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Some notes from an excellent event: the Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration 2016

By amarechal.
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Text and photo by Klára Čámská, the Institute of Agricultural Economics and Information (ÚZEI), Prague.

The 10th European conference on ecological restoration was held in Freising in Germany, Bavaria, on August 22 – 26, 2016. The host was the Department of Ecology and ecosystem management, School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Technische Universität München. The quiet atmosphere of this old bishop town, the hospitality of the conference team and the excellent quality of the Bavarian beer were highly appreciated by approximately 300 participants, some of them coming from outside Europe. The PEGASUS project was also represented at the event by Klára Čámská and Jaroslav Parzan from the Institute of Agricultural Economics and Information in Czech Republic.

The conference titled “SER 2016 Best Practice in Restoration Ecology” covered a wide range of habitats: forests, agricultural land (cropland and grassland), peatland and fens, wetlands, rivers and floodplains, urban areas, sandy habitats and abandoned mines. From all the cases presented, the conference helped the Czech PEGASUS team to draw lessons as to what makes a restoration project successful. First there should be detailed information and knowledge about the state of degradation and ecosystem functions provided/underprovided. Second, there should be a clear understanding and agreement from stakeholders on which habitat/species/ecosystem function the project should target. The same goes for the methods to be used to carry out restoration works. A fourth important point (and central to the PEGASUS project) is to seek a good level of involvement of stakeholders in decision processes so that their ideas and preferences are heard. A cost benefit analysis of options is also useful. Finally, the realisation of the project should include a monitoring plan to assess the improvement in the state of the habitat, the species and/or the ecosystem functions provision targeted.  

 The conference of restoration ecology was a fascinating mix of theoretical and practical knowledge across a range of disciplines from natural sciences to social sciences or economics. The common aim was to find a way to meet the target to restore 15% of biodiversity degraded habitats in the EU by 2020 (Target 2 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy). It is an ambitious plan. For instance, the working group for ecological restoration in Finland evaluated the level of degradation of all its habitats and estimated the costs of meeting the 15% restoration target under three scenarios (2016-2050). In the first scenario, where all ecosystems are restored evenly, the costs would amount to €38.5 billion, i.e. €1.1 billion annually. In the prioritized scenario where restoration is carried out “at any cost”, this would amount to €22.8 billon, i.e. €0.7 billion annually. Finally, in the prioritized scenario where cost-efficiency is applied, this would be €18.0 billion, i.e. €0.5 billion annually (S. Kuusela, J. S. Kotiaho, A. Moilanen: Balancing costs and natural values in prioritization schemes – examples from the Finland prioritization plan; Session 17-03). What was interesting from an agri-environmental policy viewpoint is that agricultural land habitats in Finland are deemed 100% degraded and the costs for their restoration are the highest under the first scenario in the study. However, the priority of its restoration is considered low because those habitats tend to have a comparatively lower biodiversity than the others examined in the study while high management costs usually arise from their restoration. The study also presents a good example of how to meet the restoration target on forest land (A. Tolvanen: New approaches to reconsolidate restoration within the multiple land use scheme; Keynote).

In terms of agricultural habitats a close attention was paid on semi-natural grasslands, especially those with high natural value as defined by the EU Habitats Directive and the Natura 2000 network. The restoration projects presented at the conference were often funded under the European LIFE programme. Many projects focused on degraded grasslands. Grassland habitats degradation is caused by multiple factors: the intensification of agriculture (including ploughing during the socialist era, e.g. in White Carpathians species rich grasslands in the Czech Republic), the abandonment of land mostly due to political changes in the late 80s in Eastern Europe and/or economic drivers, as occurred notably in the steppe vegetation in the Hungarian Puszta or extensive grasslands in Estonia and Lithuania, and in the former East Germany military districts. The common positive element of the restoration projects is the great level of financial investments (buying or collecting the seed, landscaping, removal of shrubs, purchase fences and other equipment, etc.) and human/social capital (building project administration skills, learning complex approach and solution skills, building confidence among partners and stakeholders, dissemination activities etc.). A common weakness – according to me – is the uncertainty of the sustainability of the project results. The agri-environment and climate schemes funded under the Common Agricultural Policy can provide some guarantee as regards sustainability, but these schemes often lack adequate coordination and complementarity at the national and European levels. Another reason for increasing communication and coordination between the agri-environment and climate schemes and LIFE is that grassland restoration projects offer a rich reservoir for scientific research and practical experience in a variety of natural, environmental and social conditions and variations in the management.

