Cairngorms Connect recently hosted a Knowledge Exchange Visit in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, where restoration practitioners from across Europe met to discuss how science can support their work.
All of the practitioners came from projects funded by the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme (ELSP), through which they have collected monitoring data across ecological, ecosystem services, and socio-economic themes. Although attendees’ landscapes and restoration interventions varied, they shared the challenges and opportunities of collecting data across these themes, and of implementing evidence-based restoration at large scales. As such, the purpose of this visit was to provide an opportunity for knowledge exchange between projects, in particular around the topic of conducting science within large-scale ecosystem restoration projects.
The visit was hosted by over 20 Cairngorms Connect staff, who shared their knowledge about the ecological, economic and social considerations regarding the restoration of natural forests, peatlands, rivers and floodplains in Cairngorms National Park. Twenty-two visitors came from projects that are working in Portugal, Türkiye, Bulgaria, Georgia, Ukraine, Finland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, as well as other parts of the UK. Visitors brought their experiences from working in grasslands, floodplains, peatlands, temperate and boreal forests, and marine and coastal areas.
The Cairngorms Connect landscape was an excellent location for this event, given their strong emphasis on science and monitoring alongside restoration practice. Their work emphasizes restoring not just single sites or habitats, but natural processes at landscape scale, often with before-after control-impact comparisons. The participants visited restoration sites to see these interventions up close, which stimulated discussions, enabled visitors from other restoration projects to share their knowledge, and to build relationships more generally within the ELSP network.
Among the themes covered on outdoor excursions were restoring deadwood within forests, camera trapping and genetic analyses for understanding predator-prey relationships, peatland restoration at scale, tree cultivation and genetic rescue for mountain woodland restoration, natural forest regeneration by reduction of deer browsing pressure, nature-based enterprises, river re-meandering, and nature-based enterprises to support these activities. Common themes throughout these site visits were the importance of involving local communities in this work, testing alternative management strategies to learn how to restore most effectively, striking the balance between having multiple replicates and working at scale, and how to ensure the longevity of monitoring projects.
There was also time to meet indoors and discuss the ELSP Monitoring Framework, which all of the projects use to collect their monitoring data. This framework provides a flexible, yet standardized approach to collecting monitoring data across three key themes relevant to working at such large scales: ecological, ecosystem service, and socioeconomic change. Attendees discussed the benefits of using this framework, as well as the challenges and how these could be overcome. Central to the conversations were discussions about how data could continue to be collected long-term (across different funding periods), and how to analyze their data to learn about changes occurring in their land- and seascapes. Attendees also expressed an interest in learning more about the indicators other projects chose and why, demonstrating the value of bringing practitioners together to share project activities.
This knowledge exchange visit was valuable not only because of the relationships and connections that were made during the week, but also for the many ideas which arose that the participants can action. The ELSP now has a list of webinar topics about which project staff are particularly interested in learning more. These topics range from human-wildlife coexistence and attitude change towards large carnivores, best practices for implementing experimental designs in restoration landscapes, machine learning approaches to assessing land cover change over time and building effective and lasting partnerships, among others. Taking these plans forward will ultimately support more effective restoration, both within individual projects and across the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme.
Words by Dr Taylor Shaw, ELSP Conservation Scientist
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