Get the facts

The first step in determining your grassroots action is identifying if your ecosystem is "in" fact degraded.

It's likely that an ecosystem that looks harmed is, in fact, degraded, but this is not always the case. Ensuring you have science-based assumptions and diagnoses is important to devise an efficient plan.

Once you have made the conclusion that your local ecosystem is degraded, the next step is to find out why this is the case. Understanding the factors impacting your ecosystem before taking action is crucial. Otherwise, you run the risk of committing to a solution that is either ineffective or worse, harmful.

Stick to reputable sources. Universities, scientific research journals, and intergovernmental organizations are all trustworthy. First-person accounts via blogs and forums can be helpful, just make sure that any claims are backed by credible sources before you use them as a base for action. Local and indigenous traditional knowledge can also be useful. Drawing on generations of trial-and-error could be helpful. The following are some questions to get you started:

See the questions below as reflection points as you build your action plan


Why does scientific research matter?

Understanding how and why an ecosystem is under pressure is one of the most important parts of finding the right solution. Diving into research and seeking help from a professional, local or native expert, or scientific body can help you to better understand the types of solutions that are plausible.

The following page gives an example of the consequences of skipping the research step. Avoiding research may not always harm the ecosystem, but many times, this could result in more work on your end or missing the most effective solution. For the health and success of yourself, your action, and the ecosystem, take the time to thoroughly understand your situation before getting started.

Informed approach vs. uninformed approach

An informed approach to ecosystem restoration takes into account knowledge based on research, practice and local community, while an uninformed approach does not.

The benefits of an informed approach versus an uninformed approach are outlined in the example below, as well as some common mistakes in ecosystem restoration.

Informed approach
The area is successfully restored

Plants are chosen based on the needs of the community and ecosystem; variables are carefully analyzed to ensure that plants will thrive in the long-run; the community backs the science and builds the space based on factual evidence.

Uninformed approach
Restoration efforts fail

A species is chosen based on non-scientific preference or goal; restoration group is gathered; species is introduced into the wrong terrain; soil rejects the species; lack of trust in ecosystem restoration manifests in the community.

Common mistakes in ecosystem restoration

  • Introducing invasive species
  • Accidental extinction
  • Improper introduction
  • Lack of documentation
  • Incorrect type of solution for the issue
  • Lack of involvement of local communities and indigenous peoples

Knowledge integration

Although it is advised to consult a scientific expert when it comes to complex ecosystem restoration methods, it is also important to value the voices of those around you. Desktop research is just as important as listening to those who have an intimate connection to the land. UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration Principle 6: Knowledge Integration, explains that a combined approach, incorporating different types of knowledge such as indigenous and traditional knowledge, community practices, and scientific research is important for ecosystem restoration to be successful.

The voices of indigenous peoples have been tragically overlooked in many aspects of society. More and more, the scientific community has looked to traditional and nature-based solutions for holistic and tried and tested approaches to environmental challenges including ecosystem degradation. This is why we encourage you to consider the different kinds of knowledge streams and to combine scientific research with traditional ones. The integration of these different types of knowledge can increase the social acceptability, economical feasibility, and ecological viability of your ecosystem restoration project.

Who is responsible for the degraded area?

Part of an informed approach is verifying who is responsible for the area you want to restore. Pinpointing who or what is responsible for the degradation can point you in the direction of whom you can get in touch with and what you can do to find a proper solution. There can be many scenarios as to why land management could be insufficient or harmful, causing degradation. Though finding immediate answers may be challenging, digging for answers and demanding transparency will be important before jumping in.

What is the status of the area management?

Understanding the context around the ownership and stewardship of an area is a crucial step in your planning process. If the land is public or unaccounted for, it might explain why there is degradation as no one is responsible for its management.

Private land is owned and cared for by a specific person or entity. This means that you would have to discuss your plan with the owners and work with them to develop a process that meets their needs and that of the ecosystem.

Public land on the other hand may be regulated by the government or local government. Hence, you would need to ask permission or seek involvement of the right stakeholders before taking action.

What permissions need to be granted to make restoration feasible?

After you've determined the law of the land and have an idea of the solution you'd like to take action for, gaining permission or buy in from the legislative body or landowners or rightholders is important to ensure your prospective project will continue to completion without any roadblocks.

Oftentimes, the process of asking permission or getting buy in can actually be helpful as it forces you to think through every aspect of your plan, can encourage forging partnerships, and potentially validate the efficacy of your method. While this may take time, ensuring the efficacy and longevity of your plan is already important, the bureaucracy is just there to make sure your ideas are validated and sound.