The need of including both ecological and socio-economic incentives into any restoration project planning and to assess the economic value of the enhanced provision of ecosystem services were other topics presented and discussed in some of the presentations at the conference. For example, N. Hanley from Scotland, University of Stirling, showed in the keynote presentation Economic benefits and aims to restore habitat the principles and the possibilities of payments for ecosystem services. S. Swart and J. Zevenberg also presented Utilitarian and non-utilitarian valuation of nature and natural resources: A game-theoretical approach of valuation (Session 27-O1). Such topics provide an excellent background introduction to our poster presenting the PEGASUS project “Applying of Socio-ecological System for better understanding and delivery of public goods/ecosystem services: PEGASUS case studies in the Czech Republic” (K. Čámská and J. Pražan; Session 27-P3). It can be concluded that a further research of success factors and barriers of stakeholders’ involvement in activities beneficial to the environment improvement and multilateral dissemination and political discussion of the research results are still necessary. 

There were a lot of inspiring studies and projects presented in the conference, which also covered the identification and dynamics of the main factors causing habitat degradation, e.g. climate change, social and political changes. The PEGASUS team attending the conference would like to thank the organisers, especially Dr. J. Kollmann and Dr. J.-M. Hermann.

 

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Exploring innovative and participatory approaches for ESBO delivery

By amarechal.
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By Karlheinz Knickel (IfLS)

The case studies are a core element of the PEGASUS project, enabling us to identify a diverse range of approaches being used in different parts of the EU to increase the appreciation and provision of ESBOs from agriculture and forestry. We want to learn from the many initiatives that we can find in practice in very different situations. Each case study will involve analysing and understanding the context in which agriculture and forestry operates and identifying the potential strategies to improve provision in these particular circumstances. In each of the 34 case studies, PEGASUS partners will first gain a better understanding of the relationships between farming/forestry management and the associated quantity and quality of ESBOs. To facilitate this task, we use the socio-ecological systems (SES) framework, examine the appreciation of ESBOs among key actors and identify key motivational, institutional and socio-economic factors that influence this.

Together with our stakeholders in the case studies, we explore the interplay between policy, market and social, cultural and institutional factors, and examine the mechanisms and governance arrangements that are in place. We examine what works already and why. This will then allow us to explore the main trade-offs and strengths and weaknesses of different approaches in order to inform policy development, create a more enabling environment for similar initiatives, scaling up, replication, multiplication, and maybe eventually a wider regime change. The ultimate goal is to incentivise and enable transformative practice on the ground.

A rapid appraisal for 34 ‘broad and shallow’ case studies is currently underway. Based on this, a more in-depth analysis will be carried out in 10 case studies, with much more intensive action-oriented engagement of the research team with key actors and stakeholders. The 10 in-depth case studies will be chosen from the broad and shallow case studies. The key considerations for selection will be the interest of stakeholders in continuing the cooperation, the desire to select particularly innovative cases with a high potential for scaling up and/or multiplication, and the need to ensure a good coverage of situations, drivers and mechanisms.

For all 34 cases studies, a map of the social-ecological system is drawn, using participatory methods and local, regional or national data sets. In addition, we explore the conditions for successful ESBO provision, based on initial interviews with stakeholders and triangulation with local environmental and socio-economic data. This work will be completed by June 2016 with a short report for each broad and shallow case study. The 10 in-depth case studies will enable deeper analysis and the identification of potential future actions with stakeholders for increasing ESBO provision further in the case study areas, considering also any changes required in institutional arrangements.

A series of focus groups and workshops will be organised during November/December 2016 where governance arrangements and actions to foster ESBO provision will be discussed. This in-depth analysis will be completed in January 2017 with a report and a joint commitment to further action.

