Cover page on guide for community engagement

Community engagement for the restoration of local ecosystems

Grassroots action for the restoration of your local ecosystem is a means to engage yourself and the community around you to become part of the change that you are trying to achieve, according to the IUCN Community-Organizing Toolkit on Ecosystem Restoration. 

The urgency around restoration

There has never been a more pressing time to restore our ecosystems. The effects of climate change and degradation that have been witnessed around the world have indicated the dire state of our planet. We’ve seen these impacts in our wetlands, tundras, deserts, oceans and beyond in both uninhabited and densely populated areas with predictions looking dire for the most delicate ecosystems. Marine ecosystem powerhouses, like coral reefs, are expected to be under critical threat by 2050 with potentially 90% threatened and 60% facing high, very high, or critical threat levels. Without taking concrete steps to stabilize, reverse and mitigate degradation, the damage that has and will continue to be done will become more difficult to reverse. 

Thriving ecosystems have the power to unlock nature-based solutions to solve earth’s biggest challenges like climate change and also smaller, but just as impactful environmental, economic and societal challenges in local communities. Not only do healthy ecosystems contribute to successfully mitigating and adapting to risks posed by climate change, but prosperous ecosystems also provide food sources, green spaces, habitats, livelihoods, shelter, and enhanced access to water. The continued degradation of ecosystems is a missed opportunity for finding sustainable solutions that benefit people and the planet. Fortunately, where degradation is the problem, restoration is the answer. 

What does restoration look like?

Ecosystem restoration is defined by the UN as “the process of halting and reversing degradation, resulting in improved ecosystem services and recovered biodiversity. Ecosystem restoration encompasses a wide continuum of practices, depending on local conditions and societal choice”. Many of the most common restoration activities include tree planting, coral rehabilitation, forest rewilding, invasive species eradication, natural ground-water filtration introduction, or green space creation. Restoration activities can be used to achieve long-term goals that increase the amount and quality of biodiversity, improve air and water quality as well as community stewardship, economic autonomy, and overall harmony. Restoration is a powerful tool that can be used to empower local voices, indigenous communities, and cultivate individual and collective responsibility. 

How can communities get involved?

Although we do need governments, large corporations, and other powerful organizations to act to prevent further large-scale degradation, we should not overlook the potential of individuals and communities to solve local and region-specific problems. With the right capacity and knowledge, every individual and community has the power to become changemakers in their own area. Let’s take a look at some of the key considerations when taking action to restore our ecosystems.

Cover image representing the toolkit ecosystem restoration.

5 Most common barriers and tools for overcoming challenges

Lack of Scientific Knowledge

It can be quite difficult to know where to start ecosystem restoration efforts. Not knowing where to begin coupled with not having a clear picture of what could be accomplished are the biggest and earliest hurdles that must be overcome before grabbing a bucket or shovel. Without solidifying an action plan and having adequate research on the problem you are trying to solve can upend your restoration success before it begins. 

To build a solid foundation to tackle the issue that your ecosystem is facing, acquiring research from academic or international institutions can be a good first step. Remember that your own community can also be a wealth of knowledge. Seeking indigenous or traditional knowledge on tried and tested practices can also be a fundamental way to tap into generations of wisdom and holistic visions. Use the plethora of resources available to you to better understand your community’s needs while ensuring that you do not alter the ecosystem integrity of that space. This toolkit draws on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration Principles to aid readers in their research. The document also provides research assistance and resources on a number of ecosystems and restoration approaches. The bottom line is to take time to understand the ecosystem and the deeper dynamics surrounding the health of the ecosystem before deciding on a restoration method. 

Lack of Government Support

The support of the local government can help your restoration actions gain more attention, and can aid in cementing your movement for future generations. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t receive support from the local authorities, for reasons including the scale of their actions, lack of funds,  political instability, or perhaps that the political agenda does not prioritize these types of actions. Luckily, this does not have to be a determining factor of your restoration action, as there are ways to start community organizing for ecosystem restoration which do not require specific governmental support. Think of changing your behavior as an individual, holding educational meetings, or trying to overcome this challenge by actively engaging with government representatives or starting petitions in order to increase government support. The toolkit is catered to any size of movement and offers many paths to success, with or without government assistance. 

Lack of Knowledgeable Community

If you feel there is a lack of a “knowledgeable” community, find ways to facilitate knowledge-sharing based on what is available to the aspiring restorer, different ways to start conversations amongst community members include: holding meetings, making fliers and other educational materials, and starting a group of like-minded people. Through knowledge-sharing, the connections between community members often improve and the community grows stronger to tackle the community’s biggest restoration challenges.

Lack of Financing 

Having financial support available to you can help you come a long way with your ecosystem restoration efforts, but there are other ways to achieve your goals that don’t require money. The IUCN Community-Organizing Toolkit on Ecosystem Restoration shows that ecosystem restoration can be accessible to everyone. The resource outlines several options that do not require any money, yet have the potential to make a difference: think of picking up trash, avoiding pesticide use, calling your representatives, etc.  While money can be helpful, the toolkit aims to help organizers tap into every resource at their disposal such as time, expertise, and community. 

For those aiming to take their restoration efforts to the next level and aim to achieve wider goals, some financial tools have been compiled in the toolkit as well.

Lack of Inspiration

There is no need to reinvent the wheel concerning ecosystem restoration when time is of the essence. The best way to learn about the potential of community organizing for ecosystem restoration is through others. This is why IUCN compiled several case studies from all over the world, to highlight some best practices in ecosystem restoration and to inspire ecosystem restorers to be. 

From Honduras to Spain to Kenya, grassroots, or “bottom-up” restoration activities have distributed countless benefits that communities have continued to reap. The following four scenarios of successful ecosystem restoration share examples of how individuals, small collectives, and partnerships contributed to the regeneration and restoration of ecosystems, attributing secondary rewards to each community. We’ll explore the following case studies: Female-led mangrove restoration in Honduras (page 30) , Restoration through young engagement in Spain (page 31) , An urban transformation project in Kenya (page 28) and more in our toolkit. 

Source: IUCN / UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

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