How can science help us work together to restore landscapes?

Posted: 6th January 2023

Photo: David Morris

Partnerships convened for landscape restoration can involve diverse stakeholders with different interests and perspectives. Through the development of a unique and user-friendly tool for practitioners, researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge aim to support the strengthening of restoration partnerships by preventing the development of conflict between stakeholders.

The way someone feels about a specific landscape, and how they believe it should be managed, is tied up with how that person relates to that landscape – personally or professionally, through livelihood or lifestyle. Landscapes are therefore not only ecological, but also cultural and political spaces. Partnerships convened for landscape restoration will usually involve diverse stakeholders who are strongly invested in that particular landscape, with a range of different interests and perspectives on what landscape restoration is, what it can and should achieve, and how. Contention can develop when these different interests and perspectives clash, slowing or halting restoration work, raising questions about legitimacy, and making projects less effective and less fair.

A man and woman in face masks hold 2 concept drawings and documents, smiling with their eyes.

Collaboration between varied stakeholders is an essential part of any restoration project.

When contention has arisen in complex landscape restoration settings, it is often addressed reactively. This approach tests the idea that contention might be prevented or reduced if diverse perspectives are carefully and intentionally made visible and openly deliberated, which can promote mutual understanding. In this context, the literature suggests consensus among parties may be unrealistic, but the identification and settlement of different perspectives can reduce contention. Currently, there are no tools either for partnership development or for working on reducing contention in landscape restoration contexts.

The Restoration Partnership Development (RPD) project aims to address this gap by developing an evidence-informed and user-friendly toolkit for use by restoration practitioners. The toolkit will be used to a) unearth and explore the viewpoints and values held by restoration project stakeholders, b) identify points of consensus and contention within and across stakeholder groups, and c) provide a framework for deliberating points of contestation openly and honestly.

In developing the RPD toolkit, the project will gather data and test some of these ideas in two restoration project case studies. The first case study is a large-scale and collaborative landscape restoration project in the eastern Lake District, involving conservation NGOs, landowners, tenant farmers, river and wildlife trusts, government authorities and more. The second is an exploratory project focused on the development of a novel green finance mechanism for promoting the restoration and maintenance of peatlands in northern Shropshire. As well as shaping the tool itself, case study data will also contribute to accompanying guidance materials which will allow other restoration practitioners to use the tool independently; empirical, place-based, real-life examples will illustrate use of the tool for perspective elicitation, data analysis and constructive deliberation.

A group of 3 men and 3 women in farm clothes stand in a barn.

Collaborators often have different priorities and backgrounds, which can pose challenges when working together.

This project will also be informed by existing work from the Future of Conservation survey (a large-scale social survey of conservationists’ views on a broad range of issues) and the accompanying GO-FOX tool (a survey tool for characterising views within organisations and groups). As such, the final Restoration Partnership Development toolkit will build on multiple sources of evidence, analysis and data-gathering practices from restoration, landscape management and conservation more broadly. This will ensure the final tool is versatile and robust, so that it may be used to produce reliable data from any restoration site across the UK – and potentially beyond.

The research will conclude by examining participants’ perspectives on the project. Specifically, the research team will explore the extent to which participants believe the project’s activities have promoted understanding of different positions, strengthened restoration partnership working, and reduced actual and potential contention and conflict.

Landscape-scale restoration projects are increasing in number. As part of ELP’s Advancing and Applying Knowledge programme, the Restoration Partnership Development project will provide evidence-based and user-friendly support for improving the quality of debates about restoration, and ultimately making restoration projects more effective and fair.

To find out more about this project, visit the project page. To be notified of Endangered Landscapes Programme updates, sign up to our newsletter

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