Standards for ecological restoration activities—planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation
Restoration projects need to adopt appropriate processes of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation to improve the chances of achieving the desired restoration outcomes.
The following activities and their performance levels are those required for professional level ecological restoration planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The size and complexity of the work carried out (as well as qualifications and experience of staff) should correspond to the size, complexity, degree of damage, regulatory status and budgets of the project. Non-professional practitioners, using a similar process of adjusting performance levels to project size, are encouraged to adopt this guide to optimise success.
As complementary interpretations, guidelines or specific industry sector standards become available these will be linked to updates of this Standards document.
PLANNING AND DESIGN
- Stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder engagement is essential to the sustained success of any project. Meaningful engagement must
be undertaken at the planning stage of a restoration project, with all key stakeholders (including the land or water manager, industry interests,
neighbours and Indigenous stakeholders). Plans for public areas or mandatory restoration include a strategy for stakeholder engagement throughout
and upon completion of the project. (See tool: The Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation ).
- External context assessment. Plans are informed by regional conservation goals and priorities and:
- Contain a diagram or map of the project in relation to its surrounding landscape or aquatic elements;
- Identify ways to align habitats at the restoration site to improve external ecological connectivity with the surrounding landscape or aquatic environment to optimise colonisation and gene flow potential between sites; and,
- Specify mechanisms for the project to interface optimally with nearby native ecosystems or land or water use areas.
- Ecosystem baseline inventory. Plans identify the site’s current ecosystem and its condition—including:
- A list of all native and non-native species evidently persisting on the site, particularly noting any threatened species or communities;
- Status of current abiotic conditions—including the dimensions, configuration and physical and chemical condition of streams, waterbodies, land surfaces, water column or any other material elements relative to prior conditions;
- Relative capacity of the biota on site or external to the site to commence and continue recovery with or without assistance (i.e. degree of resilience). This includes undertaking an inventory of:
- native and non-native species presumed absent and those potentially persisting as propagules or occurring within colonisation distance;
- Any areas of higher and/or lower condition, including priority resilient areas and any distinct spatial zones requiring different treatments;
- Type and degree of threats that have caused degradation, damage or destruction on the site and ways to eliminate, mitigate or
(in some cases) adapt to them; depending on degree of reversibility. This includes assessment of:
- Historical, existing and anticipated impacts within and external to the site—e.g. over-utilisation, sedimentation, fragmentation, pest plants and animals, hydrological impacts, pollution impacts, altered disturbance regimes and other threats—and ways to manage, remove or adapt to them;
- Description of the need for supplementing genetic diversity for species reduced to non-viable population sizes due to fragmentation [to a standard described in Offord & Meagher 2009 (for flora); and IUCN/SSC 2013 (for fauna)].
- Existing and anticipated effects of climate change (temperature, rainfall, sea level, marine acidity etc.) on species and genotypes with respect to likely future viability. (For useful tools see: Appendix 3).
- Reference ecosystem identification. Plans identify and describe (to the level needed to assist project design) the appropriate local native reference ecosystem(s), actual or compiled from historical or predictive records. (Generic information on benchmark characteristics and functions for the ecosystems may be available in state-based guidelines. These should be used to assist, not replace, reference ecosystem identification.) The reference ecosystem will represent the composition and any notable structure or functions (reflecting the six ecosystem attributes) including:
- Substrate characteristics (biotic or abiotic, aquatic or terrestrial),
- The ecosystem’s functional attributes including nutrient cycles, characteristic disturbance and flow regimes, animal-plant interactions, ecosystem exchanges and any disturbance-dependence of component species;
- The major characteristic species (representing all plant growth forms and functional groups of micro and macro fauna);
- Any ecological mosaics, requiring the use of multiple reference ecosystems on a site. (In cases where intact ecosystems are being disturbed and then restored, the pre-existing intact ecosystems must be mapped in detail prior to site disturbance);
- Assessment of habitat needs of important biota (including any minimum range areas for fauna and their responses to both degradation pressures and restoration interventions).
