Informing global ecological regeneration policy, planning and implementation

Dryland forests in Latin America, where Professor Newton’s ReForLan research project took place.Dryland forests in Latin America, where Professor Newton’s ReForLan research project took place.

Widespread environmental degradation has led to extensive ecological restoration efforts to recover degraded land. Initiatives attract billions of US dollars annually, significantly contributing to sustainable development and adaptation to climate change.

BU’s has developed and applied a new analytical method to assess how cost-effective ecological restoration initiatives actually are.

The method was largely developed through Restoration of Forest Landscapes for Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Development project (ReForLan), designed and coordinated by BU’s Professor Adrian Newton.

It involves the mapping of ecosystem services and their associated values and comparison of different land use scenarios to provide a robust method for analysing the cost-effectiveness of policy interventions. This has major implications for policy and practice on a global scale.

The research informed Target 15 of the Convention of Biodiversity’s (CBD) 2020 global targets for ecological restoration. It was featured in Information Note XI/2 in the Convention’s COP11 in October 2012, which in turn informed the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Target 15 specifically commits signatory countries to restore at least 15% of degraded ecosystems worldwide, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation to combating desertification.

The BU research has therefore provided part of the scientific evidence base on which this new global policy target was agreed.

One of the approaches endorsed by the intergovernmental policy decision was the use of forest landscape restoration (FLR). The principles of FLR were developed by Professor Newton through the ReForLan project. Details of how these principles may be implemented in practice, evaluation of the cost effectiveness of FLR and its impact on human communities was also investigated.

As part of the delivery of Target 15, FLR is being employed as the principal approach for a global movement to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020. Launched in September 2011 in Germany, this movement known as “Bonn Challenge”, gained further momentum at the UN Climate Talks in Doha in 2012.

Fifty million hectares have now been committed by individual countries, representing one third of the target. This is broadly acknowledged as the largest restoration initiative in history.

This initiative directly employs the FLR approach developed, tested and refined through Professor Newton’s research. It is anticipated this will deliver major benefits, including food security, protecting biodiversity and benefiting people’s livelihoods”. This is a significant step towards achieving the policy goals.

Research references

  • Rey Benayas, J.M., Newton, A.C., Diaz, A. and Bullock, J.M. (2009). A meta-analysisdemonstrating enhancement of both ecosystem services and biodiversity by ecological restoration. Science 325(5944), 1121 – 1124.
  • Birch, J., Newton, A.C.,  Alvarez Aquino, C., Cantarello, E., Echeverría, C., Kitzberger, T., Schiappacasse, I., Tejedor Garavito, N. (2010). Cost-effectiveness of dryland forest restoration evaluated by spatial analysis of ecosystem services. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107(50), 21925-21930.
  • Newton, A.C., Cayuela, L., Echeverría, C., Armesto, J.J., Del Castillo, R.F., Golicher, D., Geneletti, D., Gonzalez-Espinosa, M., Huth, A., López-Barrera, F., Malizia, L., Manson, R., Premoli, A., Ramírez-Marcial, N., Rey Benayas, J., Rüger, N., Smith-Ramírez, C. and Williams-Linera, G. (2009). Toward integrated analysis of human impacts on forest biodiversity: lessons from Latin America. Ecology and Society 14(2), 2. [online] URL:
  • Newton, A.C., del Castillo, R.F., Echeverría, C., Geneletti, D., González-Espinosa, M., Malizia, L., Premoli, A.C., Rey Benayas, J.M., Smith-Ramírez, C., Williams-Linera, G. (2012). Forest landscape restoration in the drylands of Latin America. Ecology and Society 17 (1): 21. [online] URL: 
  • Bullock, J.M., Aronson, J., Newton, A.C., Pywell, R.F., Rey-Benayas, J.M. (2011). Restoration of ecosystem services and biodiversity: conflicts and opportunities. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 26(10), 541-549.
  • Newton, A.C., Hodder, K., Cantarello, E., Perrella, L., Birch, J.C., Robins, J., Douglas, S., Moody, C., Cordingley, J. (2012) Cost-benefit analysis of ecological networks assessed through spatial analysis of ecosystem services. Journal of Applied Ecology 49(3), 571-580.
  • Rey Benayas, J.M., J.M. Bullock and A.C. Newton (2008) Creating woodland islets to reconcile ecological restoration, conservation, and agricultural land use. Front Ecol Environ 6(6): 329-336.