With an increasing emphasis on river restoration comes a need for new techniques and guidance. Despite the rapid increase in river restoration projects, little is known about the effectiveness of these restoration efforts. Restoration outcomes are often not fully evaluated in terms of success or reasons for success or failure. This report strived to meet this need by developing a protocol for benchmarking and setting specific and measurable targets for restoration and mitigation.
With an increasing emphasis on river restoration comes a need for new techniques and guidance. These are tools to assess stream and watershed condition, to identify factors degrading aquatic habitats, to select appropriate restoration actions, and to monitor and evaluate restoration actions at appropriate scales. Unfortunately, despite the rapid increase in river restoration projects, little is known about the effectiveness of these restoration efforts. Restoration outcomes are often not fully evaluated in terms of success or reasons for success or failure. This seems an anomaly if restoration measures are to be carried out in an efficient and cost effective manner. This report (REFORM Task 5.1) strives to meet this need by developing a protocol for benchmarking and setting specific and measurable targets for restoration and mitigation.
Specific objectives of the task were:
• Identify endpoints and benchmarks against which to measure performance - reviewed against reference conditions (from WP2), to determine appropriate targets for restoration activities.
• Use metadata analysis to quantify strategic endpoints (focussing on ecological indicators sensitive to the functional response of rivers) that are consistent with WFD objectives and can serve to evaluate the outcomes of restoration measures.
• Compare quantifiable indicators of end-points in project proposals against realised endpoints – SMART analysis.
• Establish a protocol to set realistic quantifiable endpoints for restoration projects that are socially acceptable, ecologically appropriate and economically feasible.
The task was broken down into three main components:
· Review of concepts to measure the success of river restoration
· Review of river restoration case studies to assess measures of success
· Development of river restoration planning protocol.
The review of concepts to measure the success of river restoration found that despite large economic investments in what has been called the “restoration economy”, many practitioners do not follow a systematic approach for planning restoration projects. As a result, many restoration efforts fail or fall short of their objectives, if objectives have been explicitly formulated. This often appears not to be the case. Some of the most common problems or reasons for failure include:
- Not addressing the root cause of habitat degradation
- Upstream processes or downstream barriers to connectivity and habitat degradation that affect ecosystem functioning
- Not establishing reference condition benchmarks and success evaluation endpoints against which to measure success
- Failure to get adequate support from public and private organizations
- No or an inconsistent approach for sequencing or prioritizing projects
- Poor or improper project design
- Inappropriate use of common restoration techniques because of lack of pre-planning (one size fits all)
- Inadequate monitoring or appraisal of restoration projects to determine project effectiveness
- Improper evaluation of project outcomes (real cost benefit analysis)
The second component explored case studies where procedures for measuring restoration success had been developed. The review specifically identified best practice and procedures for measuring performance and determining appropriate targets for restoration activities. One of the first steps is to establish benchmark conditions against which to target restoration measures. This requires i) assessment of catchment status and identifying restoration needs before selecting appropriate restoration actions to address those needs, ii) identifying a prioritization strategy and prioritizing actions, iii) developing a monitoring and evaluation programme, and iv) participation and fully consultation of stakeholders. The third topic requires that objectives of the restoration programme are established against which the success can be measured. These targets or endpoints of any restoration project should be specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely.
To support this process, REFORM has developed a protocol in WP 5.1 for restoration project planning that incorporates benchmarking and setting specific and measurable targets for restoration and mitigation measures. The restoration planning approach developed uses project management techniques to solve problems and produce a strategy for the execution of appropriate projects to meet specific environmental and social objectives. It provides knowledge of the technical policy and background to conflicts of multiple users of resources and develops a plan for comparison of status with objectives. Such restoration planning should become an integral part of the river basin management, and full consultation with all user groups is essential to promote optimal, sustainable use of the water body whilst meeting WFD targets.
In using this strategy it is important to recognise that each restoration scheme proposal should be treated individually as no situation is alike i.e. not ‘one size fits all’. It is therefore impossible to provide threshold criteria on which to make decisions. In addition, sufficient information should be provided to evaluate the overall risk of a scheme not having environmental, economic and social benefits that is commensurate with costs. The decision support tools allow the proposal to be evaluated at different levels and stages and will effectively curtail a proposal at an early stage should the proposal be potentially impractical or unviable.