Regaining ecological functions and enhancing well-being

Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is the ongoing process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes. FLR is more than just planting trees – it is restoring a whole landscape to meet present and future needs and to offer multiple benefits and land uses over time. It is about:

  • Forests because it involves increasing the number and/or health of trees in an area;
  • Landscapes because it involves entire watersheds, jurisdictions, or even countries in which many land uses interact; and
  • Restoration because it involves bringing back the biological productivity of an area in order to achieve any number of benefits for people and the planet.

It is long-term because it requires a multi-year vision of the ecological functions and benefits to human well-being that restoration will produce although tangible deliverables such as jobs, income and carbon sequestration begin to flow right away.

While FLR sometimes involves the opportunity to restore large contiguous tracts of degraded or fragmented forest land, the majority of restoration opportunities are found on or adjacent to agricultural or pastoral land. In these situations, restoration must complement and not displace existing land uses; this results in a patchwork or mosaic of different land uses including: agriculture, agroforestry systems and improved fallow systems, ecological corridors, areas of forests and woodlands, and river or lakeside plantings to protect waterways.

Successful FLR is forward-looking and dynamic, focussing on strengthening the resilience of landscapes and creating future options to adjust and further optimise ecosystem goods and services as societal needs change or new challenges arise. It integrates a number of guiding principles, including:

  • Focus on landscapes – Consider and restore entire landscapes as opposed to individual sites. This typically entails balancing a mosaic of inter-dependent land uses across the landscape, such as protected areas, ecological corridors, regenerating forests, agroforestry systems, agriculture, well-managed plantations and riparian strips to protect waterways.
  • Restore functionality – Restore the functionality of the landscape, making it better able to provide a rich habitat, prevent erosion and flooding and withstand the impacts of climate change and other disturbances. This can be done in many ways, one of which is to restore the landscape to the original vegetation, but other strategies may also be used.
  • Allow for multiple benefits – Aim to generate a suite of ecosystem goods and services by intelligently and appropriately increasing tree cover across the landscape. In some places, trees may be added to agricultural lands in order to enhance food production, reduce erosion, provide shade and produce firewood. In other places, trees may be added to create a closed canopy forest capable of sequestering large amounts of carbon, protecting downstream water supplies and providing rich wildlife habitat.
  • Leverage suite of strategies – Consider a wide range of eligible technical strategies for restoring trees on the landscape, ranging from natural regeneration to tree planting.
  • Involve stakeholders – Actively engage local stakeholders in decisions regarding restoration goals, implementation methods and trade-offs. It is important that the restoration process respects their rights to land and resources, is aligned with their land management practices and provides them benefits. A well-designed process will benefit from the active voluntary involvement of local stakeholders.
  • Tailor to local conditions – Adapt restoration strategies to fit local social, economic and ecological contexts; there is no “one size fits all”.
  • Avoid further reduction of natural forest cover – Address ongoing loss and conversion of primary and secondary natural forest.
  • Adaptively manage – Be prepared to adjust the restoration strategy over time as environmental conditions, human knowledge and societal values change. Leverage continuous monitoring and learning and make adjustments as the restoration process progresses.