Forest Restoration: Carbon, Water and So Much More

Forests and trees do so much more than simply capturing carbon. While carbon storage provides a vital service, a focus on the crucial role of carbon alone neglects the many other vital contributions forests make. For example, their role in sustaining biodiversity, contributing to local people, and maintaining the water cycle, require greater emphasis. In their essay Frontiers | Restoring deforested drylands for a wetter future – harnessing trees for credits, climate and water (frontiersin.org) , SUPERB’s Koen Kramer (LandLife Company) and Douglas Sheil (Wageningen Research and University) emphasize the importance of considering water alongside carbon when planning dryland restoration efforts. With the right tree species in the right locations, we can improve both carbon capture and the water cycle.

The authors argue that in case of drylands, changes in atmospheric water should be recognised as human-induced factor for enhanced global warming. Their argument is that vast areas of dryland forests have been cleared over the last 2 centuries, which has resulted in desiccation, i.e. reduced condensation and thus less cooling of the atmosphere.

In other words, human-induced deforestation enhanced the greenhouse effect of water vapor in the atmosphere and should therefore be recognised as direct effect determining climate change. If recognized, this effect can be expressed in CO₂ equivalents and existing markets can be used to fund restoration of deforested drylands.

This is, as the experts admit, a bold idea. The effects of trees and forests on local hydrology, albedo, and atmospheric moisture content is much debated in the scientific community as they depend on local orographic conditions, distance to sea, tree cover and species composition, and so on.

Nevertheless, at a larger scale, desiccation by deforestation and rewetting by reforestation is increasingly recognized. With the right tree species in the right locations, we can improve both carbon capture and the water cycle, emphasize Koen and Douglas. This could form the base to improve the land and lives of those living there. Water matters because everything else depends on it.

“Everything you need to know about biodiversity credits”: A Crash Course with SUPERB’s Dr Sophus zu Ermgassen  

As an expert in biodiversity finance and offsetting, ecological economist Dr Sophus zu Ermgassen from Oxford University likes to investigate the question of how to make “biodiversity credits work for nature”.  

In a recent webinar for IUCN CEM’s Impact Mitigation and Ecological Comensation Thematic Group, the researcher notes that there’s a tension between “what is required to make these credits work for nature and what makes them financially attractive investments”. The question of how to both satisfy the needs of nature and those of finance will therefore become more and more central within the upcoming years. 

While similarly defined as what we know from carbon credits, Sophus explains that biodiversity credits remain a largely contested concept. He currently frames them as a “commodified unit of biodiversity gain” upon which buyers can then make claims about. This means that a buyer could purchase a credit and in turn say they have improved biodiversity by a certain amount (depending on the biodiversity metric).  

Yet there remains much tension between what we want biodiversity credits to be and how they are currently employed, says Sophus. With a huge amount of variation in biodiversity credit initiatives, he explains that there is little consensus about what exactly should be measured as well as how it should be done. This also relates to measuring the very impact of biodiversity credit investments themselves. Non-systematic samples and a wide variety of monitoring methods also make it difficult to currently govern biodiversity credits.  

What Sophus argues for is that we should pay much more attention to causation, as otherwise we are not delivering what we are claiming. This means developing more credible and robust scientific credit methods, so that we do not risk “commodifying nothing”. He mentions that sometimes people, for instance, receive payments for forests that were never under threat of being cut down anyways.  

Scientifically credible biodiversity credits must therefore showcase that they deliver something additional to a specific site and context; this means that credits should have actually made a difference for the level of biodiversity that can be measured. By paying more attention to causation, Sophus argues that we can be much more precise about what falls under biodiversity credits and what not. 

To learn more about current debates on biodiversity credits listen to the full webinar via this link

Restoring after forest dieback: First Public Engagement Workshop in our German demo area

The pressure to act and restore the forest ecosystem is immense in our German demo area in North-Rhine Westphalia: Having suffered massive pest outbreaks 6 years ago, the region still struggles with widespread forest dieback. As many forest owners have been challenged in the past years, restoration efforts in the area remain at early stages.

After spending the morning with diverse stakeholders from forestry, tree nurseries, nature conservation, hunting and more, discussing restoration goals and different expectations to forests, we continued with a 2.5-hour public engagement workshop walking through one of our SUPERB demonstration sites close to Arnsberg.

