Landscape scale restoration: who, and what, wins and loses

Landscape scale restoration is an increasingly important approach to conservation. It is understood as assisting the recovery of large tracts of land, particularly restoring ecosystem processes. At these scales, it inevitably involves a complex socio-ecological system, where there are lots of different human actors with different interests, and a complex and often unpredictable ecology. Inevitably, they are more complex, both ecologically and socially, and involve longer timescales, than smaller scale conservation approaches. This approach to conservation has increased in profile in recent years within the UK, particularly since the publication of the Lawton Report, and as reflected in the emergence of schemes such as Environmental Land Management and Nature Recovery Networks, and the emergence of discourses and practices around rewilding. We are seeing the first attempts to create landscape scale restoration projects, scaling up from the traditional UK conservation approach which may focus on an area less than 1 km2, to projects in excess of 500km2, in which the restoration of large scale ecological processes becomes a key strategy.


These projects are purported to be more ecologically effective, but there is little empirical evidence exploring this. In particular, there is little empirical evidence of what kinds of biodiversity might gain or lose out, as a result of a switch to this approach to conservation. Furthermore, whilst there is acknowledgement that there are multiple human stakeholders and competing land uses and interests within these landscapes, there is little understanding of the social and political dimensions of landscape scale conservation. In particularly there is little understanding of which parts of human society will gain or lose, and in what way, from landscape scale conservation.


This interdisciplinary research project would address this knowledge gap, and explore landscape scale conservation as a complex socio-ecological system, to understand the winners and losers from a move towards landscape scale restoration. It would draw on original empirical data from an existing case study, possibly the Wild Ingleborough project focused around the Ingleborough National Nature Reserve, and look to scale this up into an understanding of the broader impacts.

Here we would combine ecological assessments of ecological restoration, particularly around restricted or adjusted grazing regimes, with social assessments. For the ecological and environmental data, we would gather information ranging from vegetation diversity to changes in water and carbon storage. For the social impacts, we are interested in understanding not just who wins and loses, but how. For example, which ecosystem services increase or decrease, and how people’s ability to access them changes. We would use techniques such as visual q-method to explore these issues.


This project will allow the student to become actively engaged with ongoing landscape scale restoration projects in the UK and provide opportunities for networking and training. The Wild Ingleborough project is a partnership between the University of Leeds, Natural England, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust, WWF and the United Bank of Carbon. Results from this researchwill directly inform the design of an ongoing conservation project as well as helping to build a stronger evidence base to support policy for UK nature recovery and agricultural support and transitions


The project is co-supervised , providing support and supervision across the physical and social environmental sciences.