- Targets, goals and objectives. To produce well-targeted works and measure whether success has been achieved (see also Monitoring, below), plans identify a clearly stated:
- Restoration target—i.e. reference ecosystem (including description of ecosystem attributes);
- Restoration goal(s)—i.e. the condition or state of that ecosystem and attributes that you are aiming to achieve;
- Restoration objectives—i.e. changes and immediate outcomes needed to achieve the target and goals relative to any distinct spatial zones within the site. Such objectives are stated in terms of measurable and quantifiable indicators to identify whether or not the project is reaching its objectives within identified timeframes.
- Restoration treatment prescription: Plans contain clearly stated treatment prescriptions for each zone,
describing what, where and by whom treatments will be undertaken and their order or priority. Where knowledge or
experience is lacking, adaptive management or targeted research that informs what an appropriate prescription is, will be necessary.
Plans should include:
- Descriptions of actions to be undertaken for elimination or reduction/ mitigation of causal problems;
- Identification of (and brief rationale for) (i) specific restoration approaches (ii); descriptions of specific treatments for each zone; and (iii) prioritisation of actions. Depending on the condition of the site, this includes identification of:
- Amendments to the shape, configuration, chemistry or other physical condition of abiotic elements to render them amenable to the recovery of target biota and ecosystem structure and function;
- Effective and ecologically appropriate strategies and techniques for the control of undesirable species to protect desirable species, their habitats and the sensitivities of the site.
- Ecologically appropriate methods for triggering regeneration or achieving reintroduction of any missing species
- Specifications for appropriate species selection and genetic sourcing of biota to be reintroduced. In the case of fauna, a strategy for sourcing and re-introduction should comply with IUCN/SSC (2013) and any guidelines or regulations of the relevant state or territory. IUCN guidelines for captive breeding (McGowan et al. 2016). In the case of plant species a strategy for sustainable seed supply and a timetable for collection and supply of seed should be prepared that complies with guidelines in ‘Plant germplasm conservation in Australia’ (Offord & Meagher 2009) and the most recent revision of the Florabank guidelines and codes of practice. Useful standards for seed-related practice can be found in Australian Seeds, Sweedman & Merritt (2006) and Revegetation Industry Association of Western Australia’s (RIAWA) Seed Industry Standards. Useful standards for seed-related practice can be found in Australian Seeds, Sweedman & Merritt (2006) and Revegetation Industry Association of Western Australia's (RIAWA) Seed Industry Standards.
- Identification of ecologically appropriate strategies (such as leaving gaps for in-fill plantings in subsequent seasons) for addressing circumstances where the ideal species or genetic stock is not immediately available.
- Assessing security of site tenure and of post treatment maintenance scheduling. Some indication of potential for long term conservation management of the site is required before undertaking a restoration plan. Plans identify:
- Security of tenure of the site to enable long term restoration commitment and allow appropriate ongoing access and management;
- Potential for adequate arrangements for ongoing prevention of impacts and maintenance on the site after completion of the project to ensure that the site does not regress into a degraded state.
- Analyzing logistics: Some indication of potential for resourcing the project and of likely risks is required before undertaking a restoration plan. Plans address practical constraints and opportunities including:
- Identifying funding, labor (including appropriate skill level) and other resourcing arrangements that will enable appropriate treatments (including follow up treatments) until the site reaches a stabilized condition:
- Undertaking a full risk assessment and identifying a risk management strategy for the project, particularly including contingency arrangements for unexpected changes in environmental conditions or resourcing;
- A rationale for the duration of the project and means to maintain commitment to its aim, objectives and targets over that period; and,
- Permissions, permits and legal constraints applying to the site and the project.
- Review process scheduling: Plans include a schedule and timeframe for:
- Stakeholder and independent peer review as required; and,
- Review of the plan in the light of new knowledge, changing environmental conditions and lessons learned from the project.
