Restoration Ecology

Road removal in progress. Photo: Dagmar Hagen / NINA

Ecosystem Restoration

The UN general assembly has proclaimed 2021 – 2030 as the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. NINA has extensive experience of research in, and the implementation of, restoration in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. 

Anthropogenic land-use changes, combined with climate change, cause dramatic declines in biodiversity. Degraded land has a documented impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, as well as on food production, climate, and human health and livelihoods.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) have pointed towards a massive upscaling of ecosystem restoration as a central tool to combat land-degradation, in order to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services, and ensure human well-being. Restoring degraded land as a mitigating measure to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change has accordingly been highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The need to restore degraded lands for meeting the UN Sustainability Development Goals is also emphasized by both panels, and the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2021 – 2030 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.

A need to restore

It is no longer sufficient to protect nature – there is also a need to restore what has been degraded. Ecological restorations are actions to improve the ecological condition and values of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Mitigation and compensating measures can also be part of restoration. 

Land degradation and habitat destruction are the major threats to nature and biodiversity, but still these activities continue globally, including in Norway. Ecosystem restoration is essential to reduce, stop and then to reverse the negative trend. This has been clearly stated in reports from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Based on this, the UN has proclaimed 2021 – 2030 as the Decade of Restoration. 

Can nature be restored?

Restoration can never replace intact nature, or be used as an excuse to destroy existing natural areas. However, restoration can prepare the way and improve the prospects for ecological processes, and for species and habitats, to recover in degraded areas. In a broad sense, restoration can be defined as all the efforts and actions that contribute to improving an area towards being less degraded. 

Classic restoration interventions are those aimed at areas that used to be degraded by infrastructures or cultivation, such as filling ditches in peatland or removing roads in the mountains. 

Another category of restoration projects are those which aim to restore populations of endangered species. One method is through breeding programs, followed by planting or release of the new individuals into the target area. At NINA, scientists have used this method for restorations of Dune tiger beetle (Cicindela maritima), freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), and arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) among others. Another method is translocations of plants or animals from places where they are not threatened, to places where they are rare or extinct. For example, NINA has worked with colleagues in Scotland and in Ireland to reintroduce the white tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) from Norway to both those countries, where it was previously driven extinct. 

Mitigation activities in development areas can contribute to limiting negative impacts on ecosystems, for example though removing weirs or establishing spawning habitat in regulated rivers, and establishing new vegetation on temporary roads in construction areas. In urban areas piped rivers and brooks can be reopened and made available for species in and along the watercourse. NINA has been involved in the planning and implementation of a number of such projects, in collaboration with many companies and organisations in industry and the public sector. 

NINA performs both applied research in restoration, and active on-site restoration. It collaborates widely to develop successful restoration programmes. 

The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) is Norway’s leading institution for applied ecological research, including ecosystem restoration. We are experienced in both applied research in ecological restoration, and in carrying out restoration programmes. Much of NINA’s research provides the background knowledge necessary for successful restoration now and in the future. Ecosystem restoration is a broad topic, and involves a range of sciences, actors and professions. The majority of NINA restoration projects are therefore multidisciplinary in nature, biologists and ecologists working together with social scientists and economists. Our researchers also work in collaboration with managers, land-owners, authorities, local user groups, industry and contractors.

UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030

The UN has designated 2021-2030 as the world's Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. 

Habitat loss is a major threat to biodiversity. According to the IPBES and IPCC assessments, preserving and increasing carbon stocks is one of the best ways to counteract extreme climate change, and robust ecosystems are important to counteracting the extent of damage to climate change. 

Intact nature is crucial to the very basis of human life, and the destruction of nature results in enormous greenhouse gas emissions. Research from NINA also shows that preserving nature is the cheapest and most efficient solution for storing carbon in Norway. Land use such as the development of roads, cabin areas and energy facilities, logging and cultivation are activities that destroy most nature in Norway today. 

What: The UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration from 2021-2030. Ecosystem restoration is a measure to repair and improve nature and ecosystems that have been destroyed or disturbed.

Why: It is not enough to preserve nature - we also have to restore ecosystem. Biodiversity and ecosystem services is our basis of life, but today 75% of the world's land areas are degraded or destroyed by human influence and 20% of all the world's species are threatened by extinction. Ecosystem restoration is necessary to preserve biodiversity, food supply and clean water, in addition it is an important tool for mitigating the climate crisis. 

How: The UN strategy for the decade describes what is needed to create a global restoration culture. The main message is understanding, political will and knowledge of solutions. One important point is that we must both preserve and restore nature. Norway will also follow up on the global strategy, and the Nature Restoration Conference is an important contribution to sharing and highlighting the breadth of knowledge we have in Norway.


Dagmar Hagen
Senior Research Scientist

Astrid Brekke Skrindo

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