Principle 6 Social aspects are critical to successful ecological restoration
Restoration is carried out to satisfy not only conservation values but also socioeconomic values, including cultural ones. Without considering these values, particularly relationships between a site and its stakeholders, a restoration project may not gain the social support needed for success and may fail to deliver important benefits to ecosystems and to society. Few ecosystems are without human influence—whether positive or negative. Some human-induced disturbance regimes are intrinsic to the structure and function of a local indigenous ecosystem (e.g. Indigenous fire management regimes that have long exposed sites to fire or protected them from it); while others can progressively erode ecosystems or shift them to cultural ecosystems. This means that values and behaviors of humans (whether positive or negative) will dictate the future of ecosystems. Conserving and restoring ecosystems therefore depends upon appreciation by society of the negative and positive effects of different behaviors; and involvement by all stakeholders in finding solutions to ensure that ecosystems and society mutually prosper.
The practical implications for restoration are that restoration planners and project managers need to genuinely and actively engage with those who live or work within or near a site to be restored, as well as with others who have a stake in the area’s goods, services or values. This needs to occur at the outset of and throughout a restoration project. Not only will a restoration project be more secure if genuine dialogue occurs between managers and stakeholders, but also this dialogue—coupled with education about the ecosystem—can increase the level of practical collaboration, facilitating solutions best suited to local ecosystems and cultures.
Education and engagement is often best achieved by actively involving adequately supervised stakeholders in paid or voluntary work—both having a positive effect in stakeholder communities. Restoration work has demonstrated a potential to generate direct and indirect employment opportunities in many regions. This is particularly beneficial in rural or remote regions where other industries and gainful employment are declining or marginal—including in remote areas owned and managed by Indigenous groups who are employed to provide ecosystem services (e.g. carbon abatement or habitat restoration) for which society is prepared to pay. Where projects involve community volunteers, restoration activity can serve to educate participants and create improved social outcomes including community cohesion and individual welfare.
Social engagement, interpretation and education regarding the benefits of restoration to stakeholders are therefore essential components of a restoration project and need to be planned and resourced alongside the physical or biological project components. This investment is likely to be rewarded manyfold with increased awareness and understanding of problems and potential solutions by members of society who may have the strongest ‘say’ in the future of an area when funding programs and individual champions have come and gone.