SECTION 2 - Six Key Principles of Ecological Restoration Practice
Six key principles are used to provide a
framework for conceptualising, defining and measuring ecological restoration,
particularly at a time of rapid environmental change. (See also Appendix
2 Values and principles underpinning ecological restoration.)
Principle 3. Recovery of ecosystem attributes is facilitated by identifying clear targets, goals and objectives
A restoration project will have greater transparency,
manageability and improved chances of success if the restoration targets
and goals are clearly defined and translated into measurable objectives.
These can then be used to monitor progress over time, applying adaptive
management approaches (see box 3 below).
Reference ecosystems identify the particular terrestrial or aquatic ecosystem
that is the target of the restoration project. This involves describing the
specific compositional, structural and functional ecosystem attributes requiring
reinstatement before the desired outcome (the restored state) can be said to
have been achieved. The Standards list the ecosystem attributes (rationalised
from those of the SER Primer) as: absence of threats, physical conditions, species
composition, community structure, ecosystem function, and external exchanges
(Figure 2 below and at Appendix
5). These attributes in combination can then be used to derive a 5-star
rating system (see Principle 4)
that enable practitioners, regulators and industry to track restoration progress
over time and between sites.
That is, a restored state is considered to have been achieved when the
ecosystem’s attributes are on a secure trajectory approximating
those in the reference ecosystem without further repair-phase interventions
being needed other than ongoing protection and maintenance. At that stage
the ecosystem under recovery would be considered ‘self-organising’
and increasingly resilient to natural disturbances.
Each ecosystem attribute will comprise a range of more detailed component
properties that in turn inform goals and objectives, needed to achieve the target. These component properties have different expressions in different
biomes and different sites, which will mean that each project will have
site-specific targets, goals and objectives aligned with specific attributes
(box 4). Specific indicators are selected to help evaluate whether these
targets, goals and objectives are being met as a result of the interventions.
(Box 3: Restoration monitoring and adaptive management, and
Box 4: Targets, goals and objectives - what terms should
we use?, and Appendix 4).
Figure 2. Progress evaluation recovery wheel. This template allows
a manager to illustrate the degree to which the project is achieving its
ecosystem goals over time (in this case a hypothetical 1-year old reconstruction
site on its way to a 4-star condition). A practitioner with a high level
of familiarity with the goals and achievements of the project can shade
the segments for each sub-attribute after formal or informal evaluation.
(A blank template for this diagram and its accompanying proforma are available
in Appendix 5.)
Notes: Sub-attribute labels can be adjusted or more addeed to better represent
a particular ecosystem. The scores must be based on informal or formal
monitoring indicators for the project. These should be identified at the outset of the project to provide
ecologically meaningful information about the sub-attributes and attributes
being finally evaluated.
Box 3. Restoration monitoring and
Monitoring the responses of an ecosystem to restoration actions is essential to:
- identify whether the actions are working or need to be modified (i.e. adaptive management);
- provide evidence to stakeholders that specific
goals are being achieved (Box 4); and
- answer specific questions - e.g. to evaluate particular treatments or what organisms or processes are returning to the ecosystem.
Adaptive management is a form of 'trial and
error'. Using the best available knowledge, skills and technology
an action is implemented and records are made of success, failures
and potential for improvement. These learnings then form the basis
of the next round of 'improvements'. An adaptive management can
and should be a standard approach for any ecological restoration
project irrespective of how well-funded that project may be
- The most direct and critical form of
monitoring for adaptive management is routinely inspecting the
site to identify whether restoration actions are working or
need to be modified. Such monitoring is undertaken by the
project supervisor to identify any need for a rapid response and
to ensure appropriate treatments can be scheduled before problems
become entrenched. Additional inspections are also needed after
episodic events such as storms, floods, fire, severe frost and
- The minimum formal monitoring required
for adaptive management - and to provide evidence to stakeholders
and regulators that goals are being achieved - is to maintain
a photo monitoring record of the site being treated, using a fixed
photopoint. All monitoring, even time series photos, needs to
have evidence of 'before' condition. This is because, once the
whole site is treated, a photo may be the only evidence that change
has occurred. Photo monitoring at control (untreated) sites is
also recommended, where possible. For larger sites, aerial photography
may also provide useful before and after imagery.
