-mining restoration solutions are rarely available and companies will need to invest significantly in R&D if they are to achieve biodiverse, cost-effective and sustainable rehabilitation or restoration outcomes on remade substrates and landscapes. Critically, restoration and rehabilitation programs that have been successful in the mining industry are those that have been planned well in advance of the disturbance activities and where restoration and rehabilitation is integrated into the whole-of-mine planning process. This includes linking engineering and production with environmental programs to ensure restoration and rehabilitation are part and parcel of the business of mining. Regulatory authorities should seek evidence prior to ground disturbance that:

  • Mining companies are integrating restoration and rehabilitation across their business.
  • A full risk assessment is provided of the capacity of the company to deliver timely restoration that includes understanding landform, soil creation (where topsoil is limited), topsoil protection (to enhance biological and seed preservation), propagation needs, recalcitrant biota, seed supply and storage requirements, seed dormancy alleviation and ‘germination on demand’, precision seeding, hydrological support for establishment plants, weed and feral animal controls, nutritional and pollination needs of plants.
  • Corporate approvals and processes are in place to ensure that where restoration knowledge is lacking appropriate targeted investment in R&D occurs well ahead of ground disturbance. The 5-star rating system of the Standards provides an internal and external measure of success for the mining industry and regulators.
    [Note: in Australia, generous tax concessions are provided to mining companies engaging with research bodies in mining restoration research, plus the Australian Research Council provides funding for industry to undertake such research through the various Centre and Linkage Grant schemes.]
  • Safeguards are in place to ensure that industry economic down-turns or defaults by development companies do not result in a failure to restore a site to the agreed closure standard.

Examples of a reconstruction approach – rebuilding from ‘scratch’

Where mining is undertaken in natural areas, the highest standard of ecological restoration is expected by society as exemplified in the regulatory process. In semi-natural sites with important or high biodiversity values, there is an expectation that post-mining rehabilitation achieves habitat recovery to the highest practicable extent, progressing the site to at least a +3-star recovery condition. Where mining occurs on converted landscapes, there is an expectation that mine site rehabilitation achieves a safe, stable and ecologically sustainable utilitarian condition which provides ecosystem services and lowers rather than raises impacts on natural systems (i.e. ‘rehabilitation ‘as defined in this document).

Reforestation for timber production or carbon storage
Reforestation for timber production and especially carbon farming can provide substantial co-benefits for the conservation of biodiversity if ecological restoration models are adopted to the greatest extent practicable; thus achieving ecosystems capable of long-term sustainability.

Diverse local ecosystems have also been shown to provide high carbon stores. Maintenance of high genetic diversity, as opposed to excessive selection of preferred forms, will help to maintain adaptability of forest areas to climate change.

Carbon farming adjacent to natural habitats should be encouraged to adopt a 5-star recovery goal, using the natural habitat as a reference ecosystem. Where this is not possible, as high a recovery ranking as practicable should be the goal. If lower goals are applied for good reason, the revegetation should be undertaken in a manner that enhances ecosystem services and has no deleterious effect on the adjacent natural areas and does not pre-empt potential for further recovery if it is possible in the future.

Agricultural Lands
Agricultural lands occupy large areas of Australia with many farms and rangelands containing substantial indigenous habitats. Over recent decades, many landholders have been restoring and rehabilitating remnant habitats on farmlands and in rangelands, particularly through Landcare and often with co-investment from governments through regional natural resource management (NRM) organisations. The goal of much of this work is to provide extensions or linkages to other indigenous habitats or carbon sequestration.

Many smaller projects in agricultural lands are committed to ecological restorationand some have already achieved 4-star or 5-star recovery on a range of attributes. Many others, particularly larger projects, however, have only achieved 3-star recovery and may or may not be able to progress further due to resource constraints and the irreversibility of some causal factors including fragmentation. Whether the latter projects can be considered ecological restoration or rehabilitation depends on whether or not the landholder (with or without support from an agency/organisation) can make the necessary commitment to contribute land for linkages to allow comprehensive recovery (5-stars) in the medium to long-term.

Examples from agricultural areas.

Whatever the case, landholders, Landcare groups, regional NRM organisations and funding bodies are encouraged to use the ecological restoration Standards to progressively improve outcomes at both rehabilitation and restoration sites to the greatest extent practicable, particularly through improved knowledge dissemination and prioritisation of more resilient and strategically important areas.

Aquatic ecosystem management
Restoration and rehabilitation of freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats is underway in Australia, yet more is needed. Such activities protect aquatic species, habitats and carbon stores (e.g. within rivers, lakes wetlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows, mudflats, saltmarsh and mangroves); improve fish breeding for conservation, commercial and recreational fisheries; and provide cultural and recreational values that highlight compatibility between these interests.

