“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.

First-year anniversary at SUPERB’s Po Valley Demo  

In the municipality of Legnano, the first restoration plot of SUPERB’s Po Valley Demo is celebrating its first-year anniversary. The team has divided the land here into 12 different stands to experiment with different densities of tree and plant cover (1500, 2000, and 2500 p/ha).  

Po Valley is one of Italy’s most important economic regions, in which agricultural and urban developments have gradually led to forest reduction and fragmentation. As biodiversity is increasingly under pressure, SUPERB aims to restore approximately 10 hectares of land in the administrative area of Lombardia. The aim here is to introduce biodiverse-rich, small patches of forest, as well as enhance ecological connectivity by planting trees, bushes, and hedges.  

Aside from this very first plot of land, the team has started to expand their restoration efforts across new municipalities: 

“It was close to impossible to find a continuous 7 ha patch so close to Milan, therefore, this year we will plant trees in 4 separated plots in 3 different municipalities”, says Michel Saini, project coordinator of the Po Valley Demo.

The restoration efforts were thus divided over the municipalities of Inveruno, Villa Cortese and Vittuone, with a total cover of 9 hectares of land. With plant species from Northern Italy, Central Italy and Southern Italy, the team is specifically dedicated to the study of genetic provenance, planting 3 different strands in each of the 4 areas. This means that they will actively explore how the different plant species, native to the above-mentioned regions, adapt to their new environmental conditions. 

In collaboration with the University of Trento, the team will also test the benefits of hydrogel for the survival of small saplings.  

“We will implement a layer of hydro-retentive gel at the bottom of the planting hole, with two main variables” explains Michel Saini, “one is control, irrigated by rain only, and the other is regularly irrigated saplings”.  

At the same time, the project focuses on several other studies, including: 

  • A focus on monitoring of zoonotic disease by monitoring and estimating the mosquitos and ticks’ population with traps. It’s a study in collaboration with Fondazione Edmund Mach

  • Studies on the effects of reforestation of former farmland on soil ecosystem services within Parco Nord Milano. The evaluation of reforestation effects is thus carried out through 3 indicators related to soil characteristics: Carbon stock, water regulation and soil biodiversity.

  • The monitoring of pollinators in the meadows close to the chrono sequences sites with the aim of studying the change in urban biodiversity after afforestation. This is a collaboration with the University of Milan – Bicocca 

  • The analysis of the contribution of vegetation in mitigating the urban “Heat Island Effect” with physical sensors. 

Stay tuned for more information! 

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.

From vision to action – 2nd stakeholder workshop for forest restoration in Croatia and Serbia

On January 26, 2024, a group of 22 stakeholders from Croatia and Serbia gathered in the city of Osijek, Croatia, to participate in the second stakeholder workshop. The event, jointly organized by the Croatian Forest Research Institute and the Institute of Lowland Forestry and Environment, brought together a diverse array of forestry experts and stakeholders from both countries. The workshop featured prominent representatives from government bodies and agencies, research and academic institutions, public enterprises, professional associations, as well as other stakeholders, including regional and local associations, societies, and entities in the fields of nature conservation and hunting.

The second stakeholder workshop aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of the conducted and planned project activities, with a spotlight on activities carried out in the demonstration area. The workshop was structured around three informative sessions: (1) Information about the SUPERB project, including project objectives and activities, (2) Activities in the demonstration area, and (3) Planned steps and further stakeholder involvement.

Stakeholders expressed a keen interest in exploring the details of conducted activities and the engaging exchange of ideas underscored the stakeholders’ approval and appreciation for the restoration activities that have been undertaken. 

Following the indoor activities, all interested participants had the opportunity to visit the Croatian part of the demonstration area near the city of Osijek. The participants were taken to one of the chronosequence plots where the replacement of non native poplar plantation with pedunculate oak was successfully carried out on 50 hectares. This session not only provided valuable insights for workshop participants who are not directly involved in forestry but it also allowed participants to better understand the essential practices and activities crucial for the successful implementation of forest restoration. Furthermore, the inclusion of colleagues from the Republic of Serbia in this field visit further enhanced the interaction between workshop participants, contributing to a shared understanding of forestry practices at the regional level.

Field trip in the Croatian part of the demo area near Osijek

It’s also noteworthy that the workshop received notable media coverage, attracting attention from the „Croatian Radiotelevision“ and local radio stations, further amplifying the dissemination of information about the event and the SUPERB project.

Overall, it is safe to say that the second stakeholder workshop was undoubtedly a success thanks to the active participation, insightful discussions, and positive feedback from attendees. This affirmation reassures us that we are on the right path with our approach, aiming at fostering confidence in the effectiveness of our initiatives.

