What is nature restoration? Does it exclude economic activity? What benefits restoring nature can bring? There are many questions and myths about restoring nature, especially regarding economic activities or food security. Below we present some of these questions with links to further readings.
In simple terms, restoration means bringing more nature and biodiversity back across different ecosystems, from forests, peatlands and agricultural land, to freshwater, marine and urban ecosystems.
Restoration is a process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. This could be through rewetting wetlands and peatlands, improving degraded soil and agricultural land by adding natural features such as hedgerows and trees, recreating lost natural forests, removing invasive species, planting native vegetation, removing obsolete barriers from rivers, increasing tree coverage in cities, and much more.
Learn more: Nature Restoration - helping people, biodiversity and climate
What are the benefits of restoring nature?
Large-scale nature restoration is an investment that yields a range of benefits beyond improving biodiversity and sequestering carbon, such as significant human health & well-being and socio-economic benefits including sustainable jobs and ecotourism opportunities. Restoring nature increases flood protection and water retention, as well as prevents wildfires. All this is crucial to make Europe more resilient to the impacts of climate change such as severe droughts and floods. Nature restoration is also needed to maintain crucial benefits provided by nature - clean air and water, food, and crop pollination, to name a few.
Learn more: Benefits of nature restoration
What is the Nature Restoration Law?
In June 2022, the European Commission published a long-awaited proposal for an EU Nature Restoration Law. This will be the first European-wide law to set legally binding targets to restore our degraded ecosystems and bring nature back to Europe. The Commission proposes to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and repair all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. An ambitious and timely EU Nature Restoration Law can be a game-changer for nature, people, the climate and the economy as every €1 invested in nature restoration adds between €8 to €38 in economic value.
Learn more: What is the Nature Restoration Law
How can I let decision-makers know that I want nature in Europe to be restored?
With our easy-to-use email tool, you can let your decision-makers know that they need to act now to #RestoreNature! As a bonus, you can also send them a picture of a landscape you would like to see restored and a personal message to urge them to take action.
Learn more: Take action to restore nature in Europe!
Does nature restoration exclude economic activity?
No! Nature restoration does not necessarily exclude economic activities. The possibilities for economic and other activities in restored nature areas depend on various factors such as the ecosystem, the measures taken, and the stakeholders involved. Bringing back nature can offer excellent ecotourism opportunities as in the restored Mahmudia wetlands in Romania, while rewetted peatlands can continue to provide economic opportunities through paludiculture, or wet farming, as seen in several examples across Europe. Nature restoration can also go hand-in-hand with renewable energy deployment. Solar development combined with nature restoration in heavily degraded areas can bring benefits to biodiversity as in the Solar Park Klein Rheide in Germany.
Will nature restoration have negative impacts on the economy?
No. Investing in nature restoration is a win-win for both our planet and our wallets. The benefits of restoration have been estimated to be worth a whopping 1.8 trillion euros, while the estimated cost is only a fraction of that at 154 billion euros. Extreme climate-related disasters such as floods and fires are already causing economic losses of over 12 billion euros annually in the EU. On the other hand, the Natura 2000 network of protected areas provides economic benefits of 200-300 billion euros annually and supports around 4.4 million jobs. Restoring nature is simply a smart financial investment!
Learn more: Economic benefits of nature restoration
Do businesses support the Nature Restoration Law?
Yes! An increasing group of forward-thinking businesses and business networks support the Nature Restoration Law, recognising that nature restoration is critical for the future of their operations. These companies rely on natural resources and services, which are threatened by ongoing degradation and climate change. Failing to act could result in costly supply chain disruptions, decreased productivity, and higher operational expenses. By investing in nature restoration, businesses can safeguard their long-term success and secure the resources they depend on.
Learn more: Beyond short-term profit: businesses call for a strong Nature Restoration Law and Business networks call for robust Nature Restoration Law to align EU’s nature and climate ambitions
Some groups really oppose nature restoration. What solution do they offer instead?
The opponents of the Nature Restoration Law do not offer any solution to tackle the accelerating biodiversity and climate crises. Despite increasingly frequent droughts, floods and fires, they protect business as usual and ignore the long-term cost and consequences of inaction to address the biodiversity loss and climate breakdown. This breach of evidence-based policymaking is not acceptable, given the urgency of nature and climate crisis.
