Restoration Diagnostic Tool: Understanding the barriers to landscape restoration

Posted: 25th November 2022

Photo: FFI

Landscape restoration is by its nature complex and invariably faces diverse challenges and barriers. There is a provisional but growing body of evidence to suggest that while practitioners have both the scientific knowledge and practical skills to restore ecosystem functionality to degraded landscapes, the success of such efforts hinges on the social and political dimension. By considering projects from multiple perspectives landscape restoration practitioners can better prepare for meeting these challenges. The Restoration Diagnostic provides one such framework for doing so.   

There are many challenges to restoration at landscape scale, not least of which is the sheer complexity of interrelated factors that need to be considered when developing a strategy to reverse ecosystem degradation. The interplay of ecology, technology, social and cultural dimensions, tenure, economics, legislation and policy can be overwhelming, as practitioners attempt to understand which factors need to be changed or nudged to create the conditions for large-scale restoration to succeed.  

Since the start of the ELP in 2018, grantees have been using an adapted form of a Restoration Diagnostic tool, developed by the World Resources Institute, to help with planning and monitoring. The tool comprises a set of questions to establish whether 31 ‘Key Success Factors’ – clustered into three themes (Motivation, Enabling conditions, and Implementation) – are present in the landscape. 

Elderly man stands looking at the camera on a cold day holding 2 lambs.

The adapted Restoration Diagnostic tool takes in to account a range of factors, reflecting the complexity and diversity of restoration projects. Photo: Natela Grigalashvili.

The success factors are based on the experiences of other projects, and at the planning stage they have proven to be a useful checklist, providing a systematic way of analysing the landscape from multiple perspectives – including ecological, social, economic, and legislative. Projects are invited to work with their partners and stakeholders to ask ‘Are these factors present in the landscape? If not, are they important? If important, how will that gap be filled?’ ELP practitioners found the tool valuable as a way of identifying issues (in particular, social and political issues, which may not have been considered especially if staff had an ecology background) and bringing them to the fore. The insights from using the tool supported projects to develop a theory of change and a strategy for filling any gaps. Based on experience, the ELP continues to modify the tool, including by extending it beyond forest ecosystems for which it was originally designed. 

Projects supported by the ELP include a range of habitat types, so the Restoration Diagnostic tool was adapted with this in mind. Photo: Zafer Kizilkaya.

Examples of Key Success Factors diagnostic questions 

  • Is restoring the candidate landscape expected to generate economic benefits that result in a net positive financial or economic impact relative to the status quo land use? 
  • Is the law requiring habitat restoration broadly understood by relevant actors and enforced in a visible, credible, and fair manner? 
  • Are value chains in place allowing products from restored landscapes to reach end consumers? 
  • Are policies that may affect restoration in the candidate landscape aligned and streamlined? 
  • Do the incentives and funds that promote restoration outweigh those that, from the land manager’s perspective in the candidate landscape, prevent habitat regeneration/restoration? 

By repeating the analysis at intervals, it is possible for projects to track their progress in getting success factors for restoration in place. This can also indicate where new barriers have emerged that require a change in project strategy. 

Woodpecker in some light coloured trees.

Projects’ own assessments were used to highlight any areas where there are consistently gaps in success factors. Photo: Conservation Carpathia / Dan Dinu.

The tool is also proving useful beyond its application at individual projects. By compiling results from across the ELP’s first eight Restoration Landscapes, it is starting to demonstrate some common challenges to restoration in Europe. 

Although results are from a very small sample of projects they show that some enabling conditions, such as the ready availability of native seeds, seedlings, or source populations and relevant ‘know how’ on restoration, are widely in place. However, others appear to be more problematic right across the ELP’s portfolio of projects  

Factors that were often weak or absent, by theme 


  • Law requiring restoration exists 
  • Law requiring restoration is broadly understood and enforced 


  • Policies affecting restoration are aligned and streamlined 
  • Effective institutional coordination is in place 


  • Incentives and funds are readily accessible 
  • Effective performance monitoring and evaluation system is in place 
  • Restoration “know how” transferred via peers or extension services

The analysis provides an opportunity to draw attention to some of those issues, encourage more work in those areas, build capacity or advocate for policy change. Over time, we also hope to learn from how projects are addressing those gaps – to identify strategies that are successful in different contexts. 

Woman crouches in bed of yellow flowers holding a tool for fieldwork.

Knowing which factors are absent is important for improving restoration diagnostics going forward. Photo: Rewilding Portugal.

Examples from the field 

Success factor: Incentives and funds are readily accessible 

In the Côa Valley, Portugal, funding that would support landowners with restorative approaches to farming and land use are available, but they are not well advertised, the application process is too technical for small landowners and requires a huge amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, and the eligibility criteria may exclude a large share of land managers. To help overcome these barriers at landscape level the project is advertising the availability of incentives and funds and is providing administrative support to help land managers to apply. 

Success factor: Effective institutional coordination is in place 

In Turkey, the experience at Gökova Bay has been that government agencies are reluctant to be proactive coordinators. To help overcome this the project is lobbying for and helping to create an inter-ministerial Landscape Restoration Task Force within government, charged with coordinating government (national, state, municipal) activities on restoration. 

Mountain landscape with brown and green tones.

In the Côa Valley, there are funding incentives available for land owners but these are poorly advertised and can be difficult to access. Photo: Blue Nomads / Rewilding Europe.

The experience of ELP projects has been that the key enabling conditions for landscape-scale restoration on the ground most frequently absent are at legal, policy, economic and institutional level. This is similar to the conclusion of a more thorough and systematic survey of the barriers to restoration in Europe published in 2021, and reflects similar work on general barriers to conservation. Barriers at this level are often challenging to be dealt with by individual projects. They signal that restoration targets such as those in the CBD Global Biodiversity Framework and the proposed EU Law on Nature Restoration are unlikely to have the region-wide impact hoped for unless these (and other) conditions are in place. 

Landscapes are undoubtedly complex, and restoration at this scale needs an understanding of diverse factors. Tools like the Restoration Diagnostic can help organisations to plan, monitor and strategise, enhancing their prospects for success and sustainability. 

This article was written by David Thomas and Rory Wilson. To find out more about the Restoration Diagnostic that the ELP has adapted, visit the World Resources Institute website

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