- No further and lasting damage is caused by the restoration works to any natural resources or elements of the landscape or waterscape that are being conserved, including physical damage (e.g. clearing, burying topsoil, trampling), chemical pollution (e.g. over-fertilizing, pesticide spills) or biological contamination (e.g. introduction of invasive species and pathogens, e.g. see Threat abatement plan for disease in natural ecosystems caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi
- Treatments are interpreted and carried out responsibly, effectively and efficiently by suitably qualified, skilled and experienced people or under the supervision of a suitably qualified, skilled and experienced person;
- All treatments are undertaken in a manner that is responsive to natural processes and fosters and protects natural recovery. Primary treatments including substrate and hydrological amendments, pest species control, application of recovery triggers and biotic reintroductions are adequately followed up by secondary treatments as required and appropriate aftercare is provided to any reintroduced fauna or flora;
- Corrective changes of direction in response to unexpected ecosystem responses are facilitated in a timely manner and are ecologically informed and documented;
- All projects exercise full compliance with occupational work, health and safety legislation and all other legislation including that relating to soil, air, water, oceans, heritage, species and ecosystem conservation (including that all permits required are in place); and,
- All project operatives communicate regularly with key stakeholders (or as required by funding bodies) to keep them appraised of progress.
- Monitoring to evaluate progressive restoration outcomes begins at the planning stage with the development of a monitoring plan to identify success or otherwise of the treatments (See also Boxes 3 and 4).
- Monitoring is geared to specific targets and measurable goals and objectives identified at the start of the project and include:
- Collection of data prior to works and at appropriate intervals (e.g. at higher frequency early in the recovery phase) to identify whether objectives, goals and targets are being attained; and,
- Collecting data on work sessions, specific treatments and approximate costs.
- A minimum standard of monitoring for small, volunteer projects is the use of photo points, along with species lists and condition descriptions. (Note that photographic and formal quantitative ‘before and after’ monitoring is ideally undertaken not only at the restored site but also at untreated areas and any actual reference )
- Projects also monitor the performance of the recovery using pre-identified indicators consistent with the objectives. In professional or larger projects this is ideally carried out through formal quantitative sampling methods supported by a condition assessment (taking account of any regionally appropriate benchmarking system).
- Sampling units must be an appropriate size for the attributes measured and should be replicated sufficiently within the site.
- Monitoring is geared to specific targets and measurable goals and objectives identified at the start of the project and include:
- Adequate records of treatments (inputs) and all monitoring are maintained to enable future evaluation.
- Consideration should be given to lodging data with open access databases such as the Atlas of Living Australia and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).
- Secure records of the provenance (i.e. source) of any re-introduced plants or animals are held by the project managers. These records should include location (preferably GPS-derived) and description of donor and receiving sites, reference to collection protocols, date of acquisition, identification procedures and collector/breeder's name.
- Evaluation and documentation of the outcomes of the works is carried out, with progress assessed against the targets, goals and objectives of the project (i.e. reference conditions).
- Evaluation can use any system that adequately assesses results from the monitoring.
- Results are used to inform ongoing management.
- Reporting involves preparation and dissemination of progress reports to key stakeholders and broader interest groups (newsletters and journals) to convey outputs and outcomes as they become available.
- Reporting can use any system that conveys the information in an accurate and accessible way, customized to the audience.
- Reporting must clarify the level and details of monitoring upon which any evaluation of success or otherwise has been based.
During the implementation phase, restoration projects are managed in such a way that:
MONITORING, DOCUMENTATION, EVALUATION AND REPORTING
Ecological restoration projects adopt the principle of observing, recording and monitoring treatments and responses to the treatments in order to inform changes and different approaches for future work. They regularly assess and analyse progress to adapt treatments (adaptive management) as required. Partnerships with research bodies are sought in cases where innovative treatments or treatments applied at a large scale are being trialled and to ensure all necessary research permits and ethical considerations are in place.
The management body is responsible for ongoing maintenance to prevent deleterious impacts and carries out any required monitoring of the site after completion of the project to ensure that the site does not regress into a degraded state. Comparison with an appropriate reference ecosystem will be ongoing.