Photo credits: Rahel Könen

To set the stage for the public engagement workshop in the forest, Gesche Schifferdecker shared some insights from an analysis of Facebook posts around the NRW forest area implemented by Rina Tsubaki. These ranged from red deer loving nature photographers to hunting associations emphasizing the role of game management for forest natural regeneration and afforestation to representatives of the City of Arnsberg introducing the forest management plans for a climate resilient mixed forest. The participants were very interested in the online debates and surprised about some of the opinionated comments below the posts. This led to a reflection upon the role of social media in public engagement, and how for example forestry practitioners could proactively contribute to a more balanced debate.

Photo credits: Rahel Könen

The discussions continued in our SUPERB demo area, with a guided tour by SUPERB demo manager Catharina Schmidt. As our SUPERB interventions focus on both environmental and social factors of forest restoration, we discussed in the field diverse topics from climate resilience, selection of tree species, impressions of trellis and tubes covering the newly planted trees, walkability, the role of deer pressure for forest restoration, to the importance of deadwood for biodiversity. Amongst other questions, we asked: “How does this site look to you?, “how do you perceive the role of hunting in the forest?”, and “how does the sight of lying and standing deadwood make you feel?” 

With over 15 participants, these questions led us to insightful and open-hearted discussions about the struggles and needs of this forest area, its ecosystem and its people. 

Turning Over a New Leaf: Replanting Quercus Robur with Lessons Learned

Within the SUPERB project, a noteworthy advancement was achieved last week in the Serbian part of the Cross-border demo area, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing replanting efforts in Biosphere Reserve Gornje Podunavlje. This latest phase of our activities within the SUPERB project not only highlights the adaptability and resilience of the conservation efforts in Gornje Podunavlje but also emphasizes the importance of learning from past challenges. By acknowledging the impact of severe drought conditions on the initial attempt to establish Quercus robur stand, the current approach is adapted to ensure greater success. Public Enterprise Vojvodinašume is currently undertaking a remarkable endeavour, with over 50 workers diligently planting 94,000 Quercus robur seedlings at the restoration site. As part of their efforts for success, new fencing is being installed to protect against negative impacts from wildlife, while each seedling is being treated with hydrogel to prevent the loss of soil moisture, showcasing the ongoing commitment to successful restoration. Through ongoing practices, we continue to evolve, striving to achieve our overarching goal of enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem resilience in this ecologically significant region.

‘10 Must-Knows’ as guide for preserving biodiversity  

New policy report with chapter on integrating biodiversity conservation with forest management 

From yet undiscovered biodiversity to resilient forests and the impact of food consumption on nature: 64 experts have now pooled their knowledge and recommendations and published them in the form of “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Research” for 2024. The new report from the Leibniz Biodiversity Research Network shows policymakers and society concrete ways in which biodiversity in Germany can be effectively conserved and used sustainably at local, national and European level, and how this can also protect the climate. One of the 10 Must-Knows specifically refers to the management of forests and is co-authored by scientists from the European Forest Insitute (EFI) in Bonn. With this new publication, the researchers contribute current scientific facts to the debate on the German National Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which is to be adopted before the next United Nations Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 15) in autumn 2024.

Following the great response to the first “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Research” published in 2022, scientists from a total of 52 German and international research institutions have now contributed their expertise from the environmental, life, spatial, social, humanities and economic sciences to the new version. 

“We are already exceeding planetary boundaries, both in terms of global warming and biodiversity loss. Joint responses are needed to counter these crises. We know that preserving biodiversity can significantly contribute to mitigating climate change, for example through biodiverse forests and rewetted peatlands that can act as carbon sinks. Only by focusing on measures to protect biodiversity can we succeed in tackling both crises at the same time,” says Kirsten Thonicke, lead author and Deputy Head of Research Department “Earth System Analysis” at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), who coordinates the research network. 

In chapter 5, ‘Harmonising the diverse use of forest ecosystems and biodiversity conservation’, seven scientists from five different research institutions, focus on the integration of biodiversity concerns and socio-economic demands to forests.

“We should adapt our management practices and spatial planning in a way that reconciles the diverse use of forest ecosystems with biodiversity conservation. This will enable us to counter the increasing negative impacts of climate change in forests while resolving trade-offs between competing forest-related policy objectives,” says lead author Mats Nieberg, researcher at PIK and EFI. 