Is nature restoration the same as nature protection?
No, nature restoration and protection are not the same. Restoration is a process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Many degraded ecosystems will require active restoration measures, such as the removal of barriers or the rewetting of peatlands. Other ecosystems can be best restored through ‘passive restoration’, which essentially means leaving the ecosystem alone so natural processes can take over again. Some initial action could still be needed, like the removal of invasive species.
Does nature restoration exclude the development of renewable energy?
No, renewable energy and nature restoration can work together! Solar and wind farms can coexist with nature restoration depending on the project and the measures taken. Solar energy combined with restoration projects on degraded areas like old mining sites can benefit biodiversity. Park Klein Rheide in Germany is an excellent case of solar farm development that contributes to nature restoration. The solar farm was installed on an old cornfield and gravel mining pit and now, thanks to a pond on the site, biodiversity is recovering in this specific area. However, we must also protect some areas from all development to ensure the long-term recovery of biodiversity in Europe. We need to identify species that may not be compatible with renewable energy development and find ways to protect them.
Learn more: Solar, Biodiversity, Land Use. Best Practice Guidelines
Do we have enough data to effectively restore nature?
Yes! A lot of data is already available to support the need and implementation of nature restoration. Member States need to do substantial reporting for existing policy frameworks (e.g. the Birds and Habitats Directives), which is also useful to develop and implement their national restoration plans. European institutions (such as EEA), national scientists and stakeholders also have data to provide. In addition, much expertise is available from ongoing and already finished nature restoration projects. When Member States are confronted with data gaps, the legal proposal encourages them to fill these and work according to scientific progress made. In any case, the (perceived) lack of data should never be used as an excuse for inaction, as otherwise precious time will be lost.
Will nature restoration undermine food security?
No! On the contrary, nature restoration will help secure long-term food security. The myth of nature restoration threatening food security is the narrative of the agri-food industry and their vested interest to oppose any environmental measures. Healthy ecosystems are the basis of fundamental ecosystem services, such as pollination, that our food systems depend upon. Putting additional land under intensive production, especially land that is currently set aside for biodiversity, further exacerbates the twin biodiversity and climate crises, steering EU countries further away from fulfilling their international commitments and legal obligations.
Learn more: Food Security Factsheet: Why bringing back nature cannot wait and Nature restoration as a driver for resilient food systems
Does the EU face food shortages because of the war in Ukraine?
No! The EU does not face food shortages or a food availability problem. The European Commission’s own food security communication confirms this. The EU is a net exporter of agri-food products to Russia and Ukraine. While the EU generally exports higher-value products, the main products imported from Russia and Ukraine are lower-value commodities that are mostly used for feeding animals, not people.
Learn more: Factsheet: Nature restoration and food security
Is the Nature Restoration Law only for farmers?
No! The Nature Restoration Law is for all EU countries to follow. EU countries can pick a set of instruments to achieve the agreed targets, consisting of monetary or regulatory instruments, as long as effectiveness is ensured. The Commission is proposing restoration measures for all different kinds of ecosystems and agricultural ecosystems are included as pollinators and birds are rapidly disappearing from the European countrysides.
In the proposal, the first restoration obligations refer to terrestrial habitat types that are already categorized under the Habitats Directive or similar ones for marine (thus here addressing fishermen). The law also touches on urban biodiversity, on forests, etc. The claim that the Nature Restoration Law would only address farmers is therefore wrong.
Does setting aside farmland for nature help biodiversity thrive without reducing production?
Putting measures in place to enhance biodiversity on farmlands should have a positive contribution to agricultural production through the diverse benefits like stable water retention, improved quality of soils and healthy pollinator populations. This can be done by providing space for nature in agricultural landscapes in the form of areas that are not cultivated, such as hedgerows, flower strips, wetlands or other habitats that are exclusively left (or managed) for wildlife.
Learn more: Food Security Factsheet: Why bringing back nature cannot wait
Does restoration destroy farming livelihoods?
