In celebration of World Environment Day, June 5, we explore the ways in which ecosystem restoration can bring more than just environmental benefits.

Recovering ecosystems that have been degraded, damaged, or destroyed can involve a range of activities which work to reestablish the structure, function, and biodiversity of a natural area to ensure its sustainability and resilience. This plays a crucial role in combating climate change, but it also has other, far-reaching benefits — socially and economically.

From job creation to boosting tourism, restoring ecosystems can drive economic growth and contribute to a more sustainable future. Here are 5 benefits, with examples from both within the UK and across the globe…

1. Job creation and economic growth

One of the most short-term economic benefits of ecosystem restoration is job creation. Restoration projects — which can be anything from re-establishing ecological integrity on a hillside, to the large-scale landscape restoration of a mountain range — requires a diverse range of skills and expertise. 

Reforestation projects often involve planting trees, monitoring growth, and maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, all of which create employment opportunities for biologists, ecologists, field technicians, engineers, labourers, logistics and operations crews and more.  

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A report by The Heritage Fund showed that the £80 million government-backed Green Recovery Challenge Fund of 2020-1 supported more than 150 environmental projects which helped create 2,630 jobs in green sectors.

Further afield, Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, founded by Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, has planted millions of trees and employed thousands of people, particularly women, providing them with a stable income and improving their livelihoods.

2. Enhanced tourism

Healthy ecosystems attract tourists, which can be a substantial source of revenue for local economies. Natural attractions such as restored wetlands, forests, and coral reefs draw visitors interested in eco-tourism, hiking, bird watching, and diving.

As demonstrated by the rewilding project in Norfolk’s Wild Ken Hill which has seen an influx of visitors, and the creation of intertidal habitats at Wallasea Island which has now become a popular birdwatching destination, ecosystem restoration are bringing fresh appeal to various areas around the country.

Through aggressive reforestation and conservation policies, Costa Rica has reversed deforestation, with forest cover now standing at more than 50%.

Costa Rica, known for its rich biodiversity and successful conservation efforts, has seen a significant boost in tourism, contributing billions to its economy annually. The country’s commitment to restoring and preserving its ecosystems has made it a premier eco-tourism destination.

3. Improved public health

Restoring ecosystems can also lead to better public health outcomes — which ultimately translate into economic benefits. Clean air, water, and access to nature reduce healthcare costs by preventing diseases and promoting physical and mental well-being.

Research has shown that urban green spaces can reduce air pollution, lower temperatures, and provide recreational areas that encourage physical activity, thereby reducing the incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Access to green spaces such as restored forests, wetlands and parks, reduces stress, and can foster social connections and a sense of purpose. 

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4. Agricultural productivity

Healthy ecosystems support agriculture by enhancing soil fertility, pollination, and water regulation. Restored landscapes can lead to increased agricultural productivity, ensuring food security and providing economic benefits to farmers and local communities.

The Loess Plateau in China, once severely degraded, has been transformed through restoration efforts, into a productive agricultural area. The project improved soil health and water retention, leading to increased crop yields and better living standards for local farmers.

5. Enhanced ecosystem services

Healthy ecosystems provide valuable services that support economic activities. Restoring ecosystems can improve soil health, water quality and availability, and pollination, resulting in enhanced agricultural productivity (as above). Healthy aquatic ecosystems support robust fisheries, benefiting both commercial and recreational fishing industries.

The UK government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and the recent Soil Health Action Plan for England aim to manage soils sustainably by 2030, which in turn will support farmer livelihoods, and contribute to better health.

The year ahead will feature crucial political moments to compel and catalyse action for the recovery of key species and the restoration of our ecosystems.

  • The upcoming general election is expected to be a pivotal moment for environmental policies. Political parties will likely include environmental commitments in their manifestos, providing a platform for public debate and prioritisation of conservation issues. Advocacy groups will push for stronger policies on biodiversity, habitat restoration, and climate change mitigation.
  • The UK government is expected to continue developing its post-2020 biodiversity framework, aligning with the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Global Biodiversity Framework. This strategy will outline specific targets and actions for species recovery and habitat restoration, aiming to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.
  • As a key player in international climate negotiations, the UK will prepare for the 29th Conference of the Parties (COP29) to the UNFCCC. The preparations will include setting new national commitments (NDCs) that integrate biodiversity and ecosystem restoration as essential components of climate resilience and adaptation strategies.

Further reading and resources:

The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration: Strategy (unep.org)

Growing our Future UK | Forum for the Future

Ecosystem Restoration and Species Recovery Benefit People and Planet | United Nations

Get up to speed with the UK’s sustainability goals by having a listen to our COP28 Reflections podcast.