A four-year research project has been launched to help tackle the biodiversity crisis by identifying how the UK’s most precious woodland and meadow habitats can be successfully restored by looking at how all the different plants, animals and other organisms in ecosystems work together.
The £2 million project, funded by Natural Environment Research Council, aims to reverse habitat loss and the degradation of land caused by agricultural intensification, urban development, climate change and pollution.
It will look at how these ecosystems knit together through complex individual processes like nutrient cycling, carbon capture and pollination – rather than simply looking at the presence and number of particular species. This is an innovative approach to understanding ecosystem processes and will have major implications for ecological restoration target-setting.
The research is due to get under way at over 100 meadow and woodland sites, currently in the process of being restored, across the country including the Knepp Estate, South Downs and Stonehenge landscape as well as at heavily degraded landscapes such as mining and quarry sites and intensively farmed agricultural land.
The partnership project is led by Cranfield University including the National Trust, Stirling University, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and Forest Research.
It hopes to provide evidence to improve the effectiveness of ecosystem restoration, using woodlands and meadows as examples of some of our most heavily ecologically degraded environments.
The research will help conservationists and those involved in restoration ensure interventions such as tree planting or re-introducing species are made to maximum benefit.
Professor Jim Harris of Cranfield University, Lead Principal Investigator for the project, said:
Teams of soil ecologists, botanists, entomologists and animal behaviourists will kick-off an integrated programme of field sampling and laboratory analysis, together with remote sensing, bioinformatics, and statistical and mathematical analysis. This programme will provide a detailed exploration of different restoration sites and the factors which control their development and stability.
The Knepp Estate in West Sussex is one of the sites which will be involved in the research. Charlie Burrell, conservationist and landowner said:
For more information about the project visit https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/research-projects/restreco