SECTION 1 - INTRODUCTION
Ecological restoration is the process
of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged
These National Standards for the Practice
of Ecological Restoration in Australia (the 'Standards') adopt the
definition of ecological restoration articulated by the world's leading
ecological restoration body, the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER
The Standards recognise that the same term ‘ecological restoration’
can be used to describe not only a process (i.e. the activity undertaken)
but also the outcome sought (i.e. the restored state). This dual meaning
of the term – at times referring to the process and at times referring
to the outcome – is interpreted here as meaning that all projects
that aim to ultimately achieve full recovery relative to an appropriate
local indigenous reference ecosystem can be considered ecological restoration
projects regardless of the period of time required to achieve that state.
Full recovery is defined as the state whereby all ecosystem
attributes closely resemble those of the reference
ecosystem. (For definitions of all terms, see Glossary,
The restored state can therefore only be considered achieved when the
ecosystem’s attributes are on a secure trajectory
(pathway) to highly resemble those of the reference ecosystem without
further restoration-phase interventions being needed. After the completion
of the restoration phase, ongoing management interventions would be viewed
as a form of ecosystem maintenance. The process
and the outcome of ecological restoration are
therefore inextricably linked. If the desired restoration outcomes
are identified from the outset then these outcomes can direct the optimal
restoration process. Similarly, where outcomes are uncertain,
applying appropriate processes can help us to arrive at satisfactory outcomes.
Projects based on a local indigenous reference ecosystem but unable to
adopt the target of full recovery are considered rehabilitation
that, as described in Appendix
1, is especially encouraged and valued where it:
(i) improves ecological condition or function, and
(ii) is the highest standard that can be applied.
The Standards can be applied to rehabilitation to optimise outcomes. Only
projects that are based on an appropriate local indigenous reference ecosystem
are covered by the Standards.
The ethic of ecological restoration
The ethic of ecological restoration is one of conservation, repair and
renewal (see Appendix 2). There
is global recognition that local indigenous ecosystems are of high intrinsic
biological, societal and economic value but are diminishing in extent
and condition. While protecting remaining ecosystems is vital to conserving
our natural heritage, protection alone is not sufficient. Human societies
are increasingly recognising that we need to achieve a net gain in the
extent and function of indigenous ecosystems through supplementing conservation
with environmental repair.
Ecological restoration therefore seeks the highest and best conservation
outcomes for all ecosystems at increasingly larger scales. That is, ecosystem
restoration seeks to not only compensate for damage and improve the condition
of ecosystems but also to substantially expand the area available to nature
conservation. This ethic informs and drives a process of scaling-up restoration
Ecological restoration in Australia – the
need for Standards
The practice of ecological restoration is widespread in Australia and
the demand for this activity is increasing across terrestrial,
freshwater and marine
biomes. Many government and non-government agencies, community groups,
companies and private individuals choose to engage in the repair of damage,
often inherited from previous generations, (non-mandatory restoration);
while others are required to undertake restoration as part of consent
conditions for current developments (mandatory restoration). While
successes have occurred, often the outcomes from both pursuits fall short
of their objectives due to a lack of appropriate effort, resources or
insufficient or inappropriate knowledge or skill. Substantial progress
could be made, however, with improved focus and greater resourcing.
Important foundation documents exist that inform and guide ecological
restoration, namely the SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration
(SER 2004) - expanded upon in Clewell & Aronson (2013) - and the IUCN
(International Union for Conservation of Nature) guidelines (Keenlyside
et. al. 2012). These need supplementation, however, to clarify the guiding
principles and minimum standards expected if a project is to be described
as an ecological restoration activity; and to clarify the degree
to which outcomes are to be evaluated as ecological restoration.
Australian Standards are also needed to more specifically tailor information
to Australian planners and practitioners; drawing lessons from ecological
restoration practice around the world but especially from Australia, a
continent rich in unique species and ecosystems of extraordinary diversity
and ecological complexity.
What are the Standards and for whom are they designed?
The Standards list (i) the principles that underpin current best practice
ecological restoration and (ii) the steps required to plan, implement
and monitor restoration projects to increase their chance of success.
The Standards are applicable to any Australian ecosystem (whether terrestrial
or aquatic) and any sector (whether private or public, mandatory or non-mandatory).
They can be used by any person or organisation to help develop plans,
contracts, consent conditions and closure criteria.
The Standards will be updated periodically or on a 5-year cycle as required.
They are designed to be generic in nature and thereby compatible with
more detailed guidelines and standards that may already exist or which
are yet to be prepared for a specific aspect of restoration, or geographically
1 While the
Standards draw on extensive expert input and a large body of knowledge
available in the literature, the policy style and need for independence
of the Standards require that citations are minimised.