Examples of freshwater restoration and rehabilitation.
Examples of marine restoration and rehabilitation.

Aquatic ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation has specific needs including the need to reduce impacts from terrestrial zones. A dialogue between terrestrial and aquatic professionals will ensure that the broader based restoration and rehabilitation principles from the terrestrial environment can be adapted to planning and implementing marine, freshwater and estuary restoration programs.

Many but not all aquatic ecosystems are naturally highly dynamic and interconnected and hence many aquatic species and ecosystems can have very high migratory resilience. This can potentially enable full recovery (restoration) if combined with reintroduction of some ecologically important species that have very limited dispersal capacity due to their reproductive biology. In areas located in zones of high industry and public recreational activity, only a lower level of recovery (i.e. rehabilitation) may be possible due to the limitations of managing degradation pressures.

Utilities and infrastructure
Revegetation after the construction of infrastructure such as highways and dams has provided opportunities for both ecological restoration and rehabilitation, including through programs designed to ‘offset’ the loss of biodiversity caused by the development. Some 5-star restoration has been achieved in water catchment areas and adjacent to utilities, while at other sites only rehabilitation is possible.

5-star restoration is sought wherever possible in or adjacent to natural areas; with the fragmentation impacts of linear utilities corridors on fauna mitigated by installation of adequate, dedicated fauna crossings. At least 3-star recovery is to be sought in permanently modified areas.

Urban green space
Urban landscapes including public parks can contain important natural and semi-natural areas and provide opportunities for ecological restoration and rehabilitation, particularly for improving indigenous habitat connectivity at the urban/natural area interface. Local and state governments, statutory bodies and NGOs – and many thousands of community Bushcare and Coastcare volunteers across Australia – are involved in controlling the causes of degradation and actively applying ecological restoration to these areas, supported by rehabilitation of adjacent lands and waterways.

Example of ecological restoration in a city.

Urban parks, streetscapes and private gardens (including non-indigenous plants) can also provide important habitat and resources for native fauna and can be modified to incorporate local indigenous plant species to enhance the genetic diversity of remnant bushland fragments. (Such enhancement would require advice from ecologists or restoration professionals.) In urban areas, however, it is important that such work is done while maintaining design values and amenity - as design qualities of a site may be a deciding factor in enhancing support from individuals and communities for improvements at both the local site and in relation to broader issues of environmental concern.

Examples of other urban green space

Many urban bushland projects are committed to restoration and commonly achieve at least 4-star or higher outcomes. Where this is not possible (but where parks and gardens can include indigenous plantings that enhance conservation genetics and provide faunal habitats) rehabilitation to at least level 2 recovery is encouraged.

2. MITIGATION
Mitigation is the activity of reducing impacts upon the environment to the highest practicable extent, particularly in transformed zones - to maintain potential for conservation of biodiversity while pursuing both production and lifestyles that are ecologically sustainable.

Examples of mitigation

Society needs production, business and residential areas. However, a global groundswell of community support shows an increasing willingness to reduce impacts of this permanently converted zone upon the environment. The Standards seek to promote, within this movement, an increase in appreciation that biodiversity conservation and enhancement is an important and substantial endpoint of these efforts. Particularly important to the conservation of biodiversity is reduction of the impact of industry and lifestyles on air pollution by reducing carbon emissions and storing carbon.

(a) Ecologically sustainable production
Substantial and increasing efforts have been made over recent decades by agencies, industry groups and producers to reduce the impact of agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture and fisheries upon the quality of Australia’s biodiversity, land, water and air. These efforts are partly due to consumer trends and recognition that ongoing impact is both ecologically and economically unsustainable in the long term.
The most valuable contributions to nature conservation have come from minimising natural area over-harvesting, clearing, fragmentation, reducing the impacts of pest plants and animals, reducing erosion, sedimentation and nutrient enrichment of waterways, minimising methane emissions in agriculture and sequestering carbon through revegetation and improved soil management.

(b) Ecologically sustainable lifestyles
The lifestyle and purchasing choices made by all Australians dictate the degree to which our industries can be sustainable and engage in mitigation and rehabilitation. That is, the higher the consumer demand for ecological sustainability the higher the likelihood that industry sectors can viably adopt mitigation and rehabilitation strategies. Consumers can directly assist the conservation of natural areas by adopting renewable energy solutions for transport and powering the home, purchasing goods whose production has a lower ecological impact, and reducing waste.

Domestic lifestyles in cities, suburbs and rural towns can also have a direct negative or positive impact upon indigenous ecosystems through ways we manage, among other things, our nutrient runoff, disposal of garden debris, pets and invasive exotic plants. Positive engagement with natural areas to improve these practices can not only complement restoration but also create a stronger appreciation of nature within society.


© copyright Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia