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Restoring Nature's Splendor: A Fresh Report Unveils Five Remarkable European Ecosystem Recovery Projects
Efforts to rejuvenate ecosystems, encompassing the rehabilitation of degraded forests, grasslands, peatlands, and farmlands, collectively referred to as 'ecosystem restoration,' hold the potential to combat biodiversity decline, bolster climate change mitigation and adaptation, and enhance human well-being and livelihoods.

Today, a new report unveiled by UNEP, in partnership with UNEP-WCMC, as part of a significant push for restoration at the COP15 UN nature summit, sheds light on the wide-ranging benefits derived from five inspiring European projects. The overarching goal is to expedite similar initiatives across Europe and around the world.

The Urgency for Restoration

Over the course of more than 40,000 years, European ecosystems have interacted with human populations. Initially, these lands provided abundant resources, including food, water, and raw materials. However, with the expansion of human settlements and urbanization, fresh water sources have been overused and contaminated. Native species that once helped control forest fires have become scarcer. Once-abundant fish stocks have dwindled.

The report titled 'The Benefits of Ecosystem Restoration: An Analysis of Five European Restoration Initiatives,' released today, demonstrates how these challenges are being addressed in five distinct European regions through the concerted efforts of governments, organizations, and local communities. While each region faces unique obstacles, the strategies employed in these restoration projects share common elements. Most importantly, they are proving effective.

The guiding philosophy underpinning these projects is the belief that the restoration of ecosystems can return them to a state where they can once again provide the vital resources essential to human well-being, much as they did in the past. Simultaneously, these projects enhance biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Crucially, the assumption is that restored ecosystems, once they start yielding benefits, will incentivize local communities to nurture and protect them, preventing future damage.

Why Highlight the Benefits of Ecosystem Restoration?

Despite the allocation of more than 1.2 billion euros since 2010 by over 200 funders and a thousand organizations to restore over 11 million hectares of land and seascape in Europe, there is a dearth of studies quantifying the benefits of these restoration endeavors. The analysis presented in today's report aims to bridge this data gap. It underscores how these specific initiatives are contributing to enhanced biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and socio-economic well-being. The goal is to inspire further restoration projects and demonstrate to communities and local and national decision-makers that supporting ecosystems is a mutually beneficial endeavor for both people and nature.

Five Prominent Projects in Focus

The Altyn Dala Initiative: This extensive project in Kazakhstan focuses on reinstating a fully functional ecosystem in the steppe, semi-desert, and desert regions, particularly within the historical range of the saiga antelope. The saiga population had dwindled to just 50,000 by 2006, endangering the entire ecosystem. However, through a multifaceted approach, including the creation of protected areas, anti-poaching protocols, and collaboration with local communities, the saiga population has rebounded to over 1.3 million.

The Carpathian Mountains Initiative: Spanning several European countries, this initiative focuses on protecting the Carpathian Mountains, one of Europe's last great wilderness areas. It works with local communities and authorities to ensure the preservation of vital habitats for large mammals like the brown bear, bison, wolf, and lynx. The project also safeguards old-growth forests and promotes sustainable economic activities, resulting in a reduction in bear and wolf road deaths, the conservation of 6,500 hectares of old-growth forests, and increased tourism in rewilded areas.

The Five European Seas Initiative: The ecosystems of the Baltic, Black, Caspian, Mediterranean, and North-East Atlantic Seas face various threats, including overfishing, invasive species, and rising sea levels. This initiative strives to address these issues by improving the management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), establishing new MPAs, and promoting innovative restoration techniques. The program engages coastal countries to ensure a holistic approach that benefits marine species. One technique being considered is the restoration of oyster reefs, which offer long-term coastal protection.

The Gökova Bay Initiative: Along Turkey's southwest coast, marine life has faced challenges due to destructive fishing and invasive species. However, the Gökova Bay Initiative has initiated the recovery of valuable fish populations by establishing carefully designed no-fishing zones in consultation with local fishers. This approach has led to higher catches and increased income for local fishers. The initiative also combats boat disturbance and anchoring, which damages carbon-storing seagrass communities. Strict enforcement of no-fishing zones, along with cooperation with fishers, restaurants, and consumers, has aided the recovery of many species, including the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal.

The Danube Delta Initiative: Encompassing Europe's largest remaining wetland, the Danube delta, which stretches across Ukraine, Romania, and Moldova, this initiative is home to various endangered species, including Eurasian otters, beavers, and golden jackals. Attempts to control the Danube River with dams have led to floods, and poaching of native grazers has increased the risk of wildfires. By reintroducing native grazers, such as bison, and restoring floodplains, the initiative has reduced the wildfire risk and diminished flood threats. This effort has improved water availability for farmers and created a strong incentive for locals to protect the wetlands. The return of bison and other herbivores is also supporting the recovery of predators and boosting tourism.

The Foundation of Restoration Success

While these five initiatives each present compelling ecological success stories, their methodology is fundamental. Although they differ in many aspects, they share common principles rooted in the fundamental principles of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Notably, they all emphasize the importance of working closely with local communities to ensure that they reap the benefits of ecosystem restoration. This symbiotic relationship is crucial for the success of restoration efforts, as evidenced by these five showcased projects. Additionally, the involvement of policymakers is essential to accelerate restoration by supporting it with legislation, government funding, and the enforcement of policies and regulations.

Accompanying this work is a policy brief that outlines how policymakers can support restoration, summarizing the lessons learned from the five initiatives and transforming them into actionable steps to expedite much-needed restoration.

Today's analysis report and policy brief align with and provide strong support for the global announcement of the selected World Restoration Flagships initiatives within the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration Flagships Programme. Notably, the Altyn Dala initiative, one of the five highlighted in our lessons learned report, has earned recognition as a UN global flagship for restoration, highlighting its significant achievements.
  • Esther Wanjiku

    33 w

    This is an impeccable report

    • Kevin

      33 w

      This is an amazing report

      • Videlis Eddie

        33 w

        Awesome, restoration is important to saving the ecosystem

        • Edwin wangombe

          33 w

          Let's keep restoring the planet's ecosystem and it will pay us back generously

          • mercy nduta

            33 w

            Globally we should be at the forefront to restore ecosystems for the betterment of our motherland.

            • Gorffly mokua

              33 w

              Every effort towards saving our planet deserves climate love.

              • mercy nduta

                33 w

                @gorffly_mokua With no doubt,we are proud for all efforts set to save the nature.

                • Rashid Kamau

                  33 w

                  @gorffly_mokua Absolutely!

                • Munene Mugambi

                  33 w

                  Such efforts to restore ecosystems are commendable. Certainly deserving of a climate love

                  • mercy nduta

                    33 w

                    @munene_mugambi Restoring ecosystems come along with substantial merits to our planet.

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