Incentivizing biodiversity restoration in European forests: Should we pay forest owners for implementing actions or for delivering results?

Figure 1: Action-based indicators and their result-based counterparts analyzed in the study

As a means to promote forest restoration, the EU Forest Strategy for 2030 explicitly encourages EU member states to implement payment schemes to support private forest owners and managers in the provision of ecosystem services such as biodiversity. While some examples of such schemes already exist in the forest sector, they are more frequently found in the agricultural context, where they have been subject to scrutiny in the past years. Often suffering from low participation rates and limited ecological outcomes, many of them have been ineffective in addressing the biodiversity decline. To ensure higher biodiversity outcomes, one solution proposes to realign the schemes’ incentive structures by making payments to landowners conditional on the achievement of desired biodiversity targets, rather than the implementation of prescribed actions.

While such result-based schemes would be riskier for forest owners and likely more costly to implement, the scientific literature suggests that they could nonetheless be more cost-effective than their action-based counterparts. In the SUPERB finance work package, we are interested in finding out whether this is indeed the case in a European forest context. We therefore administered a choice experiment to large samples of Danish and Finnish forest owners, in which we asked respondents to make choices between different hypothetical action- and result-based biodiversity contracts.

Figure 2: In around 60% of the cases in which respondents indicated their willingness to sign up for a proposed biodiversity contract, they would enroll all of their land

First results of this ongoing study were presented to a group of key stakeholders as part of a SUPERB seminar on July 4th. Our preliminary results suggest that forest owners require around 40-70% more compensation (on average) to enter result-based schemes, depending on the specific biodiversity objective. We also find that design considerations such as including multiple payment thresholds or paying forest owners in instalments rather than lump sum payments would allow policymakers to reduce compensation levels without affecting participation rates. Forest owners’ decisions on what share of their land to enroll in the schemes seems to be governed by their perceived ability to achieve the contract objectives, as well as forest owner characteristics, but less so by the scheme design. In particular, we find that owners with larger properties, more coniferous forest, larger shares of land used for timber production, and lower education levels tend to be willing to enroll less of their land. We plan to use these findings in an optimization model which will hopefully provide some insights on how to design forest biodiversity schemes most cost-effectively. Stay tuned!

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.

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. 

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!

SUPERB presented to new forest research network in Germany

SUPERB Demo area – North Rhine Westphalia – SUPERB (forest-restoration.eu) lead Catharina Schmidt introduced the project work on October 30th and 31st in Arnsberg, Germany, to a group of ca. 40 scientists and practitioners from various organisations based in NRW. Aim of the “Forest Research NRW“ event was to discuss the latest scientific results and practical challenges related to how we can better prepare and adapt our forests in times of climate change. The agenda of the symposium included topics such as the opportunities of digitalization in the forest for climate change adaptation, the performance of forest soils, questions of forest governance as well as reflections on how to combine climate protection and timber construction. The event was organized on the initiative of the NRW Ministry of Agriculture and Consumer Protection with the objective to establish a new forest research network in NRW, formally announced by NRW Minister for Agriculture and Consumer Protection Silke Gorißen on October 30th.

The workshop also included an excursion to SUPERB’s demo sites in Arnsberg, where participants learned about ongoing forest restoration measures: reforesting beetle-infected spruce forests into more diverse, mixed-forest ecosystems by using a combination of natural regeneration and replanting.

SUPERB meets international students

What is SUPERB? How does our research look like? And why do we talk about a “Prestoration” approach? Recently, Catharina Schmidt, leader of SUPERB’s NRW demo, and Simon Fleckenstein, PhD student from University of Freiburg presented SUPERB at the poster session of the International Forestry Students’ Symposium (IFSS) in Freiburg. Simon provided the audience, consisting of approximately 100 international forestry students from around the world, with a general overview of the project’s objectives and structures, while Catharina shared some hands-on experiences from the German demo and discussed their specific approach to “Prestoration.”

IFSS is the largest annual meeting of the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA). It provides students with the opportunity to participate in various forestry activities, exchange information, and share their experiences. The theme for this year’s event was “Transforming Forestry – Staying Ahead of Current and Future Challenges,” which thematically aligns perfectly with the SUPERB project. IFSA students traveled throughout Germany for two weeks, gaining insights into German forests and forestry. During their weekend in Freiburg, they were also joined by IFSA SAN, the IFSA Alumni Network.