Synergetic practices strengthen biodiversity and make forests more resilient to climate change and disturbance regimes, thus contributing to global climate adaption and mitigation strategies. Ecological and economic approaches should be integrated rather than seen as opposing forces. For this, the researchers refer to the notion of ‘sustainable multifunctional forest management’ and recommend policymakers the following:  

  • Coordinate forest, climate, biodiversity, bioeconomy and other policies to foster policy integration and coherence on different spatial scales to align forest ecosystem service provisioning, disturbance risk management and biodiversity conservation.  
  • Participatory decision-making in public forests and incentives for private forest owners boost the integration of biodiversity-enhancing measures into forestry practice.  
  • Domestic demand for wood products, wood supply as well as wood imports and exports need to be balanced to avoid biodiversity losses by increased harvests either domestically or internationally.  

Equally, they develop recommendations for societal actors, related to awareness-raising and sensitization strategies.  

Managed forest with deadwood and structural diversity in Aachen, NRW (Photo: Gesche Schifferdecker)

To implement the 23 global biodiversity framework targets agreed by United Nations member states at the UN Biodiversity Conference in December 2022 (COP 15), the German Biodiversity Strategy 2030 is currently being developed. The strategy aims to preserve and protect biodiversity in Germany. In order to provide up-to-date facts from the scientific community, the first version of the “10 Must Knows” from 2022 was thus expanded to include numerous new aspects and brought up to date with the help of current literature. 

The “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Science 2024” are: 

1. Achieving climate and biodiversity protection together 

2. Enabling a healthy life on a healthy planet 

3. Considering undiscovered biodiversity 

4. Linking linguistic, cultural and biological diversity 

5. Harmonising the diverse use of forest ecosystems and biodiversity conservation 

6. Transforming agricultural and food systems 

7. Protecting land and resources 

8. Releasing transformative change through international collaboration and Education for Sustainable Development  

9. Ensuring free access and open use of biodiversity-related data  

10. Reducing biodiversity impacts from food consumption 

Click here to access the report and download the 10MustKnows24 

This text is partly based on the press release of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Brown Bear Protection, Rural Development and Community Empowerment 

Success in El Bierzo: In an Ecological Restoration Stakeholder Workshop, stakeholders reached consensus on brown bear protection, rural development and community empowerment. The Carracedelo municipality hosted this meeting to show the options of ‘exporting’ the work carried to improve the habitat of the brown bear in El Bierzo to similar territories

On almost 140 hectares, reaching over six municipalities, in the region of El Bierzo (León, Spain), a series of actions will be carried to restore and improve the living conditions of the residents of the area. This refers both to the flora of the region and, in this particular case, also its fauna, paying special attention to one of the most emblematic species of the area, the brown bear. The next stage is to evaluate the upscaling options of the plan, which was studied in a participatory process with the main stakeholders in the region. 

Cesefor and the Junta de Castilla y León, the two entities that manage SUPERB’s demo area in Castilla y León in SUPERB, introduced the restoration plan and its upscaling options, as well as the SUPERB project, on February 6 in Carracedelo within the framework of a stakeholder workshop. 

About thirty people participated in this meeting, which was held at the facilities of Quality Products from El Bierzo. The purpose of the organisers was to ensure that all the socio-economic agents of the territory were represented, from civil society to professionals from the business world, forest management, education or tourism, among other fields. 

Rocío Gallego, SUPERB coordinator at Cesefor, presented some of the strengths of this project. ”Our demonstration areas encompass entire socio-ecological systems, protecting and restoring them, while taking into account people’s needs for ecosystem services and benefits.” She also emphasized that “our goal is to find best practices and gather practical and scientific knowledge on the success of forest restoration and aggregate it for implementation.” 

Stand for potential food provision of brown bear (photo: Cesefor)

Cesefor’s forestry officer Darío Arias, presented the restoration project in the pilot area, which was developed by Cesefor, the Territorial Environmental Service of León and the General Directorate of Natural Heritage and Forest Policy of the Junta de Castilla y León. This project, among other actions, has included the implementation of measures to improve the habitat of the brown bear by planting species suitable for feeding the bear, increasing the production of acorns and the creation of mixed forests. ”We will also carry out forestry activities to reduce forest fuel and decrease the risk of fires. Furthermore, we will promote chestnut plantations with the aim of revitalizing rural areas and their development and involving the local population in the management of these forests,” said Arias in his speech. 

