Around the world farming, mining, industrial production and many other activities are changing landscapes at an alarming rate. Often the result is a fragmented landscape, with ‘islands’ of forest or mangroves separated by cleared and degraded areas. One way we can look to restore landscapes is to regenerate their natural biodiversity, slowly rebuilding the range of plants and wildlife that should occur naturally. By doing this we learn from evolution, a constant process that has taken place over thousands of years, that has resulted in the range of species that makes an ecosystem diverse andadaptive and unique to its location.
Regeneration can often produce multiple benefits. For example, where it re-connects islands of fragmented forests the overall impact re-connects groups of the same species resulting in larger breeding groups and greater genetic diversity for those groups. By creating much larger connected areas it can often result in reduced human-wildlife conflict, as animals do not have to pass through cultivated land to reach food in different fragments of forest.
We also know that because our natural landscapes are so well adapted to their location they can help us in myriad ways. Coral reefs are hotspots of marine life that coastal communities rely on for food, but also protect coastal areas from storms. Mangrove forests, sometimes called the ‘rainforests by the sea’, grow in inter-tidal zones in tropical and sub-tropical regions and are important breeding grounds for many marine species, as well as for a wide range of birds, but again they also protect coastlines from storms and provide food and wood to coastal communities. They are also very effective so-called carbon stores, absorbing up to five times more carbon than terrestrial forests.
By regenerating all of these landscapes both biodiversity and communities can benefit, however, doing this effectively takes a careful combination of scientific understanding and community consultation and participation. Regeneration is a long term process that can take a generation to come to fruition. To be successful involves understanding the methods that work for each type of landscape, regenerating a mangrove forest works very differently to regenerating a lake. Success also requires a close relationship between ecologists and communities whose livelihoods depend on their environment, so regenerating a coral reef needs the understanding and commitment of local fishermen as well as the assistance of marine biologists.
Communities also benefit as they become part of the project team. Many projects employ local people for many activities, from nurturing seedlings to planting to the important task of on-going monitoring of plants and wildlife. This not only provides employment, but improves skills within a community and helps communities to manage their local resources more sustainably. What does this really mean? For the fishermen that rely on the fisheries of Lake Sofia in Madagascar, one of our projects run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has provided new fishing nets that help manage fish catches more sustainably. They also work with local farmers to improve management and yields as well as reducing run-off that has caused areas of sediment to build up around the lake.
Regenerating landscapes is a commitment for the long term that has multiple benefits: rebuilding biodiversity; supporting communities; rebuilding resilience and adaptation and recreating landscapes where wildlife and people can thrive.
Over the coming weeks our blog will be focusing on project partners and themes from our Regeneration portfolio. Follow our blog to find out more about how these projects work in practice.