Restoring mountain forests in Romania

In the beginning of November 2023, the team of SUPERB’s Romanian demo started the restoration of high-altitude forest patches with spruce and arola pines. Interconnected with alpine bushes, this landscape type is protected at the European level as priority habitat.
In addition, the team planted a high-altitude secondary pasture, in an area that was affected by overgrazing in the past. The selected species – arola pine (Pinus cembra), mountain pine and juniper – grow naturally at an altitude of 1800m.
The work was extremely difficult because the area we planted is quite remote. Therefore, the transport of the seedlings was a hard job, done with rented donkeys.
Finally, 1500 juniper seedlings, 500 dwarf mountain pine and 400 arola pine were planted, manually of course, with the help of a local company.

Restoration in high altitudes

In the end of 2023, the SUPERB team also completed the restoration of seven spruce monocultures stands. They started with intervening with a first thinning in order to bring some light in the forest to enable the survival of planted or natural regenerated native species. The ultimate goal is to initiate the coming back of natural forest types of that area in former (spruce) monocultures.

Promoting more mixed forests in former spruce monoculture

What actions would be needed to restore European forest ecosystems?

In early 2024, the European Parliament will have a final vote on the ‘Nature Restoration Law’ (NRL), a hotly debated regulation that aims to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in Europe. An international team of scientists, led by Daniel Herring (University Duisburg-Essen), with contributions from European Forest Institute and Wageningen University and Research in the framework of the SUPERB project has investigated the prospects of the new regulation: how effective is this law going to be and what needs to happen? The article Securing success for the Nature Restoration Law was published on 15 December in the scientific journal Science. Even though the law has been weakened in the negotiation process, the restoration measures are already starting. 

The ‘Nature Restoration Law’ (NRL) requires member states of the EU to implement restoration measures on at least 20 per cent of land and marine areas by 2030, and in all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. The NRL already took various hurdles: most recently, it was approved by the EU Parliament’s Environment Committee, after delegations of the Parliament and the Council of Europe agreed the final text.

But will the regulation really achieve its aims? The authors, including scientists that lead large European projects on nature restoration and biodiversity, analysed experiences with other European environmental directives and policies, and evaluated the prospects of the NRL to be successful. 

“The NRL has successfully overcome numerous challenges that typically impede the implementation of European policies and regulations. Regardless of the parliamentary decisions expected in January, urgent restoration efforts are already underway in many locations.” says Gert-Jan Nabuurs, Professor at Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and co-coordinator of SUPERB. “The regulation saves time as it does not need to be transposed into national law, and an implementation framework and goals are clearly laid out.” At the same time, national implementation will be crucial for the NRL’s success. “The scientific community is actively generating extensive knowledge on landscape-level nature restoration, approaching it through different lenses, including governance, community engagement, species selection for the future, and ensuring sustainable financing for restoration”, emphasizes Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, SUPERB coordinator and Principal Scientist at European Forest Institute. “This will help European countries in preparing their national restoration plans.”

“Key for the implementation will be the cooperation of nature restoration with landowners and land users, in particular with managers and practitioners who directly work in the field”, says Silke Jacobs (WUR) who is part of SUPERB as well. “These managers and practitioners are crucial for long term maintenance of the forest. Only then forests will perform better for biodiversity, CO2 sequestration and wood provision in the long term”. Restoration takes time.

SUPERB is an excellent example of the European restoration initiatives aiming at large scale forest restoration, with several European countries implementing restoration measures. Given the variety of stressors which weakened the state of European forests over the past decades; ranging from wildfires, windstorms, bark beetle calamities to fragmentation and intensive plantations; the selection of appropriate restoration actions is crucial to succeed. However, essential part of the project is also the upscaling of the restoration actions. “Engagement and willingness of national and regional institutions, as well as involvement of private funding sector will allow to support and contribute to not only the nature restoration but it would also fulfil the goals of National Forest Strategies”, says Sara Filipek from WUR, working also on SUPERB project.   

Overall, the authors of the article provide a positive outlook for the NRL, but warn that ambitious national implementation and cooperation will eventually determine the success of nature restoration in Europe.

The NRL is part of the Green Deal and is, amongst others, intended to fulfil the international biodiversity agreement of Kunming-Montreal, according to which at least 30 percent of degraded ecosystems must be restored.

Further information: 

Daniel Hering et al, Securing success for the Nature Restoration Laws. Science 382, 1248-1250 (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adk1658

Webinar “Unveiling the Future of Christmas Trees in the Era of Climate Change”

Navigating Forest Disturbances, Restoration, and Adaptation

In our upcoming Forest Restoration Webinar with IUFRO‘s Task Force ‘Transforming Forest Landscapes for Future Climates and Human Well-Being’ on 13th December 4pm CET, our speaker Christina Dollinger (Technical University Munich) will introduce us to her research related to the Restoration of mountain forests in the Berchtesgaden National Park. Christina will elaborate on short- and long-term success in the face of climate change and share insights from her research combining field data and simulation modelling.

Register here to attend!