When landscape architects or landscape contractors encounter distressed plots of land, they must apply strategies and planting concepts to heal the landscape and create resilient solutions.
And as Americans continue to increasingly concern themselves with changing their behavior to help preserve and restore the environment (1), landscape designers will encounter this situation more and more.
Urbanization, land clearing, neglect, and other circumstances can significantly damage multiple ecosystems. But scientific advancements like restoration ecology are helping to restore the environment and create conditions where plants, animals, and microorganisms can recover.
This is extremely good news, considering a recent study that predicts a significant growth in demand for restoration ecology solutions over the next decade.(2)
In this article, we provide an overview of what ecosystem restoration means and how landscape architects or landscape contractors can apply ecological restoration solutions.
Rooftop Plantings by Furbish at National Cancer Institute in Rockville, MD
Why Is Restoration Ecology Important for Landscape Designers & Contractors?
Ecological restoration is often a by-product of many landscape design projects that go above and beyond simply creating aesthetically pleasing and resilient outcomes.
Because of the heightened focus that so many people have on sustainability and low-maintenance landscape strategies, the practical application of ecological restoration has evolved into something you might call landscape restoration.
Even if your business hasn’t yet executed any ecological restoration projects, today’s customers may be interested in adding environmentally conscious and restorative elements to their next project. By learning more about restoration ecology, you’ll be that much more prepared to present informed ideas and options.
What Is Restoration Ecology?
Restoration is all about renewing and restoring the functionality of damaged or destroyed ecosystems.
A common characteristic of ecological restoration projects is that they are usually initiated by community volunteers. And because ecological restoration projects often require collaboration among a diverse group of stakeholders, social science and political implications are quite common.
What Is the Goal of Restoration Ecology?
Ecological restoration encompasses a wide variety of objectives, including:
- Erosion control
- Revegetation or reforestation
- Weed removal
- Reintroduction of native species
- Habitat improvement for targeted species
Restoration Ecology Solutions
Innovative designers are continually developing solutions that calm bustling urban areas, repair shuttered sites, and use landscape design to improve society in meaningful ways. Some of these solutions include:
Green infrastructure. Solutions like rain gardens and blue and green roofs are effective options that address erosion by capturing and filtering runoff in a way that closely resembles the natural process.
Riparian forest buffers. With this solution, it’s possible to filter nutrients, pesticides, and animal waste from agricultural land runoff and provide shade, shelter, and food for fish and other aquatic organisms.
Resilient landscaping. While it seems too good to be true, ecological resilient components are getting a lot of attention for their ability to absorb the effects of external change, reorganize themselves, and adapt — all while maintaining their previous structure and functions.
Robson Square in Vancouver BC - Designed by Cornelia Oberlander
How to Plan an Ecological Restoration Project
Of course, each project is unique. But below, we’ve outlined a few steps that are common to successful projects that focus on ecological restoration:
Assess current conditions. To determine what type of restorative action to take, you’ll need to understand the causes of ecosystem disturbance.
Formulate project goals. What is the desired outcome for the end user of this landscape? Consider visiting nearby environments that are still in an undisturbed natural condition.
Eliminate all causes of the ecological disturbance. This could involve removing invasive species, or ceasing activities causing erosion.
Restore natural processes. This could involve enabling natural flooding to restore ecosystem integrity. As a result, native plants and animals may return to the area.
Rehabilitate substrates. This involves any activity that could repair altered soil texture or water quality.
Restore vegetation. Replant native species using seeds or cuttings from the local region to ensure genetic diversity. Choose a resilient planting palette to restore the mistreated land.
Monitor and maintain. Observe whether the initial goals are being met and make adjustments as necessary. Ideally, the ecological restoration project will eventually become self-sustaining.
Challenges of Restoration Ecology
Because restoration ecology is an ongoing process and never really “complete,” outcomes often appear to fall short of the objectives. This causes many to view restoration ecology as an impractical initiative.
Other challenges include:
Cost. When obtaining buy-in for an ecologically-focused project, the costs can appear to outweigh the often vague benefits in the mind of stakeholders.
Science-practice gap. Land managers often find that the questions studied by restoration ecologists could be more useful and applicable.
Underselling the benefits. One survey indicates that restoration practitioners are so focused on restoration itself that they fail to “toot the horn” of their findings. They don’t publicize the significant evidence they find that proves the benefits of ecological restoration is a worthwhile investment for society.
Can feel like a losing battle. The climate benefits realized from ecological restoration are quite literally negated by the scale of ongoing fossil fuel emissions, causing a loss of focus and momentum.
Thriving and profitable landscape architects and contractors must remain dialed into environmental trends and the concerns and preferences of their clients.
As consumer interest in conservation and wildlife preservation grows, public space planners and commercial and residential property owners will require innovative solutions that are more ecologically restorative and less disruptive.
At PureModern, we work with clients every day to create unique solutions to the most complex design problems. Contact us today to learn more.