printUse ctrl + p to print the page

What is forest and landscape restoration?

Forest and landscape restoration (FLR) is the long-term process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes. More specifically,

  • FLR is about “forests” because it involves increasing the number and/or health of trees in an area;
  • It is about “landscapes” because it involves entire watersheds, jurisdictions, or even countries in which many land uses interact;
  • It is about “restoration” because it involves bringing back the biological productivity of an area in order to achieve any number of benefits for people and the planet, and;
  • It is “long-term” because it requires a multi-year vision of the ecological functions and benefits to human well-being that restoration will produce, including things such as jobs, income and carbon sequestration.

Successful FLR is a forward-looking and dynamic approach, focusing on strengthening the resilience of landscapes and creating future options to adjust and further optimize ecosystem goods and services as societal needs change or new challenges arise.

GPFLR's Guiding Principles

  • Focus on landscapes. Consider and restore entire landscapes as opposed to individual sites. This typically entails balancing a mosaic of interdependent land uses across the landscape, such as protected forest areas, ecological corridors, regenerating forests, agroforestry systems, agriculture, well-managed plantations and riparian strips to protect waterways.
  • Restore functionality. Restore the functionality of the landscape, making it better able to provide a rich habitat, prevent erosion and flooding and withstand the impacts of climate change and other disturbances. This can be done in many ways, one of which is to restore the landscape “back” to the “original” vegetation, but other strategies may also be used.
  • Allow for multiple benefits. Aim to generate a suite of ecosystem goods and services by intelligently and appropriately increasing tree cover across the landscape. In some places, trees may be added to agricultural lands in order to enhance food production, reduce erosion, provide shade and produce firewood. In other places, trees may be added to create a closed canopy forest capable of sequestering large amounts of carbon, protecting downstream water supplies and providing rich wildlife habitat.
  • Leverage suite of strategies. Consider a wide range of eligible technical strategies for restoring trees on the landscape, ranging from natural regeneration to tree planting.
  • Involve stakeholders. Actively engage local stakeholders in decisions regarding restoration goals, implementation methods and trade-offs. It is important that the restoration process respects their rights to land and resources, is aligned with their land management practices and provides them benefits. A well-designed process will benefit from the active voluntary involvement of local stakeholders.
  • Tailor to local conditions. Adapt restoration strategies to fit local social, economic and ecological contexts; there is no “one size fits all”.
  • Avoid further reduction of natural forest cover. Address ongoing loss and conversion of primary and secondary natural forest.
  • Adaptively manage. Be prepared to adjust the restoration strategy over time as environmental conditions, human knowledge and societal values change. Leverage continuous monitoring and learning and make adjustments as the restoration process progresses.

While FLR sometimes involves the opportunity to restore large contiguous tracts of degraded or fragmented forest land (what we call wide-scale restoration), particularly in less populated areas, the majority of restoration opportunities are found on or adjacent to agricultural or pastoral land. In these situations, restoration must complement and not displace existing land uses; this results in a mosaic of different land uses, including for example agriculture, agroforestry systems and improved fallow systems, ecological corridors, discrete areas of forests and woodlands, and river or lakeside plantings to protect waterways. This is illustrated in Figure 1.

Why restore forest landscapes?

FLR offers the transformation of degraded and deforested land into resilient, multifunctional assets that can contribute to local and national economies (through forest products or bioeconomy, as examples), sequester significant amounts of carbon, strengthen food and clean water supplies, and safeguard biodiversity. Meeting these needs cannot be achieved solely by efforts to tackle deforestation. While avoiding deforestation is critically important, particularly for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such efforts need to be supplemented by ambitious restoration initiatives that can help take the pressure off existing forest land, provide alternative sources of forest products, improve soil fertility and reduce erosion (through agroforestry and evergreen agriculture) and generally contribute to carbon-intensive land stewardship.

Current restoration efforts need to be massively scaled-up. According to a recent global assessment of restoration potential commissioned by the GPFLR (Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration), and carried out by IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), WRI (World Resources Institute) and the University of Maryland, there are more than two billion hectares of land around the world that would benefit from some type of restoration intervention (GPFLR, 2011). 

FLR also complements other approaches to improving food security and climate change mitigation and adaptation such as climate-smart agriculture and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). By integrating these two concerns within a landscape approach and bringing degraded land back into production, FLR helps expand the world’s stock of agricultural, agroforestry and forest land.

Lastly, but certainly not least, FLR represents a remarkably tangible and achievable way to make progress on many agreed-upon policy objectives, ranging from biodiversity to climate and to desertification along with the recently adopted – and universal – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).