No, nature restoration will increase the much-needed resilience of farming livelihoods, which are increasingly confronted with the negative impacts of the ongoing biodiversity and climate crises. Nature restoration does not exclude economic activities (as also stated above), so livelihoods can still thrive with nature restoration
Does the Nature Restoration Law regulate pesticides?
No! Some stakeholders mix up the Nature Restoration Law with the Commission’s proposal for a Regulation on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUR). The latter aims to reduce the use of pesticides whereas the Nature Restoration Law is clearly focused on measures to restore nature, such as providing space for pollinators, avoiding soil erosion, allowing buffers against floods and preventing droughts
How much does it cost to restore nature?
The costs of nature restoration will depend on the condition of the ecosystem and the measures needed to bring it back to good condition. The economic costs and losses from climate-related extreme events are increasing. In the EU, these losses already average over €12 billion per year. The European Commission’s impact assessment concluded that investing in nature restoration adds between €8 to €38 in economic value for each €1 spent thanks to the many benefits nature provides us. Nature restoration is thus one of the best financial investments our society can make.
Is there funding for nature restoration?
Several European funding mechanisms already exist to support nature restoration projects; the LIFE programme is probably the most well-known. Member States will have the obligation to include the estimated financing needs and sources for restoration measures in their National Restoration Plans. This is important to ensure that the plans are implementable. It will also prompt Member States to assess the budget implications of their own plans.
What about private landowners and their role in restoring nature - is there financial support or compensation?
Private landowners and users can play a key role in implementing nature restoration measures and hence contribute to meeting the national restoration targets. The Nature Restoration Law proposal provides the flexibility to MS to use and develop the best tools to facilitate this. It can include compensation schemes or other financial incentives adapted to the national context and the stakeholders involved. Often, the land ownership framework is specific to a certain country or region, so it is important that the Member States finds the most suitable way to make it possible.
Why did the European Commission propose the Nature Restoration Law?
European nature is in alarming decline and 80% of habitats in Europe are in bad condition. Restoring nature will help increase biodiversity, bring many benefits like water purification, help combat climate change and make sure we can produce food in the long term. This decade is the time to act and the Commission’s proposal could not come early enough.
Do we have enough time to implement the law?
We are racing against time to bend the curve of nature loss and tackle climate change impacts. It is for a reason the UN declared this decade to be the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. It’s time to act.
Member States have known since 2020 that the law was on its way. This means they will have had ten years to prepare for their 2030 targets. Many EU countries do not need to start from scratch as several nature restoration projects have already been started in the past years.
Is the law unfair, because some MS will have to do much more than others?
No. The targets of the law are linked to the percentage of countries’ areas. A strong and enforceable overarching objective would require all EU countries to contribute to the restoration of 20% of the EU land area and 20% of the EU sea area. They can choose which ecosystem to focus depending on what is most relevant to them.
The current version of the legal proposal provides already substantial flexibility for Member States to achieve the nature restoration targets. It allows the countries to develop and implement their nature restoration plans according to their own national context. Adding more flexibility risks creating too much legal uncertainty and would not guarantee that targets are met.
Is nature restoration really needed in Europe?
Land use changes and other human key pressures have severely affected European nature and climate in the past decades and they still do now. An increasing number of reports flag the ongoing decline of our nature. For example, the 2020 State of Nature in the EU report showed that only 14% of habitat assessments and only 27% of non-bird species currently have good conservation status. Moreover, the 2021 EU Red List of Birds made clear that 1 out of 5 bird species in Europe is threatened or Near Threatened by extinction, while 1 out of 3 bird species declined over the last few decades.
The 2022 IPCC report tells us that without large-scale nature restoration, Europe will experience more floods, droughts and other threats to our daily livelihoods. Better protecting what we have left is not sufficient anymore to reverse these trends, we also need to bring back nature through effective restoration measures.
Will we meet the climate targets if we don't restore nature?
The latest IPCC reports (see for example report 2022 and 2023) are very clear that restoring nature is a key part of the solution to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to meet the climate targets. Safeguarding and strengthening nature is essential to secure a liveable future. The outcomes of the joint IPCC/IPBES workshop tell us that without large-scale nature restoration, Europe will experience more floods, droughts and other threats to our daily livelihoods. Better protection of what we have left is not sufficient anymore to reverse these trends, we also need to bring back nature through effective restoration measures.
