Bringing back nature to Europe’s landscapes: ELP hosts third Annual Grantee Meeting

Posted: 8th December 2021

Photo: Andrey Nekrasov

The Endangered Landscapes Programme recently hosted its third Annual Grantee Meeting – a three-day online conference of peer-to-peer learning, meaningful discussion around key themes in landscape restoration, and strengthening connections between ELP-funded project teams.

Scaling up nature recovery

This past year has seen the collective urgency in addressing the environmental crisis continue to grow. In June, the United Nation’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a rallying call for large-scale nature recovery – was officially launched, and only a few weeks ago global leaders gathered in Glasgow to recommit to climate change targets at COP26.

Ending destructive practices to natural ecosystems, halting wildlife loss and moving to renewable forms of energy are crucial if we are to meet climate change and wider environmental goals – but it is also crucial that we restore nature and function that has been lost.

At the landscape scale, nature restoration can bring back wildlife, contribute to climate mitigation and adaptation goals, as well as create new opportunities for people in those landscapes – from wellbeing, to new economic prospects based on thriving ecosystems.

Large-scale restoration can help to reverse wildlife losses. Photo: Liviu Ungureanu

The importance of a restoration community of practice

There is an urgent need to scale up restoration and restore our planet’s most degraded landscapes, but nature recovery at a large scale is a complicated business. Whether you are considering the complexity of species interactions, habitat health, monitoring how interventions are impacting the landscape you are working in, or how to find resolution between decisionmakers with differing visions for a landscape – work in this field is an ever-evolving effort.

Changing how landscapes are used can challenge traditions and ideals, not to mention that views on restoration and so-called ‘rewilding’ is a hotly debated topic within the conservation field itself. It is therefore essential that networks and communities of practice exist to help those working in restoration to learn from and support one another, and demonstrate what works – and does not work – in landscape-scale restoration (taking into account the needs of different ecological and socio-economic contexts).

The portfolio of projects funded by the ELP offers an example of such a ‘network’ of knowledge, thanks to the exceptional organisations which lead them. One of the core aims of the ELP is to build the capacity and capability for restoration among our projects (and the restoration field more widely), primarily by creating opportunities for ELP-funded projects to connect and learn from one another in a trusted, inclusive space and share honest conversations about a field which continues to evolve.

Hosting the meeting on Zoom allowed much broader participation.

Reflections from the ELP 2021 Annual Grantee Meeting

One of the main activities by the ELP to connect its Restoration Landscape projects (previously known as ‘Implementation Projects’) is hosting an Annual Grantee Meeting, which allows project staff to come together to reflect on their last twelve months of implementation, look ahead to expected highlights for the following year, and discuss topics relevant to their projects and the wider restoration field.

While video conferencing can never quite replace face-to face contact, one benefit of hosting these events online is the number of attendees we are able to invite. At an in-person workshop we would expect around 20 grantees (with numbers limited by travel costs and room capacity), whereas an online format enabled far wider participation of nearly 60 people across the three days – not to mention the benefits of reducing carbon emissions from the travel reduction. We were also delighted to have several members of our Oversight and Selection Panel join us and add their expertise.

Over the course of the workshop, themes relevant to several of the projects emerged such as the vital importance of including local communities in project design (going above consultation, but really hearing the concerns of landscape users), challenges of engaging governments and overcoming bureaucracy (particularly where political will is lacking), and the use of art to connect (or for projects to better understand connections) to landscapes. With projects about to start their fourth year of a five-year project, conversation also turned to their long-term sustainably – including long-term monitoring and financial sustainability.

As we have witnessed in every workshop so far with ELP grantees, the group were engaged throughout and provided insightful, thoughtful discussions on a range of restoration-related issues, and their openness continues to strengthen the trust between them. We are immensely proud of all our funded projects and look forward to sharing their continued progress over the next 12 months and beyond.

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