$26.15m granted to restore European landscapes totalling almost 18 times the area of Greater London

15th December 2022

Seven landscape restoration projects across Europe have received transformational grants totaling over 26.15 million USD from the CCI Endangered Landscapes Programme. These grants, of up to 5 million USD per project, will enable the large-scale restoration of some of Europe’s most important landscapes through removing barriers to ecosystem recovery, reintroducing species, and repairing key habitats. The project sites are aiming to influence land and seascape management over a total area of 28,062 square kilometers, almost 18 times the area of Greater London.

The boreal forest, recently made a household name through Sir David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet 2 series, is one of the areas set to receive this transformative investment. The Koitajoki Watershed is a vast landscape in Finland close to the Russian border that forms part of the ancient boreal forest and is home to the world’s only landlocked Atlantic salmon. Hydroelectric power plants currently block the migration routes of lake-bound Atlantic salmon and they survive only because conservationists physically move the salmon over land so they can continue their breeding cycle.

Large-scale water catchment restoration as part of the project will re-establish connectivity through creation of aquatic and forest corridors allowing these rare salmon to restart their natural cycle, and up to 1,000 hectares of boreal peatlands will be restored. Project partners will work closely with the indigenous peoples in the region who have unparalleled knowledge about the landscape.

Tero, Koitajoki Watershed Project Lead, says “This historic turn of events with the first ever ELP funding for the boreal north and for Finland is transformative. It is addressing, finally, degradation across Koitajoki in scale. I have a vision of uniquely landlocked Atlantic salmon and precious whitefish swimming in restored rivers and streams. Above this, golden eagle and bar-tailed godwits fly as they once did, perhaps smiling to themselves, seeing their homes saved, restored, in short – alive again. “

Other projects include supporting species recovery from beneath the iron curtain. The formerly closed border between Bulgaria and neighbouring Greece and Turkey, from the Rhodope mountains in the West to the Black Sea in the East, is one of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots, hosting 81 IUCN Red List species and is the stronghold of the national breeding population of the eastern imperial eagle. This project will replace coniferous plantations with natural riverine and deciduous forests, and will restore water sources and grasslands to create a thriving ecological network that helps threatened species thrive again.

In the UK, the Solent Seascape Project has been funded and will reconnect the Solent a threatened complex network of harbours, islands, spits, estuaries and vast sandbanks providing refuge to a range of ecologically important and threatened species including the thresher shark and critically endangered European eel, as well as a wintering ground for over 125,000 ducks, geese, and waders.

Dr David Thomas, Director of the Endangered Landscapes Programme says, “We are delighted to announce our new cohort of landscape restoration projects, which will showcase how restoration can improve our environment, creating landscapes where people and nature flourish for generations to come”.

The Endangered Landscapes Programme has a focus on restoring at large scale – working with areas that are big enough to provide the space needed for natural processes like storms, meandering rivers, herbivory and scavenging to shape the landscape and its ecosystems. The functional ecological landscapes created by these ambitious landscape restoration projects will play a role in addressing the twin biodiversity and climate crises. Healthy terrestrial and marine ecosystems are essential to sequestering carbon and providing a cost-effect way of addressing climate change. Animals play a part in this as ecosystem engineers, contributing to the overall functioning of the ecosystem.

The new projects will work with local stakeholders to begin to repair damaged ecosystems, benefitting both nature and people by enhancing the supply of benefits that nature provides us, from clean air and water, carbon storage and sequestration, regulation of floods, protection against storms, fuel, food and of course the health and the wellbeing benefits that being in nature provides. These outcomes will contribute to the delivery of socio-economic and environmental targets of global frameworks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

What is unique about these grants is that each of the projects will also be supported to share their learnings, and to develop a robust evidence base to help guide their own and other ecosystem recovery projects. More than just a regranting programme, the Endangered Landscapes Programme creates the conditions for scaling-up restoration in Europe through capacity building at the national and local level, actively sharing best practice and lessons learnt from its funded projects.

We were delighted to see this news feature in the Guardian