For all the case studies, it is critically important to engage with practice, facilitate, listen actively, and be ready to co-learn. Feedback loops with stakeholders, key actors and those leading other work packages are very important. The systemic and visualisation approaches (mind-maps, network mapping) we are using is intended to facilitate this.

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Market, institutional and socio-economic drivers that support and inhibit the provision of environmental and social benefits from EU agriculture and forestry

By amarechal.
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Analysis is currently underway in ten countries to identify and understand the relationships between key groups of socio-political, economic and institutional factors considered crucial for influencing the levels of provision and appreciation of environmental and social benefits in different EU contexts. These include the different farming/forestry systems, socio-ecological conditions and policy instruments used.

The final analysis intends to provide an example-based contribution to improve our understanding of the most important drivers that have supported or inhibited the provision of ESBOs until now and how this might change in the future. This includes looking at regional/local institutions, market drivers and relevant associations and partnerships to explain the varying levels of provision experienced in different situations. It also aims to identify the types of policy instrument that appear to play a major role in providing the necessary conditions to stimulate collective or other innovative action by farmers and foresters in relation to the provision of environmental and social benefits (e.g. regulatory framework, financial support, climate for enabling action). The analysis also recognises that other drivers, e.g. sectoral or natural drivers such as climate change also have an impact; and their varying roles will be developed in the PEGASUS case studies and in the EU as a whole.

The PEGASUS team held an EU-level seminar on 26 April 2016 in Brussels to discuss and review emerging findings. The seminar brought together EU and national level stakeholders, researchers and institutional representatives.

The report is expected to be published on the PEGASUS website during June 2016.

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Mapping and assessment of Public Goods and Ecosystem Services provision in relation to the diversity of EU farming and forestry systems in the EU

By amarechal.
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Figure 1: Forest management regimes. Source: Hengeveld, G.M., Nabuurs, G., Didion, M., Wyngaert, I.V.d., Clerkx, S., Schelhaas, M., (2012): A forest management map of European Forests.

By Marta Pérez-Soba (DLO-Alterra) and Maria Luisa Paracchini (JRC).

Agriculture and forestry activities influence the availability and quality of Public Goods (PG) and Ecosystem Services (ES) supplied by farming and forest ecosystems through management activities. There is a large spatial variation across Europe in the nature and management of farming and forestry systems, their biogeographic conditions and their social, economic and institutional context. Spatial analysis can help improve our understanding of the nature of PG/ES provision, the positive and negative interactions between provision and management in different situations, as well as the demand for different PG/ES in different locations. However, many different methodological approaches and different sets of indicators are currently being used to assess individual PG/ES at national/regional level, which makes it difficult to make comparisons between different Members States.

PEGASUS is building a consistent mapping approach, to achieve a more comprehensive and more operational inventory and geospatial understanding of the occurrence, condition and interactions of PG/ES in the diverse forestry and farming systems in the EU. This will be achieved by critically reviewing existing inventories, methodological approaches and indicator datasets for mapping. On this basis, current mapping and data collation and comparison will be extended to enable a more comprehensive analysis of PG/ES distribution in the EU, including the identification of areas of high and low supply. The analysis of variations in governance, institutional and market drivers and influences upon PG/ES and their status will complete the picture. Feedback from the broad range of real-world case studies will help to refine the framework and make it more operational.

A crucial outcome of the spatial analysis (at EU-28 level and in the case studies) is to reveal the relevant spatial scales at which agriculture and forestry systems provide PG/ES. There are some PG/ES that are strongly influenced by land management activities wherever they occur (e.g. GHG emissions) whilst others are dependent on the local context; some are produced in the vicinity of the locations that benefit from them, whilst others are produced much farther afield. For example urban areas can be many kilometres away from their sources of clean water, which could be a forest located in a mountain area in the region. The novelty of the analysis compared to existing frameworks is to identify where changes in management and/or governance are needed in order to improve provision, or where systems already providing high levels of PG/ESS need to be maintained.

