From degradation to restoration: Measuring six years of progress

18th June 2024

Photo: Calin Serban.

CCI’s Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme has released in-depth monitoring data from six years of large-scale restoration across Europe, now accessible through our new Measuring Impact Hub. Iona Haines interviews the team behind the Hub to find out why data and transparency are so important to restoration.

“As we catalyse the process of transforming landscapes and seascapes, we rely on robust monitoring to track the changes that take place” says Dr Nancy Ockendon, Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme Science Manager. “It’s a long-term effort: trees take time to grow, animal populations don’t recover overnight, and local economies take time to rebuild. The data we gather not only helps us to see the progress we’re making, but also allows us to confidently make the argument for scaling up restoration, providing enhanced benefits for nature, climate and people.”

In the face of escalating biodiversity loss and climate change, restoring degraded landscapes and seascapes has become a critical strategy. As part of these projects, it’s critical to collect and present scientifically robust evidence.

The Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme is supporting large-scale restoration projects across Europe aimed at reviving ecosystems and benefiting local communities. With the introduction of our new Measuring Impact Hub, we are providing an in-depth look at the monitoring methods and data being generated by the projects, offering valuable insights into approaches and methods that we can use to understand what works. The Measuring Impact Hub showcases the ongoing ecological, economic, and social impacts of our projects.

Photo: Dimitar Gradinarov.

The importance of monitoring and evaluation

At the heart of the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme’s approach is a commitment to robust monitoring and evaluation. “Monitoring is crucial for adaptive management,” explains Dr Nancy Ockendon. “Using data to understand if what you’re doing is having the hoped-for results, and if not, to change your approach, is fundamental. It also helps build the wider evidence base, allowing other projects to replicate successful approaches.”

Transparency and accountability are also crucial in ecosystem restoration. “You need to show you’re spending money wisely and effectively,” says Nancy. “If you’re not monitoring the difference funding is making, it could be wasted or used ineffectively. This gives confidence to funders to give more money and generally builds support for restoration and its achievements.”

This evidence can have uses beyond projects and funders, helping decision-makers and communities to see the value in restoring landscapes and seascapes. “A good example is the opposition to the nature restoration law in the EU” says Nancy. “Many arguments against the law about the cost versus benefits weren’t based on evidence. If we had more data to demonstrate the economic benefits of restoration, it would be easier to convince people that the nature restoration law will be a positive change for them.”

Despite the benefits, gathering evidence in landscape and seascape restoration is no easy task. “It’s difficult because these are complicated projects often doing multiple things simultaneously, involving different groups of people at different stages,” says Nancy. “Ecological, social, and economic responses also take a long time, which doesn’t align with typical funding cycles of conservation or academia.”

Photo: Rewilding Portugal.

Building the evidence base

To address these challenges, the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme has developed a bespoke monitoring framework applied across all its funded projects. This framework encompasses a range of indicators measuring change in ecological, ecosystem service, and socio-economic dimensions. Each project is required to select at least ten indicators, tailored to their specific restoration goals and linked to their restoration actions.

“The idea is to collect data that’s useful for the projects beyond just reporting to us,” explains Nancy. “We want the data to be used for the management and improvement of the restoration sites. This means giving projects flexibility in their choice of indicators and methodologies.”

Nancy highlights the importance of social and economic indicators, which are often new territories for conservation projects. “Many of our projects said social indicators were not within their comfort zone as conservation organisations, but they found them valuable for building relationships and gaining insights into attitudes.” For example, many projects have used surveys of local communities to understand the concerns and potential opportunities that they have around the reintroduction of species, such as bison and beaver. The results of these surveys can be used to inform project activities going forward, for example in terms of mitigation or education and awareness raising.

Photo: Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Introducing the Measuring Impact Hub

Our newly launched Measuring Impact Hub allows users to explore the outcomes of the Programme’s restoration projects in detail. Dr Taylor Shaw, Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme Conservation Scientist, shares the vision for the Hub: “Our goal at the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme is to help build the evidence base that restoration at large scales is possible and can provide benefits to both nature and people.”

“The Hub showcases the breadth of work being done across Europe,” Taylor continues. “We want to share conservation wins, as well as unexpected outcomes and what didn’t work, for others to learn from. It’s a platform where practitioners can see what decisions our projects have made regarding a particular restoration intervention, habitat, taxa, or restoration theme.”

The Hub is designed to be accessible to a broad audience, from policymakers to environmentally aware citizens. “We hope this Hub is useful in two distinct ways,” says Taylor. “Firstly, as a place for non-scientists to get a window into the world of restoration, and secondly, as a centralised platform for practitioners to review the evidence generated by our projects. It’s a living page, continuously updated as more information becomes available.”

Case study: The Cairngorms Connect project

Each project supported by the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme has rigorous monitoring processes. The Cairngorms Connect Partnership spans 60,000 hectares in the Scottish Highlands. This initiative focuses on restoring the natural landscapes and biodiversity, including Caledonian pine forests, wetlands, and peatlands, while involving local communities and improving ecosystems for wildlife like eagles and wildcats.

Over the last six years, Cairngorms Connect have made significant progress towards their 200-year plan, in areas including habitat restoration, hydrological process recovery, and enhancing local livelihoods. “As habitats and ecosystems are restored, the Cairngorms Connect landscape is changing” says Ellie Dimambro-Denson, Cairngorms Connect Monitoring Officer. “It’s a long, slow process but through looking closer with our science and monitoring programme you can start to understand and imagine what the landscape will look like in 200 years”.

Ellie and the Cairngorms Connect monitoring team are collecting data on a range of indicators, from macro-moths and tree cover to staff empowerment. The project team will continue this data collection beyond the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme’s funding period.

Looking forward

As the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme continues to expand its efforts across Europe, the Measuring Impact Hub will continue to adapt and expand. Nancy highlights the importance of this collective effort: “We need more evidence to convince different audiences. Whether it’s local communities, policymakers, or landowners, having data that underpins our restoration stories is crucial.

This story was first published on the Endangered Landscapes and Seascapes website