As outlined elsewhere on this website Future Terrains exists to tackle the challenge of degraded lands by enhancing environmental and social performance and promoting landscape restoration. One of half this mission statement explicitly focuses on ‘landscape restoration’, but what does this term mean in reality?

Future Terrains defines landscape restoration as:

The improvement of degraded land on a large scale that rebuilds ecological integrity and enhances people’s lives.

This definition is deliberately and conveniently broad in order to encompass a diverse range of ambitions, activities, scales, environments and societies and end-uses. Central to this definition are that landscape restoration activities should:

  • Improve degraded environments by: rebuilding ecological integrity by reducing or reversing the degradation pressure; reintroducing missing or declining biodiversity; connecting disconnected landscape elements; involving a mosaic of ecological habitats, communities, land uses and interest groups; ensuring that communities and habitats are enhanced by the restoration programme; and stimulating development of a self-sustaining system.
  • Operate on a large (temporal and/or areal) scale by: recognising that landscape-scale projects consist of smaller projects on the ground, which are easier to conceptualise, fund and deliver and that should be encouraged to collaborate so that the beneficial impacts are scaled up and synergy is encouraged; considering the landscape beyond its geographical confines to offer new opportunities for communities and habitats outside the immediate scope of the programme in question; considering trends in ecological and socio-economic systems, including climate change impacts, human migration patterns, changes in land use, etc.; working within a holistic, sustainable development framework; and taking a long-term perspective – generations, decades, centuries.
  • Enhance people’s lives by: creating related employment opportunities relevant to the restored landscape in question; building local capacity; improving local quality of life; incorporating local aspirations into a landscape vision; and continuing the human narrative of the landscape by engendering a sense of place and reaffirming cultural identity.

It should be borne in mind that, too often, social development programmes ignore the livelihood possibilities that can result from restoring the natural environment and, similarly, environmentally focussed rehabilitation programmes may not always consider the needs of people when determining final land use options. Landscape restoration should aim to reconcile economic, social and environmental concerns within a holistic framework, with the best projects utilising environmental improvements as drivers for socio-economic regeneration. Less commonly, but more effectively, socio-economic development can be used to generate enduring environmental improvements. Such considerations are fundamental to many aspects of the sustainable development paradigm.

Analysis and first-hand experience of a broad range of landscape restoration projects of all types around the world, and over many years, has enabled the identification of common challenges and approaches for overcoming them. These challenges, which are not mutually exclusive, can be grouped under the following themes, namely:

  • Participation: involving local communities, building constituencies, and changing perceptions;
  • Governance: including controlling the land, funding, developing project goals, overcoming institutional barriers, and addressing policy and legislation; and
  • Sustainability: including empowerment and capacity building, scaling in time and area, addressing alien species, and avoiding reinventing the wheel.

There is a fourth theme, consisting of several cross-cutting issues, that forms a critical aspect of successful projects everywhere without which a project will fail and that I call, for want of a better term, ‘the Oil in the Machine’. This includes: leadership, communication, collaboration, knowledge, creativity and beauty, and culture.

Self-evidently there is far more to be said about these issues than there is space for here. It also goes without saying that all these challenges have been overcome somewhere at some time by a combination of creative thinking, collaboration, trust, necessity and dedication. That said, delivering a world class landscape restoration project is about more than just ticking a check-list of stages and processes. In many ways it is an organic thing built on human relationships and evolving over years and decades with changing personal circumstances, societal expectations and the personalities involved. Inevitably in all long-term projects, unpredictable events and opportunities occur that will need to be carefully considered and reacted to. The more flexibility and adaptability engrained in a project’s modus operandi and collective philosophy, the more durable and ultimately successful it will be.


Further information:

Download my WCMT ‘Exploring World Class Landscape Restoration’ report here.

Whitbread-Abrutat, P.H.; Kendle, A.D. and N.J. Coppin, N.J. 2013. Lessons for the Mining Industry from Non-Mining Landscape Restoration Experiences. In: Mine Closure 2013 – M. Tibbett, A.B. Fourie and C. Digby (eds), © 2013 Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, ISBN 978-0-9870937-4-5