How can we restore ecosystems?
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
― Albert Einstein
Regenerating dead land
Merely focusing on planting trees does not create lasting, beneficial impact on a degraded ecosystem. To revive it to its original vitality, we have to adopt a holistic approach.
A combination of best practices ensure no stakeholder is neglected.
Hundreds of millions of trees are being planted every year. To make a sizeable impact on climate change and the challenges it brings across many fronts, this is neither enough nor the right approach. If nature based solutions have to work to mitigate climate change and its effects, we need to go beyond mere tree planting and relook at these as holistic, ecosystem restoration projects that create long-lasting impact: Ecologically, economically and socially.
The logistics of executing a project that provides a host of ecosystem services requires not just meticulous planning but also careful execution. Unlike tree planting, which is a one time activity, ecosystem restoration projects are long term commitments for all the stakeholders: Project developers, sponsors and the communities where they are located.
understanding ecosystem needs
Understanding the natural systems that existed before degradation commenced is key to restoring ecosystems. Using a range of technologies and analyses, including that of existing conditions, soil, hydrological (both surface and sub-surface) and ecology surveys are done that guide the masterplanning of the watershed.
Once the master plan is ready, the land is prepared for afforestation. This includes building water harvesting and resourcing infrastructure, soil preparation and improvement. Natural features of the land such as hillocks, valleys and water channels are taken into account to preserve and enhance the original lay of the land, especially against soil erosion by wind and water. Flood and water logging protection is also integrated in land preparation.
ensuring survival of the ecosystem
Once the vegetation is in place, the land is closely monitored to ensure that soil quality, moisture content, growth and regeneration is happening as planned. Using remote sensing technologies, a fortnightly report is generated to discover threats to the ecosystem, such as fire, human conflict, water stress and integrity of water harvesting structures such as bunds, dams and trenches.
understanding community needs
A factor most such projects overlook is community engagement. Every piece of land, whether productive or degraded, is used by people who live in the vicinity. They depend on these lands for grazing, fuel wood and a number of resources. It is important not just to take them into confidence before undertaking these projects but also ensure that the livelihood services the land provided not cease but are enhanced. A participatory approach where local communities are not excluded from the project but are made stakeholders – including generating
meeting everyone's needs
While planting trees is considered a simple task, a lot of work goes into choosing which species to plant where, planning shrubs, grasses and other planting materials to support both wildlife as well as human communities that inhabit and use the land. This includes ensuring fodder for grazers as well as protection of the vegetation planted.
monitoring ecosystem health
A detailed annual report is prepared and shared with all stakeholders, with recommendations on how to enhance and improve the ecosystem restoration process.