The first step in the work (review of relevant datasets and approaches available at EU level to categorise and map PG/ES) has just been finalised. We found indicators or proxies to map PG/ES relating to the supply of 16 out of the 19 beneficial outcomes identified in PEGASUS. Available indicators describe the ecosystem service itself, or the ecosystem function underpinning the service. Moreover, most of the indicators available describe the potential service – the capacity of the ecosystem to deliver a good or service, also called stocks or assets. Only in rare cases are there indicators and data available that allow the actual service (linked to the demand) to be mapped.

Many times the indicator is clear but relevant data are not available to measure it, and proxies need to be used. For example, the PG/ES “provision of habitat”, of which biodiversity is a key variable, cannot be described through one indicator only - there is no one-measure-fits-all. The lack of pan European monitoring data especially for agrobiodiversity (existing only for birds), implies the use of proxies (including pressures) in PEGASUS. Concerning management, a good number of indicators and maps are available for both agriculture and forestry (see Figure 1 for forestry), especially for agriculture where many data are regularly collected through EU wide agricultural surveys. The socio- economic descriptors for farming and forestry are sufficiently populated, though indicators are mostly available at coarse resolutions (NUTS2, NUTS0) and in this case the agricultural sector benefits from the fact that being subsidised, its economic aspects are much more closely monitored and modelled than forestry.

In the coming months we will develop an operational classification system of different types of relationships between farming/forestry management systems and PG/ES, taking into account the relevant spatial and temporal scales. Preliminary analysis will inform the case study work and the case studies will also be used to check the assumptions underpinning this classification system and refine it over the course of the project.

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Introducing the social-ecological system framework: a review of public goods and ecosystem services theories and concepts

By amarechal.
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by Anne Maréchal, Janet Dwyer and Kaley Hart (CCRI and IEEP).

Rural land in the EU provides a wide range of key functions and services on which society depends – from production of food, feed and fibre to multiple environmental and social goods and services, such as climate mitigation, soil functionality, biodiversity, cultural landscapes or recreation. Yet the processes sustaining these environmentally and socially beneficial outcomes from farming and forestry are often under-valued in conventional markets. Current policy approaches to strengthen supply of these outcomes often is constrained by a combination of adverse market factors and failures as well as governance and delivery challenges.

The goal of PEGASUS is to investigate the factors influencing the provision of environmentally and socially beneficial outcomes (ESBOs) from agriculture and forestry, looking at drivers that encourage and inhibit the necessary management activities and examining the potential for positive change. In so doing, it aims to propose new ways to incentivise better ESBO delivery, finding ways to achieve long-term systemic changes towards a better balance of environmental, social and economic outcomes from agriculture and forestry in Europe.

In PEGASUS, we embrace the parallel concepts of “public goods” – an economic notion used to refer to goods that cannot easily be traded in markets, as opposed to private goods – and “ecosystem services”, a concept rooted in ecological science describing the set of complex, dynamic interactions taking place in an ecosystem and upon which we depend. PEGASUS uses the insights from both concepts to explore what agriculture and forestry can deliver that is beneficial for all in society. For the purposes of the project, we call these environmentally and socially ‘beneficial outcomes’ (ESBOs).

To achieve ‘beneficial outcomes’, it is essential to consider not only positive agricultural and forestry practices that actively enhance the provision of benefits for society, but also solutions that can reduce the occurrence or the impact of damaging practices (in other words, the mitigation of negative externalities). PEGASUS therefore examines both factors that support as well as inhibit the implementation of positive practices.

The innovative approach proposed by PEGASUS is to look at both environmental and the social dimensions of these systems together a means of finding long-term solutions. In 34 case studies across 10 EU countries, the PEGASUS teams are assessing the environmental and social resilience of the systems examined, adopting the analytical framework of social-ecological systems (SESs). This framework recognises the importance of understanding interactions between human and natural components in producing ESBOS through farming and forestry, and it provides an approach for examining these interlinkages and identifying scope for improvement.

Using the SES framework, the case studies are investigating contrasting approaches to encourage more balanced land management decisions and stimulate practical action with environmentally and socially beneficial outcomes. This includes examining different institutional settings, working closely with market incentives, understanding collective action/partnerships, identifying new forms of incentive provision and ways to facilitate behavioural change.

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