Landscape restoration projects across Europe boosted by $26 million prizes | Biodiversity

From the wilderness of Finland’s boreal forest to the busy Solent estuary, seven landscape restoration projects across Europe have been boosted by more than $26m (£21m) from the Threatened Landscapes Program (PEL).

The projects cover an area 18 times larger than Greater London and include bringing nature back to the Iberian highlands, restoring grasslands in the Georgian steppe and replacing conifer plantations with natural riparian and hardwood forests in the Rhodope Mountains in southeastern Bulgaria.

Restoration efforts aim to repair biodiversity hotspots, reintroduce species, and work with local communities on a scale large enough to allow ecosystems and natural processes to recover. According to the ELP, which is managed by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and supported by Arcadia, a charitable fund set up by billionaire philanthropists Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing, such ambitious landscape restoration will ultimately prove a cost-effective way to address extinction and climate crises.

In Finland, a $1.5 million prize fund attempts to save a unique population of landlocked Atlantic salmon from extinction by revitalizing fish spawning grounds and improving river water quality by restoring 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of carbon-sequestering boreal bogs .

There are only 30 to 50 mother salmon that return to spawn each year in the Koitajoki watershed. Two hydroelectric dams block the migration routes of landlocked salmon, a population that naturally never travels to the sea but migrates to the lakes of Finland. The fish only survive because conservationists physically move them on land to facilitate their migration.

“This is a watershed moment,” said Tero Mustonen of the Koitajoki Watershed Project. “This $1.5 million project will do extremely important work to support the last spawning habitat and juvenile fish habitat that exists and also improve water quality. Finally, it tackles the large-scale degradation of Koitajoki. I get a unique view of landlocked Atlantic salmon and precious whitefish swimming in restored rivers and streams. Above, golden eagles and band-tailed godwits soar as of old, perhaps smiling to themselves, seeing their homes saved, restored, in short, alive again.

Vast funds will be needed to create secondary currents around the 1960s dams for migrating fish or even dismantle the dams, Mustonen says, but he hopes the ELP funds are the “first step” and will open up dialogue with water companies. ‘electricity. who manage dams on increasing water flows downstream to allow juveniles to thrive.

In Cumbria, 33,000 hectares of land is receiving $5 million in funding over five years for an RSPB-led project that aims to expand nature corridors and wildlife-friendly farming beyond the wildlife hotspots of the Haweswater Reserve and the Lowther Domain.

Funds will be available for local hill farmers to create new wetlands and hedgerows, but the project will also help farmers explore new nature-friendly business models, helping them access not only new Environmental Land Management Scheme (Elms) funds, but also new private sector payments to sequester carbon and boost biodiversity.

Bill Kenmir, Cumbria ELP Project Manager, said: “We are not looking to force farmers into anything, but big change is coming and we all need to think about how we are going to adapt to it. Brexit, the abandonment of the Common Agricultural Policy and all the uncertainty surrounding the government’s new farm funding schemes have people thinking about how farming can survive. It is understood that we are at a point of change and that we need to think differently, not just farmers, but also us conservationists and landowners.

Keyhaven Lymington Marshes on the Solent Estuary
Keyhaven Lymington Marshes on the Solent Estuary. Photograph: Frank Blackburn/Alamy

While debates about the future of Cumbrian landscapes and communities have been hampered by a perception confrontation between reupholsterers and sheep breeders, Kenmir said there is now a lot more dialogue and that the ELP funds will foster more cooperation between conservationists and farmers in the region. “There is a real openness to conversations, and [the Cumbrian farmer and author] James Rebanks has been at the forefront of advancing regenerative agriculture, opening up collaboration to sectors that historically have worked in isolation.

The other UK project to receive support is the five-year Solent Seascape project, which will receive $5 million for the restoration of seagrass beds, oyster reefs, salt marshes and seabird nesting habitat in through a complex network of ports and estuaries under the strong pressure of industrialization. and urbanization, but which continue to provide refuge for endangered species, including the critically endangered thresher shark and European eel.

In Eastern Europe, projects supported include work to restore nature-rich habitats in the Rhodope Mountains on the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to 81 species on the International Union for Conservation wild-listed and a breeding stronghold for the eastern imperial eagle.

There is also a grant to support work in the Georgian steppe between the Iori and Alazani rivers, home to a unique mix of Palearctic, Indomalayan and Afrotropical fauna including jackals, wolves and vultures. The project will scale up grassland restoration and continue to work with the pastoral community to recover and reconnect wildlife corridors from Kakheti to Vashlovani National Park.

Dr David Thomas, Director of the Disappearing Landscapes Programme, said: “We are delighted to announce our new cohort of landscape restoration projects, which will show how restoration can improve our environment, creating landscapes where people and nature flourish for generations to come.

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