Stand for future chestnut plantation (photo: Cesefor)

Javier de Dios, forest ecology officer at Cesefor and co-leader of the SUPERB work in Spain, introduced the proposal for the upscaling plan for all these actions (i.e. the ‘export’ of this model to other areas of similar properties). He did that based on a participatory process in which all the attendees were involved.  But before pointing out the most feasible scenario for the upscaling, covering the real and potential distribution area of the bear in Zamora, León, Palencia, Burgos and Soria, Javier emphasized the main political, economic, social, legal and technical barriers that have to be faced. 

Widespread consensus on a broad range of topics of interest 

De Dios had a major role in participatory process in which all the attendees were involved. For the organisers of the workshop, this participatory process “has been very useful not only to know first-hand the opinion of those who live in and of these territories, but also to include their contributions in the upscaling plan (expansion of the Cantabrian brown bear habitat restoration project)”. 

Among the main conclusions of the meeting, both the imminent tender of the restoration project and the great participation of all the attendees have to be mentioned. The stakeholders highlighted the need to promote association, cooperation, land concentration and tax incentives for forest owners. They also required actions to disseminate forestry work and the problems associated with the presence of the bear for the rural and urban population. Finally, they emphasized the need for establishing suitable financial systems that cover long-term monitoring and maintenance after restoration actions. 

The necessity to involve the private sector in restoration and maintenance actions, potential payments for ecosystem services, streamlining procedures bear damage,  the need for a regulation in the Forestry Law and to link management plans to specific regulations (and not to guidelines) were other topics on which the attendees agreed. 

Before concluding, all attendees were again thanked for their participation, and they were invited to attend the third workshop, which will be held in May 2025 and will address the results of implementation of restoration activities in the SUPERB demonstration area in El Bierzo. 

Breaking out of business as usual in Serbian forestry

On 23 November 2023, the second stakeholder workshop focusing on the SUPERB demo Coppice Forests in Serbia took place at the Monastery Vujan, in Prislonica. Engaging conversations around the ongoing restoration activities in the demo area were held with five participants, mostly coming from private forestry companies. This was also an excellent opportunity for the demo team to collect in-depth feedback from the participants.

The workshop started with a presentation on the work that has been done since the beginning of the project, followed by an overview of the ongoing and planned restoration activities. Particularly, all participants were very pleased to see the number of different noble tree species’ seedlings that were used in the restoration activities, such as Prunus avium L., Pyrus pyraster L., Acer platanoides L., Acer pseudoplatanus L., Corylus colurna L. They emphasised that SUPERB’s approach greatly differs from business-as-usual in Serbian forestry and appreciated how biodiversity preservation is well considered in the restoration activities.

After a short coffee break, the demo team opened the next session by presenting activities conducted in the past two years and upcoming plans. Two highlights of these past activities are the restoration of an area of 50ha and the planting of 16.920 seedlings during 2022-23! As for this year, the plan is to start the restoration on an area of 80ha using seedlings and natural regeneration where possible. While this session was mainly prepared for forest landowners and managers, participants expressed their interest in how the SUPERB project’s practical approach is backed by science. One of the participants was very interested in the remote sensing activities such as the use of LiDAR remote sensing (implemented by SUPERB colleagues from Bangor University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) and was curious about who would come to perform this work and when. The session ended with playing the acoustic recording of the Žiča site, through which participants were able to enjoy different birds’ chirping.

Birds’ chirping recording of the Žiča site

After a wrap up session, the demo team led the participants through a walk in the forest. They visited areas where restoration had already taken place and saw first-hand what had been presented to them during the workshop. Some of the participants had already attended the first stakeholder workshop (also organised by the demo team) and were impressed to see how many of the previously planned activities are now taking shape!

Next steps: bringing more people on board!

Even though the participants expressed their full support to the restoration plans for the demo, there were no private and institutional landowners joining the workshop, and it is very important to have them onboard. Additionally, for the stakeholder engagement strategy, the demo team plans to actively participate in discussions about forest restoration, and to establish links with local communities, including primary schools and recreational forest users. It is of crucial importance to acknowledge the necessity of starting an extended dialogue with a wide range of local stakeholders to increase awareness about the importance of forest restoration and by this, secure their participation and support in the activities of the SUPERB project.

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Engagement means listening first: SUPERB’s Po Valley Demo

Effective stakeholder engagement is key to long-term forest restoration success. Being aware of that, SUPERB’s  Po Valley Demo team, after considering the internal skillset (mainly academic and technical), chose to seek support on this task from experts in this field. 