Well-funded projects (or projects under regulatory controls e.g.
mine site restoration) are expected to undertake formal comprehensive
monitoring for adaptive management and reporting to stakeholders.
This usually involves professionals or skilled advisors and is
based on a monitoring plan that identifies, among other things,
monitoring design, timeframes, who is responsible, the planned
analysis, and frameworks for response and communication to regulators,
funding bodies or other stakeholders.
The monitoring design of projects may
involve development or adaptation of a condition assessment system
or formal sampling system to track the progress of specific indicators,
whether they be abiotic or biotic. In some cases individual species
or groups of species can function as surrogates for suitable abiotic
conditions. For soil microorganisms, one or more quantitative
determinants are used consistently throughout the life of the
restoration project to ensure that the functional diversity of
the microbial communities is restored in soils. Formal sampling
of plant and animal populations can involve a range of faunal
trapping and tracking methods or vegetation sampling using randomly
located quadrats or transects. Design of such monitoring schemes
should occur at the planning stage of the project to ensure that
the project’s goals, objectives and their selected indicators
are measurable and that the monitoring aligns with these goals.
Care should be taken to ensure that the sampling commences prior
to the commencement of restoration treatments, and where possible,
control sites should be included in the design. If the necessary
skills are not available in-house, advice should be sought from
relevant professionals with experience in designing site-appropriate
monitoring, documenting and storing data, and carrying out appropriate
- Monitoring can be used to answer questions
(hypotheses) about new treatments or the return of organisms or
processes - but only if the data collected are well matched to
the particular question and an appropriate experimental design
is employed. A restoration project that is comparing or trialling
techniques needs to observe the conventions of replication and
include untreated controls in order to interpret the results with
any certainty. Rigorous recording is also needed of specific restoration
treatments and any other conditions that might affect the results.
A standard practice in such a situation would be for the practitioner
to partner with an ecologist or relevant scientist to ensure the
project receives the appropriate level of advice and assistance.
Where new treatments are being considered or where the nature
of the site is uncertain, treatments are first trialled in smaller
areas prior to application over larger areas.
of integrating research and practice.
Box 4.Targets, goals and objectives
– what terms should we use?
It is useful to have a hierarchy of terms such
as 'target', 'goals' and 'objectives', to better organise planning so
that proposed inputs are well matched to the desired ultimate outcomes.
While there is no universally accepted terminology and many groups will
prefer to use their traditional terms, the Standards broadly adopt the
terminology of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (Conservation
Measures Partnership 2013 cmp-openstandards.org/).
It helps to think of goals and objectives needing to be S.M.A.R.T.(i.e.
specific measurable, achievable, reasonable and time-bound). They should
be directly connected to key attributes of the target ecosystem. This
is achieved by the use of specific indicators.
- Target. The target of a
project can be interpreted as the specific reference community
to which the restoration project is being directed e.g. 'Box-Ironbark
Forest', and will include a description of the ecosystem attributes.
- Goal/s. The goal or goals provide
a finer level of focus in the planning hierarchy compared to the
target. They describe the status of the target that you are aiming
to achieve and, broadly, how it will be achieved. For example,
goals in a project may be to achieve:
- An intact and recovering
composition, structure and function of remnants A and B within
- 20 ha of revegetated linkages
between the remnants within 10 years; and
- 100% support of all stakeholders
and neighbours within five years.
- Objectives. These are the changes
and intermediate outcomes needed to attain the goal/s. For example
preliminary objectives may be to achieve:
- I. Less than 1% cover of
exotic plant species and recruitment of at least two obligate
seeding native shrub species in the remnants within two years;
- II. A density of 300 stems
/ha of native trees and shrubs, at least three native herb
species / 10m2 and a coarse woody debris load of 10 m3/ha
in the reconstructed linkages within three years.
- III. Cessation of all livestock
encroachment and weed dumping within 1 year and formation
of a ‘friends’ group representing neighbours within
(For other examples of some detailed indicators,
see Appendix 4).