The ground, that great forgotten
However, planting a few trees may not be enough, because let’s not forget that a forest is not a simple crop, but a complex system in which there are many interactions between its elements, starting with a very important one that often goes unnoticed: the ground. Yes, the soil, which is much more than a physical space that supports the plants, since there are the nutrients and water they need to live, as well as housing a multitude of fauna and microorganisms that interact with each other and condition characteristics such as fertility or water retention capacity. Pollution, erosion, the impacts caused by fire … there are many factors that will modify and interrupt the processes that occur in the soil. Restoration activities must consider the state of soil degradation and be oriented to recover it if they want to have more guarantees of success, even if they involve actions that are not always as showy as planting hundreds of trees.
And, following our example, there are many more factors that we must consider before launching into planting trees. We should study, for example, the connectivity possibilities that this future forest will have with other ecosystems, which will be a source for the species to colonize the land, if seed dispersal agents arrive, take the topography into account …
On the other hand, we must not lose sight of the goal of restoration: what do we want to restore? Although we have taken the example of forests, these are not the only ecosystems that exist on our rich and varied planet: reefs, mountain meadows, wetlands, peat bogs …
In addition, we do not always have to return to the original state, to begin with because in environments such as the Mediterranean, which man has modified for centuries, it is practically impossible to know what the starting situation was. Also, we are not always going to want that. For example: the farmed fields so widespread in the northern plateau are today the habitat of a multitude of emblematic steppe bird species, such as the great bustard. Birds that, if they returned to a supposed “original” state of primary forest, would surely be displaced by others.
Faced with a more static and linear view of ecological succession and restoration years ago, today we have realized that What is really interested in recovering when doing restoration are, more than the species, the PROCESSES, as they are ultimately the ones who will offer us a guarantee of continuity. For example, if you favor the recycling process of soil nutrients, you will improve its fertility, and you can save yourself the continuous fertilization to make the seeds germinate or grow faster. And it is that nature is wise and does not charge us for its service, so it seems logical to leave it, whenever possible, to do the work for us, right?
In summary, when restoring an ecosystem we have to take into account various components, which we can group as follows:
History of the place: what elements were there, what do we want to conserve or recover, what has happened (topography, soil, connectivity …)
Territory: characterize the climate, soil, vegetation and fauna of the place.
Social element: if restoration seeks to provide something to a human population and offer an ecosystem service: leisure space, improving air quality, mitigating climate change, stopping erosion, etc.
Dynamic: As we have said, ecosystems are not static, so we must be able to foresee how they will evolve in the future.
There are no unique recipes
I suppose that by now you will have realized that the restoration of ecosystems is something very complex, an activity for which it is very difficult to establish “recipes”, since each case will be unique and deserves a careful study.
Ecosystem restoration is an exciting science that seeks to recover that balance between man and his environment, and remedy the excesses that we commit in our fierce passage through the planet. And is that ecological restoration has an impact on our well-being and should therefore have much higher prominence on political agendas. As the Society for Ecological Restoration summarizes in its declaration of principles: “Ecological restoration is a fundamental tool to achieve the conservation of biodiversity, the mitigation and adaptation to climate change, the improvement of environmental services, the promotion of socio-economic development. sustainable development and the improvement of human health and well-being. It is practiced locally but has global implications, since regional and global benefits are obtained for nature and people ”.