After a selection process in the private sector for a consulting association, the Po Valley Demo team joined forces with NGO Demetra Onlus, a social promotion and international solidarity organisation working on social engagement in different fields, including counseling on stakeholder inclusion in environmental projects, environmental education in schools, and children playground design for outdoor parks. 

As part of a recent stakeholder engagement workshop that took place in September 2023, at Parco Nord HQ in Milan, Demetra presented a 2-year long stakeholder engagement strategy as a three-fold approach with different focuses: 

  • First, raising school children’s perception and interaction with the area in concert with the growth of the plantation: environmental talks in local primary schools with visits to the plantation areas, with the idea that the plantation itself will grow together with that particular generation of citizens. First sessions with the students in Legnano (the first SUPERB planting site in the Po Valley area) were successfully carried out. And many teachers at the school asked to repeat the sessions in other classrooms! 
  • Second, a screening of NGOs, civil society actors, public institutions, dog lovers’ associations, bike riding groups, among other common actors that could actively use the area and include them in the strategy development and implementation by making their needs and preferences known to the Po Valley Demo team. 
  • Third, a scouting of the local businesses possibly interested in co-financing the plantation maintenance after the SUPERB project ends in 2025. At that point, synergies between private partners and public municipality could be a win-win situation for both, allowing for a reduction of the public maintenance costs for the municipality and a green marketing possibility for the private sector. 

Demetra, the SUPERB Po Valley team and the local stakeholders are now looking forward to seeing the trees, the environmental knowledge and the engagement grow. Some of this excitement is reflected in the outcomes of activities involving local stakeholders in previous meetings, including families, elderly groups, and sport-related associations, answering the question: How do we involve citizens in the new forest? 

Looking at the forest through stakeholder’s eyes – new ambassadors for SUPERB’s Danish demo

The second SUPERB workshop in the Danish demo was organized by demo lead Naturstyrelsen and focused on promoting a more resilient and diverse forest and nature. Therefore, we invited 13 key stakeholders with different interests and knowledge about the forest’s role in their local community. The workshop aimed at exploring outdoor activities in areas where the forest would become wetter in the future. 
 
The workshop was organized in three steps: a walk in nature to understand the participants’ perceptions of the landscape, the drawing of a collective map guided by photo elicitation, and a general SUPERB questionnaire. Prior to the workshop, we provided participants with background material, including maps and guiding principles, to familiarize themselves with our initiative. 

Engaged participants despite heavy rain
Engaged participants despite heavy rain

During the nature walk, we discovered that most participants did not consider the increasing water levels a problem. Instead, they were more interested in having what was described as “a more engaging nature experience”. The more organized roads and footpath where criticized for being “inorganic”, “too straight” and “too far from nature”. Participants, including horse riders, wheelchair users, orientation runners, birdwatchers, and amateur biologists, expressed their desire for more carefully planned trails that would connect with the SUPERB initiative. They wanted an interactive and tactile experience when moving through the forest. And they supported the project’s plans for increasing water levels and other interventions as long as there were physical ways for the public to engage and experience these changes. 

 
In the photo elicitation activity, stakeholders discussed and ranked pictures of different wet landscapes, which sparked a lively discussion on ethical approaches of spending time in nature and the need for guidance in the forest. Participants suggested that the pathfinding and facilities should reflect the dynamic nature of the project. Furthermore, there was a desire to keep the landscape free from large installations that could disrupt the natural beauty. 
 
Participants also emphasized the importance of rethinking the design of pathfinding in a more dynamic landscape and suggested the involvement of local ambassadors to activate the local communities and provide support for Naturstyrelsen’s initiatives. These ambassadors would serve as “forest-keepers” who could arrange meetings and share their knowledge about Naturstyrelsen’s projects, thus contributing to a larger outreach and community engagement. 

The workshop helped us to identify key challenges related to designing outdoor activities along the lines of the SUPERB initiative. What we thought would be a though discussion about how to maintain old trails in danger of being flooded became a discussion about how to create new and engaging ways of experiencing the changing forest landscape. Looking at the forest through the eyes of our stakeholders helped us understand what they perceived as the most important challenges. Finally, the workshop helped us generate ideas how to foster closer relationships with local communities and develop new “user experiences” when exploring our SUPERB area.