APPENDIX 2 - Values and principles underpinning ecological restoration

FIRST ORDER

Ecological restoration:

  • Supports and is modelled on local indigenous ecosystems and does not cause further harm. Australia contains large tracts of relatively intact land and water ecosystems, which represent an invaluable natural heritage. Appreciation of the long history of evolution of organisms interacting with their natural environments underlies the ethic of ecological restoration within the Australian context.
  • Is aspirational. The ethic of ecological restoration is to seek the highest and best conservation outcomes for all ecosystems. Even if it takes long timeframes, full ecological restoration should be the goal wherever it may be ultimately attainable and desirable. Where full ecological restoration is clearly not attainable or desirable, continuous improvement in the condition of ecosystems and substantial expansion of the area available to nature conservation is encouraged. This ethic informs and drives high quality restoration.
  • Is universally applicable and practiced locally with positive regional and global implications. It is inclusive of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, with local actions having regional and global benefits for nature and people.
  • Reflects human values but also recognises nature's intrinsic values. Ecological restoration is undertaken for many reasons including our economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual values. Our values also drive us to seek to repair and manage ecosystems for their intrinsic value, rather than for the benefit of humans alone. In practising ecological restoration, we seek a more ethical and satisfying relationship between humans and the rest of nature.
  • Is improved by rigorous, relevant and applicable knowledge drawn from a dynamic interaction between science and practice. All forms of knowledge, including knowledge gained from science, nature-based cultures and restoration practice are important for designing, implementing and monitoring restoration projects and programs. Results of practice can be used to refine science; and science used to refine practice. Primary investment in practice-applicable research and development increases the chance of restoration success and underpins regulatory confidence that a desired restoration outcome can be achieved.
  • Is not a substitute for sustainably managing and protecting ecosystems in the first instance. The promise of restoration cannot be invoked as a justification for destroying or damaging existing ecosystems because functional natural ecosystems are not transportable or easily rebuilt once damaged and the success of ecological restoration cannot be assured. Many projects that aspire to restoration fall short of reinstating reference ecosystem attributes for a range of reasons including scale and degree of damage and technical, ecological and resource limitations. Where this occurs the resulting outcome would be referred to as rehabilitation.

SECOND ORDER

Successful ecological restoration depends upon:

Ecological:

  • Addressing causes at multiple scales to the extent possible. Degradation will continue to undermine restoration inputs unless the causes of degradation are addressed or mitigated. The range of anthropogenic threats include over-utilisation, clearing, erosion and sedimentation, pollution, altered disturbance regimes, reduction and fragmentation of habitats and invasive species. All these threats are capable of causing ecosystem decline in their own right, and can be exacerbated when combined, particularly over long time frames. Habitat loss and fragmentation, in particular, exacerbates the threats to biodiversity from climate change.
  • Recognizing that restoration initiates a process of natural recovery. Re-assembling species and habitat features on a site invariably provides just the starting point for ecological recovery; the longer term process is performed by the organisms themselves. The speed of this process can sometimes be increased with greater levels of resourcing.
  • Recognizing that undesirable species can also be highly resilient to the disturbances that accompany restoration, with sometimes unpredictable results as competition and predator-prey relationships change. Invasive species, for example, can intensify or be replaced with other invasives without comprehensive, consistent and repeated treatment.
  • Taking account of the landscape/aquatic context and prioritising resilient areas. Sites must be assessed in their broader context to adequately assess complex threats and opportunities. Greatest ecological and economic efficiency arises from improving and coalescing larger and better condition patches and progressively doing this at increasingly larger scales. Position in the landscape/aquatic environment and degree of degradation will influence the scale of investment required.
  • Applying approaches best suited to the degree of impairment. Many areas may still have some capacity to naturally regenerate, at least given appropriate interventions; while highly damaged areas might need rebuilding ‘from scratch’. It is critical to consider the inherent resilience of a site (and trial interventions that trigger and harness this resilience) prior to assuming full reconstruction is needed (Box 2).
  • Addressing all biotic components. Terrestrial restoration commonly starts with re-establishing plant communities but must integrate all important groups of biota including plants and animals (particularly those that are habitat-forming) and other biota at all levels from micro- to macro-organisms. This is particularly important considering the role of plant-animal interactions and trophic complexity required to achieve the reinstatement of functions such as nutrient cycling, soil disturbance, pollination and dispersal. Collaboration between fauna and plant specialists is required to identify appropriate scales for on-ground works and to ensure the appropriate level of assistance is applied to achieve recovery.
  • Addressing genetic issues. Where habitats and populations have been fragmented and reduced below a threshold/minimum size, the genetic diversity of plant and animal species may be compromised and inbreeding depression may occur unless more diverse genetic material is reintroduced from larger populations, gene flow reinstated and /or habitats expanded or connected.
Logistical:
  • Knowing your ecosystems and being aware of past mistakes. Success can increase with increased working knowledge of
    (i) the target ecosystem’s biota and abiotic conditions and how they establish, function, interact and reproduce under various conditions including anticipated climate change; and
    (ii) responses of these species to specific restoration interventions tried elsewhere.
  • Gaining the support of stakeholders. Successful restoration projects have strong engagement with stakeholders including local communities, particularly if they are involved from the planning stage. Prior to expending limited restoration resources, potential benefits of the restored ecosystem to the whole of society must be explicitly examined and recognised and it must be previously agreed that the restored ecosystem will be the preferred long-term use. This outcome is more secure when there are appreciable benefits or incentives available to the stakeholders; and where stakeholders are themselves engaged in the restoration effort.
  • Taking an adaptive (management ) approach. Ecosystems are often highly dynamic, particularly at the early stages of recovery and each site is different. This not only means that specific solutions will be necessary for specific ecosystems and sites; but also that solutions may need to be arrived at after trial and error. It is therefore useful to plan and undertake restoration in a series of focused and monitored steps, guided by initial prescriptions that are capable of adaptation as the project develops.
  • Identifying clear and measurable targets, goals and objectives. In order to measure progress, it is necessary to identify at the outset how you will assess whether you have achieved your restoration outcomes. This will note only ensure a project collects the right information but it can also better attune the planning process to devise strategies and actions more likely to end in success (Box 3 and Appendix 4).
  • Adequate resourcing. Budgeting strategies need to be identified at the outset of a project and budgets secured. When larger budgets exist (e.g. as part of mitigation associated with a development) restoration activities can be carried out over shorter time frames. Smaller budgets applied over long time-frames can be highly effective if works are limited to areas that can be adequately followed-up within available budgets before expanding into new areas. Well-supported community volunteers can play a valuable role in improving outcomes when budgets are limited.
  • Adequate long-term management arrangements. Secured tenure, property owner commitment and long-term management will be required for most restored ecosystems, particularly where the causes of degradation cannot be fully addressed. Continued restoration interventions aid and support this process as interactions between species and their environment change over time. It can be helpful to identify likely changes in species, structure and function over the short, medium and longer term duration of the recovery process.

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