Learn more: Strengthening synergies between conservation and climate targets
Why do we need to restore forests in Europe?
Although in recent years the forest area in Europe has increased, the condition of EU forests is poor. According to the most recent data published by Forest Europe, about three-quarters of Europe′s forests are even-aged, 33% have only one tree species (mainly conifers), and only 5% of EU forests have six or more tree species. Moreover, only 14% of EU forest habitats protected under the Habitats Directive have a favourable conservation status. Climate change is affecting European forests, with increasing impacts of disturbances such as drought, forest fires, and pests. To improve the resilience of our forests, it is necessary to restore forest biodiversity.
Is the EU trying to take away forest management from Member States?
No, the Nature Restoration Law does not specify how Member States manage their forests. Article 10 of the proposal requires improvement on a small suite of general forest indicators which are relevant to commercial forests – but targets are not specified, nor is speed of improvement, nor silvicultural approaches. The improvement can be demonstrated as a national average, so the Member State has great flexibility in how much improvement to aim for from which types and areas of forest.
Will the industrial logging sector be affected?
The forestry industry will be affected positively, because the sustainability of their product (wood) depends on the resilience of forest ecosystems, which in turn depends on biodiversity. Forests are increasingly suffering from disturbances such as pests (bark beetles, processionary moth, etc), wind-throw, and fire, all of which are being further exacerbated by climate change. More biodiverse forestry, however, is more resilient to these threats as birds eat insect pests, diversity in tree species and ages disrupt pests from exploding on one uniform food source, spread of fire is inhibited by uneven-aged forests and a mix of native species, etc.
In the Nature Restoration Law proposal, no practices are mandated to forest managers - industrial or small-holder. It is for Member States to choose where and from which types of forest they get their improvements from.
Can we afford to remove river barriers in the middle of an energy crisis?
There is a very large potential for barrier removal without affecting at all the hydropower potential. Out of the 1 milion river barriers in Europe, only two percent are used for hydropower production and one out of 10 are estimated to be obsolete. Nearly half of the hydropower plants in Europe have a capacity <1 Mega Watt, which means they produce very little electricity. Even if some of those barriers were removed, the effect on energy production would be extremely limited.
Shouldn’t river barriers be maintained for their high heritage value?
The heritage value can be maintained even if the dam is removed. For example at an old mill, the dam wall can be removed, while still keeping the mill as a heritage site. It is possible to ensure that the historical value of dams or mills in the region is remembered and celebrated, through museums or tourist attractions.
Do river barriers protect us from floods that are becoming more frequent?
No. River barriers alter the transport of sediments by rivers, which can lead to increasing erosion of the river bed, sinking of deltas, and may even in some cases increase the downstream flood stage, as recent studies suggest. On the contrary, healthy floodplains connected to the river leave room for the river to expand in case of sudden and high precipitation, and reduce the risk of floods.
During heavy floods, there is also a risk that dam walls may give way, flooding downstream areas and communities. In the world, tens of thousands of existing large dams have reached or exceeded an “alert” age threshold of 50 years, and many others will soon approach 100 years, causing increasing safety concerns. On top of that, dams impact the water quantity flowing downstream. They can cause severe water shortages for downstream users. Healthy floodplains, allowing to store water in the ground, are a significantly better alternative to reducing the risk of both floods and droughts.
Peatlands are a type of wetland made up of peat, a soil that forms when waterlogged conditions prevent organic matter from decomposing, leading to its accumulation over thousands of years. Peatlands are found in more than 180 countries and cover nearly 3% of the Earth’s surface. Though peatlands have historically been seen as wastelands, they hold great value to people and the planet.
Learn more: International Peatland Society | What are peatlands?
Why do we need to restore peatlands? Why do peatlands matter?
Peatlands are one of our best nature based solutions for fighting and adapting to climate change. In good condition, peatlands store vast amounts of carbon – nearly twice as much as the world’s forests. What’s more, by minimizing the risk of droughts and floods, peatlands can help mitigate the effects of a warming climate.
