Restoring Resilient Ecosystems (RestREco)

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment


There is a global biodiversity crisis driven by mounting pressures including land degradation and climate change. Within the UK, responses include the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan, which sets out a vision to secure a more biodiverse, connected and resilient landscape. The Natural Capital Committee has argued for the need to secure Net Environmental Gains, and this is a provision of the upcoming Environment Bill. A recent report from the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology highlights the needs to secure our natural capital, not just to support biodiversity, but also ensure the provision of wider ecosystem services. Questions remain, however, as to how we achieve net environmental gain; what should go where? What does success look like? How long may it take to reassemble resilient communities that can reliably deliver ecosystem services?
One widely adopted approach to securing net environmental gain is that of "ecological restoration". However, using specific natural and semi-natural ecosystems to define endpoints is increasingly contested, as target "pristine" states are hard to define, climate change is leading to a shifting baseline, and there is a need to restore ecosystems that are resilient to future pressures. We need a new paradigm for goal-seeking in ecological restoration which goes beyond reference systems, is agnostic as to prior assumptions of intactness, integrity and system "health", based on diagnostics of characteristics of functionally intact systems.
There is an aspiration across the devolved administrations to deliver net environmental gain in biodiversity across all land uses. However, the restoration of ecological communities has been led by practitioners, with relatively little evidence gathered as to how individual restoration projects link together spatially to enhance the resilience of communities. This consortium brings together leading academic ecologists with a public sector organisation and a charity at the forefront of practical restoration activities, to extract the evidence from past activities through a natural experiment, and test resilience through manipulations.
We intend to measure biodiversity, architecture and multifunctionality in ecosystems in different stages of transition from a degraded state, identify determinants and measures of complexity, and seek signals of emergent properties - especially resilience to perturbation. We have chosen grasslands and woodlands, being two major habitat types targeted for restoration programmes. Further to this we shall explore how approaches to accelerating re-integration of systems may affect emergent properties.
In summary, we propose to move restoration science forward, but considering complexity and resilience as fundamental aims for restoration projects, rather than attempting to re-create specific target ecosystems.


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