Restoration ecology of peatlands Part 2: challenges of restoration, and incorporating the social and economic needs and wants of local communities

The following essay is split into two parts, and was originally submitted as part of coursework for GY7309, at the University of Leicester. This two part essay is looking at how restoration ecology can provide an opportunity to restore ecosystem functions and biological diversity, whilst incorporating the social and economic needs and wants of local communities. It uses various examples of peatland restoration; from both tropical and temperate regions. Read part 1 here. This second part will include discussions regarding the further challenges of peatland restoration, and the opportunities of incorporating the social and economic wants and needs of local communities. It will end with the conclusion.

 Conservation is ultimately not a science but a societal goal – a normative and ethically motivated pursuit – that must include voices other than those of scientists alone.1

Further challenges of peatland restoration to restore ecosystem functions and biological diversity

More research is still needed regarding restoration of large areas of degraded tropical peatland4. Furthermore, the longer an area of peatland has been drained, the more challenging it is to restore to its original state16. In these cases, a ‘new natural state’ will be achieved through restoration; different from the original state but still a functioning peatland habitat type16. It is furthermore expected that climate change will have serious impacts on wetlands through changes in hydrological regimes with increasing global variability7. This will have consequences on the effectiveness of restoration projects to restore ecosystems, additionally highlighting the need for adaptive management and conservation in peatland restoration. Lastly, restoration ultimately represents a commitment of land and resources that is indefinitely long-term5. It therefore requires careful deliberation and planning which is why it is vital to involve all stakeholders, such as local communities, when making decisions regarding the implementation, planning and monitoring of a restoration project5. Once an ecosystem is self-sustaining (and thereby restoration is achieved), the restored ecosystem will, just as an undamaged ecosystem, require continued management to deal with impacts of human activities and climate change5. This therefore highlights the importance of incorporating the local communities in ecosystem restoration projects, as then there is a greater likelihood that these communities will continue managing the ecosystem once restoration is complete. To do so requires an understanding and incorporation of the social and economic needs and wants of local communities.

Peatland restoration and the incorporating of local communities’ wants and needs

In Southeast Asia, local people have depended on services and products provided by the tropical PSF for millennia4. The Dayak communities in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) for example, carry out sustainable harvesting of natural products, hunting, fishing and shifting agriculture amongst other practices4. Therefore, degradation of the peat-swamp forest (PSF) ecosystems negatively impacts the local communities who depend on the ecosystem services which these forests provide. Indeed, in Sumatra, the degradation of peatlands has led to a deprivation of local communities’ traditional supplies of forest-derived resources, along with downstream flooding and regular fires4. This has impacts on health and livelihoods, as well as further degrading surrounding forest areas. To break this vicious cycle, restoration projects need to incorporate situation- and location-specific initiatives that re-engage local people with the ecosystem6 while also considering the local social and economic wants and needs. Failing to doing so, will inevitably lead to a failure of restoration projects in the long-term5, as was the case for the Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership. One of the main reasons for the termination of this USD 43 million project involving canal building in Central Kalimantan (close to the ex-Mega Rice Project) was objections to the project by local communities32.

Using restoration of industrially mined peatlands in Ireland, Collier and Scott (2008) explore people-place relationships through an assessment of rehabilitation of peatland landscapes. With mining of peatlands being a longstanding tradition in Ireland, once harvesting has finished the local people’s experience of the landscape is considered to be a legitimate form of knowledge and should be used as a key input in the deliberative planning and management processes of peatland restoration25. In this example, strong support was found among the local community for biodiversity after-uses, which according to the authors are not currently reflected in public policy debates. This indicates that an inclusion of local wants and needs could be an additional support and opportunity for the restoration of biological diversity when considering peatland restoration projects.

Degradation of peatlands in both temperate/boreal and tropical regions has generally occurred due to a societies’ need or desire to ‘develop’ the land in a certain way27. This is a result of the local communities’ livelihood activities, land-owners wishing to earn greater profits from the land, or agricultural businesses aiming to develop the land27. Placing this area of land within boundaries of a protected area status will not deal with the wishes of the local community or businesses to develop the land, possibly only displacing land conversion elsewhere27. Participation of local communities will only be achieved if they are included in the decision-making, implementation and monitoring processes4,6 which support knowledge transfer between academics, managers, and local people16.


The issue of ecosystem restoration is a very complex one; with this essay unable to address further issues such as the appropriate baselines to restore an ecosystem to, how to support negotiation between various stakeholder groups, as well as how to deal with the increasing severity of impacts which will be introduced by climate change. Furthermore, it is clear that additional focus needs to be directed to understanding restoration of tropical PSFs in order for projects to be designed which are relevant to the local social as well as environmental conditions. Saying this, it is clear that ecological restoration, as can be seen with the examples of peatlands, can provide an opportunity to restore ecosystem functions as well as the biological diversity vital for returning a peatland to a self-sustaining state. The environment is furthermore not separate to the people who inhabit it. Peatlands historically have been surrounded by, and inhabited by people and therefore the human component of the ecosystem needs to be taken into account when considering restoration of the ecosystem itself. It is therefore very evident that the incorporation of the needs and wants of local communities is not only an ‘opportunity’ provided by ecosystem restoration, but is indeed vital for the success of ecological restoration.


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One response to “Restoration ecology of peatlands Part 2: challenges of restoration, and incorporating the social and economic needs and wants of local communities

  1. Pingback: Restoration ecology of peatlands Part 1: Opportunities for restoring ecosystem functions and biological diversity | EcoPost·

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