Learn more: IUCN | Peatlands and climate change
Do peatlands have benefits beyond the climate?
Yes! The benefits of this ecosystem are manifold: peatlands are biodiversity hotspots, providing habitats for many unique species; they play a role in water filtration, providing a water supply for many people; and they provide a glimpse into our cultural past, maintaining an archive of ancient artefacts that have been kept from decomposing.
Learn more: IUCN UK | Peatland benefits
Why are peatlands under threat?
Peatlands face many threats. They are burned or drained to be converted for other uses, such as agriculture, and are mined for use as fuel. No matter the cause, the end result is the same: when peatlands are degraded, they lose their water saturation, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere – to the tune of 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Learn more: IUCN UK | Peatland damage
What will it take to restore peatlands?
Since degradation drives carbon emissions by reducing the water saturation of peatlands, the only way to restore them is to halt the degrading activities and resaturate the land. This process is known as rewetting. “Data shows that this is the only land-based option to indefinitely sequester carbon, is cost-effective, and that any emissions from restoration are more than offset in the long-term.”
Learn more: IUCN | Peatlands and climate change
Is it enough to partially rewet peatlands?
No – peatlands must be fully rewetted to achieve the full benefits of restoration. While raising the water table only partially can lower GHG emissions and support biodiversity, soil subsidence, peat decomposition, and GHG emissions will continue if the water table is not raised to near the peatland surface.
Learn more: WaterLANDS | Higher ambition for Peatlands in the EU Nature Restoration Law Proposal
Does rewetting peatlands mean you cannot use them anymore?
No! Rewetted peatlands can continue to provide economic opportunities through paludiculture, or wet farming. This form of production involves crops which are well suited to wet conditions, such as reeds and sphagnum moss, and preserves the ecosystem services that peatlands provide.
Learn more: Greifswald Mire Centre | Paludiculture
Is it enough to rewet peatlands under agricultural use?
No. While agriculture is the greatest driver of peatland degradation in many European countries, many others (such as Nordic countries) have only a small share of their under agricultural use. In those countries, forestry and other land uses contribute significantly to peatland degradation.
Learn more: WaterLANDS | Higher ambition for Peatlands in the EU Nature Restoration Law Proposal
Will rewetting peatlands threaten food security?
No! Just the opposite – continuing to degrade peatlands through conventional agriculture will make them less productive in the long run, by causing soil subsidence and the loss of soil fertility. Healthy peatlands provide ecosystem services which are critical to our food system.
Learn more: IEEP | Nature restoration as a driver for resilient food systems
Will marine restoration impact fishing?
Marine restoration, including passive restoration, has long-term benefits for fisheries, as it contributes to increased fish populations which ‘spillover’ outside of restored areas into the rest of the sea, including fishing grounds. This ultimately benefits fisher's catches and incomes.
To be successful, marine restoration requires the restriction of fishing within areas designated for restoration or within those that are already restored to prevent destructive fishing activities (e.g., mobile bottom-contacting gear).
Learn more: JRC Publications Repository - Scientific evidence showing the impacts of nature restoration actions on food productivity (europa.eu); Fish banks: An economic model to scale marine conservation
What does marine restoration have to do with climate action? Won’t taking space at sea away from offshore renewable energy set back our climate neutrality targets?
Our ocean plays a key role in regulating atmospheric CO2 concentrations and currently absorbs about 25% of annual anthropogenic carbon emissions. Some species are considered oceanic climate champions. For example, seagrass meadows absorb carbon up to four times faster than rainforests. Meanwhile, all great whale species (baleen and sperm whales) make significant carbon capture contributions, both by directly storing carbon in their massive bodies and by influencing other carbon capture mechanisms in marine ecosystems (e.g., stimulating phytoplankton growth via nutrient-rich excrement); conservative estimates put the value of the average great whale based on the carbon it sequesters over its lifetime at more than $2 million. The global potential for carbon dioxide removal via marine ecosystem recovery is likely to be around 0.3 Gigatons of carbon annually (Gt C year), where 1 GtC is equal to 109 tonnes of carbon. So, restoring marine ecosystems like seagrasses and boosting populations of life below water will help us achieve our climate neutrality goals.