When you think about restoration you might imagine someone cleaning an old painting, rebuilding a steam engine or repairing a church. All usually involve painstakingly recreating the original. But habitats are not like steam engines or buildings, they are complex, constantly changing and predominantly made of living things. How can you begin to ‘recreate’ such a complicated system, especially when habitats do not come with instructions for use or plans showing how they were constructed?
Scientific research is a key component in working out how to restore or recreate habitats. Studies of less damaged habitats can help scientists work out what the different elements of the habitat are and how they interact. This information is important in building up an idea of the key processes and interactions that occur within the habitat – the closest we can get to a plan of how it works.
Experimental trials provide information about the practical side of restoration, for example how does the time of year you cut a meadow affect which species grow there, how many sheep can graze heather without damaging it or how often do you need to cut down invasive species to allow native species to re-colonize?
Habitat restoration involves more than just science, it also involves economics, politics, and often a lot of help from volunteers! Restoration is not often a quick fix, it may take years to re-establish something close to the original habitat, and the restored area will usually need to be monitored and managed long after the initial work is finished. Restoration projects can be expensive, so costs may limit what can be achieved. However, although it can be difficult to put a price on some of the rewards from a restored habitat such as an increase in biodiversity there can be financial benefits of restoration including increased of visitors to the area or in improved ‘services’ provided by the habitat such as the reduction in flooding.
Who restores Britain’s Habitats?
Restoring the damaged habitats of the British Isles is a huge job and scientists are just a few of the people involved. Others include Landowners, governmental and non-governmental organisations, companies, and local communities.
You don’t need to be a scientist to help restore habitats you can get involved too. Many local and national organisations need help to manage and restore habitats, including your local wildlife trust, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and the RSPB.