How monitoring helps us to demonstrate restoration impacts

Posted: 8th October 2020

Photo: Cairngorms Connect.

By Dr Nancy Ockendon, ELP Science Coordinator

Monitoring change is fundamental to all ELP Implementation Projects. Only by carrying out appropriate monitoring can we understand the effects of the restoration work being carried out and demonstrate the benefits that landscape restoration can bring. Therefore, before work starts on the ground all ELP-funded projects design a thorough and scientifically robust monitoring plan. During this process, each project selects a group of indicators to detect the changes in animals, plants, habitats, natural processes, ecosystem services and human societies that they hope to see across the landscape over the course of the project.

Measuring the starting point for ELP landscapes

These monitoring plans are now being put into action by the Implementation Projects. Over the past 18 months, the projects have collected baseline data for each of their indicators. These baselines provide a starting point for measuring change, describing the status of each landscape before restoration work gets underway. This information can be compared with results collected later in the projects’ lifetime to understand the changes that have taken place.

Baseline data from nearly 80 different monitoring indicators have so far been collected from across the Implementation Projects. These include ecological indicators, such as the distribution and abundance of roe deer in the Côa Valley based on camera trap data and the plant species present in the pastures of the Iori River Valley. Other ecological indicators are assessing the connectivity of habitat in the landscape by looking at the movement of animals, including wolves, lynx and elk.

Projects are also measuring the ecosystem services provided to people by these landscapes, such as the quantity and type of fish caught before and after restoration of water bodies in the Danube Delta, or the cultural benefits provided by restored habitats in the Carpathian Mountains. Economic and social data are also important; many of the projects have indicators that measure the number of jobs and nature-based businesses that are created as landscapes are restored.

Watch a short video below of me thanking the projects for their efforts and providing some examples of the baseline data which has been collected, which was recorded for our 2020 Annual Grantee Meeting in earlier this week:


A range of approaches

Projects are using a wide diversity of methods to collect data, from direct field observations to more technical approaches. These include camera traps and radio tagging (tracking individual animals with transmitters) – such as the image from Rewilding Portugal, left, which shows the movements of four griffon vultures (each shown in a different colour) around the Côa Valley project landscape (shown by broken black line) between June and October 2019 based on satellite tracking data. These results are being used to investigate how far and where these birds fly to feed and to understand their dependence on vulture feeding stations compared to carcasses of wild animals and livestock.

Genetic analyses of scats (faeces), hair and saliva can also be used to detect secretive species such as wolf and lynx. Sampling and analysing environmental DNA is being used to investigate the composition of insect communities. Meters sited in wetlands and streams are measuring changes in the level and flow rate of water, which can affect downstream flood risk and water availability. Data collected remotely from drones and satellites are also an invaluable way to look at large-scale spatial change across landscapes. Surveys are often used to look at changes in social and economic indicators – by going door-to-door to speak to residents, distributing questionnaires or talking to visitors in project areas.

Further images taken by camera traps can be seen below from the Côa Valley project in Portugal (image credit: Rewilding Portugal) and the Iori River Valley project in Georgia (image credit: SABUKO).

The impressive variety of methodologies being used to monitor change across the ELP is a reflection of the remarkable knowledge and expertise present among staff working in the projects. We are encouraging our funded projects to share their experiences and to learn from each other about how to most effectively choose indicators and collect data to monitor change at a landscape scale.

Satellite image showing the mosaic of water and vegetation on Ermakov Island in the Danube Delta. This project is restoring natural ecosystem dynamics by the re-introduction of large herbivores (in this case Konig horses) to reduce reed encroachment into areas of open water that are vital for other species like waterbirds. Image: Rewilding Ukraine.

This wealth of baseline data that has already been collected provides a vital basis for understanding the effects of restoration. Collecting comparable data in the future, using the same methodologies, will allow the projects to convincingly demonstrate the impact of their actions to a whole range of audiences, including local and national authorities, landowners and the public. More widely, monitoring data can provide evidence of the benefits created by landscape restoration which can be used to advocate for its increased implementation across Europe.

Visit our advancing and sharing knowledge web page to find out more about our approach to ensuring landscape restoration is underpinned by the best available science.

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