President’s letter

Published 02/06/14 | by Brian Bainbridge

Can one set of standards and principles apply across a field as broad as ecological restoration?

CAN IT embrace the work of volunteers and professionals, NGOs, government agencies and multinational corporates? Can one set meet the needs of a tiny urban reserve Friends group, a marine park manager, a director of mine rehabilitation and visionaries of continental habitat corridors?

The recently established Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA) is developing just such a set of principles and standards.

Why?

Because collectively we are wasting scarce resources ‘re-inventing the wheel’ as our organisations scratch around assembling our own standards from widely disparate sources. Such standards are often different from each other, causing misunderstanding when discussing issues jointly. A lack of common terminology creates further layers of misunderstanding and inefficiency. These inconsistencies block the sharing of practical on-ground knowledge. I perceive this at work in our patchy record of monitoring and evaluation of projects, with the result that the cycle of learning and improvement is often left incomplete. Gaps in training courses means new practitioners continue to build foundational skills and knowledge via an uncertain process of mentoring, trial and error.

The lack of shared standards contributes to blinkered vision, and obscures the relationships between projects across geographic areas, disciplines and taxonomic groups. Shared standards would help ensure Ecological Restoration is taken up because funding bodies are clear about what it is expected, and clear about what it can achieve.

Shared standards and principles would make it harder to oversell Ecological Restoration, knowingly or unknowingly, as a solution to environmental degradation. On the other hand, shared standards would make it harder for the potential of restoration to be played down where cost or vested interests make this expedient.

Shared, defined standards and principles makes best-practice Ecological Restoration less vulnerable to changing priorities of organisations, governments, funding bodies and markets. It can also make our own work less vulnerable to our own changing priorities and energies. Exhausted by arguments on points of standard and principle with potential partners, I have sometimes ended up making compromises that I have later regretted.  

In these situations, a set of shared principles and standards could have strengthened the case for improved ecological outcomes.

What does SERA propose?

A set of National Principles and Standards to clearly convey the most effective approaches to restoration and allied practices such as rehabilitation.

SERA has provided IFFA with an outline of the project which describes a process to develop these Principles and Standards. The process aims:

  • to be broad-based and inclusive to ensure maximum acceptance;
  • to be sufficiently general to encompass the broad habitat types across the continent, allowing for the development of more specific regional guidelines;
  • to encompass the range of activities that restoration covers, including on-ground works, consultation, indigenous nurseries, marine and coastal environments and mining rehabilitation;
  • to be comprehensible and clearly written for the broad range of people who need to make sense of them;

This process emerged from a forum of invited NGOs at the inaugural SERA conference in Perth in October 2012. SERA has since created a business plan and has begun seeking partners and funding. Later stages will seek the input of a broad range of practitioners. By November, they hope to have a draft available for discussion at the SERA conference in Noumea. IFFA’s Committee has agreed to assist promotion of this project and we have donated $3000. The project aligns with our purposes and a strategic planning objective to further professional standards in Victoria.

At best, principles and standards may be a source of accurate information, codes of conduct, shared values and a wellspring for innovation. At worst, principles may become dogma, enforcing the attitudes of an unrepresentative group and blocking emerging endeavours. It is up to us to make these Principles and Standards work for us and our vision for this land.

Contact me on president@iffa.org.au if you are interested in keeping in touch with developments or contributing in the future.

Find the outline for this project at http://www.iffa.org.au/IFFA-files/SERA_Standards_PRODUCT_OUTLINE_April_2014.pdf