Webinar: New Standards of Practice to Guide Ecosystem Restoration – Views from Science and Practice

Join our upcoming SUPERB/IUFRO Forest Restoration Talk, co-hosted by the European Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration!

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) has co-authored a new set of “Standards of Practice to Guide Ecosystem Restoration”, launched this year in partnership with the FAO and IUCN-CEM as a contribution to the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Furthermore, various principles and standards guidance have been released or are under development since 2019, including the WWF-SER Mediterranean forest project certification standards, aiming to verify the quality of field-based restoration projects, providing guidance, structure, and an auditing process for ecological restoration.

In the next SUPERB/IUFRO Forest Restoration Talk, organised in collaboration with SER, George Gann, SER’s International Policy Lead, will present an overview of the new Standards of Practice including insights from the Mediterranean project, discussing how these can support the design, implementation, and funding of restoration actions.

He will be joined by Dr Michael Kleine, Deputy Executive Director & Coordinator at IUFRO’s Special Programme for Development of Capacities, who will provide views from a science and training perspective with reference to existing forest-related restoration guidelines and share experiences with implementing some of these on the ground.

Speakers:

  • George Gann, International Policy Lead, Society for Ecological Restoration (SER)
  • Michael Kleine, Deputy Executive Director & Coordinator, International Union of Forest Research Organizations, Special Programme for Development of Capacities (IUFRO-SPDC)

Moderators:

  • Magda Bou Dagher-Kharrat, Principal scientist at the Mediterranean Facility of the European Forest Institute and coordinator of the SUPERB project
  • Andreas Bolte, coordinator of the IUFRO Task Force “Transforming Forest Landscapes for Futures Climates and Human Well-Being”

Join our “prestoration” session at IUFRO 2024

At the IUFRO World Congress taking place in Stockholm in 2024, SUPERB is hosting a panel discussion and poster session on “Prestoration – combining restoration and adaptation – of European forests for people and planet”.

In our session, we will focus on bringing together major challenges: 1) the need for forest restoration for the conservation of forest biodiversity and provision of ecosystem services, and 2) the urgency of forest adaptation to climate change. 3) Furthermore, the practice side is facing diverging expectations both from policy side and society on the role of forests to protect biodiversity, adapt societies to global change and mitigate the impacts of climate change including through forest-based products. At the same time, 4) the finance sector is more than ever ready to invest into nature and green solutions, however there is large uncertainty about the quality and long-term benefits of investment opportunities, how to credit these, and how to effectively bring the large demand for investment opportunities and the widespread but dispersed need for locally-adapted prestoration (restoration combined with adaptation) actions together.
If you work on one or more of these four topics/perspectives related to forest restoration, please submit your abstract via https://iufro2024.com/call-for-congress-abstracts/ and make sure to contribute to an inspiring session!


Featured image: Prestoration planned in SUPERB’s demo in Arnsberg, Germany.

New book “Boreal Forests in the Face of Climate Change” shares insights into SUPERB demo area in Sweden

A new open-access, multidisciplinary book launched by Springer gathers contributions from 148 authors on current issues, paradigms and previously neglected challenges related to boreal forest management in the face of climate change. Focusing on the boreal biome as a whole, instead of specific northern countries, it incorporates a rich knowledge of accumulated past work and novel ideas driving boreal science.

The book “Boreal Forests in the Face of Climate Change: Sustainable Management” represents 94 research groups and institutions from 20 countries, including SUPERB researchers Johan Svensson and Bengt Gunnar Jonsson, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Both are representatives of the SUPERB demo area in Sweden.

The book covers a range of topics from forest disturbances to biodiversity, resilience, restoration, monitoring, trends, challenges and forest management and society. The restoration measures and experiments undertaken at the Swedish demo in SUPERB are discussed in Chapter 18 “Ecological Restoration of the Boreal Forests in Fennoscandia”, while Chapter 19 “Boreal Forest Landscape Restoration in the Face of Extensive Forest Fragmentation and Loss” explores different approaches and definitions of restoration, such as prestoration, adopted within SUPERB.

The book is part of the Springer “Advances in Global Change Research” series and was edited by Miguel Montoro Girona, Hubert Morin, Sylvie Gauthier and Yves Bergeron. It can be downloaded for free at the Springer website.