Article

Ecological and Social Dimensions of Ecosystem Restoration in the Nordic Countries

Abstract and Figures

An international overview of the extent and type of ecological restoration can offer new perspectives for understanding, planning, and implementation. The Nordic countries, with a great range of natural conditions but historically similar social and political structures, provide an opportunity to compare restoration approaches and efforts across borders. The aim of this study was to explore variation in ecological restoration using the Nordic countries as an example. We used recent national assessments and expert evaluations of ecological restoration. Restoration efforts differed among countries: forest and peatland restoration was most common in Finland, freshwater restoration was most common in Sweden, restoration of natural heathlands and grasslands was most common in Iceland, restoration of natural and semi-cultural heathlands was most common in Norway, and restoration of cultural ecosystems, mainly abandoned agricultural land, was most common in Denmark. Ecological restoration currently does not occur on the Faroe Islands. Economic incentives influence ecological restoration and depend on laws and policies in each country. Our analyses suggest that habitat types determine the methods of ecological restoration, whereas socio-economic drivers are more important for the decisions concerning the timing and location of restoration. To improve the understanding, planning, and implementation of ecological restoration, we advocate increased cooperation and knowledge sharing across disciplines and among countries, both in the Nordic countries and internationally. An obvious advantage of such cooperation is that a wider range of experiences from different habitats and different socio-economic conditions becomes available and thus provides a more solid basis for developing practical solutions for restoration methods and policies.
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Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by the Resilience Alliance.
Hagen, D., K. Svavarsdottir, C. Nilsson, A. K. Tolvanen, K. Raulund-Rasmussen, Á. L. Aradóttir, A.
Fosaa, and G. Halldorsson. 2013. Ecological and social dimensions of ecosystem restoration in the Nordic
countries. Ecology and Society 18(4): 34. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-05891-180434
Synthesis, part of a Special Feature on Ecological Restoration in Northern Regions
Ecological and Social Dimensions of Ecosystem Restoration in the Nordic
Countries
Dagmar Hagen 1, Kristin Svavarsdottir 2, Christer Nilsson 3, Anne K. Tolvanen 4,5, Karsten Raulund-Rasmussen 6, Àsa L.
Aradòttir 7, Anna Maria Fosaa 8 and Gudmundur Halldorsson 2
ABSTRACT. An international overview of the extent and type of ecological restoration can offer new perspectives for
understanding, planning, and implementation. The Nordic countries, with a great range of natural conditions but historically
similar social and political structures, provide an opportunity to compare restoration approaches and efforts across borders. The
aim of this study was to explore variation in ecological restoration using the Nordic countries as an example. We used recent
national assessments and expert evaluations of ecological restoration. Restoration efforts differed among countries: forest and
peatland restoration was most common in Finland, freshwater restoration was most common in Sweden, restoration of natural
heathlands and grasslands was most common in Iceland, restoration of natural and semi-cultural heathlands was most common
in Norway, and restoration of cultural ecosystems, mainly abandoned agricultural land, was most common in Denmark. Ecological
restoration currently does not occur on the Faroe Islands. Economic incentives influence ecological restoration and depend on
laws and policies in each country. Our analyses suggest that habitat types determine the methods of ecological restoration,
whereas socio-economic drivers are more important for the decisions concerning the timing and location of restoration. To
improve the understanding, planning, and implementation of ecological restoration, we advocate increased cooperation and
knowledge sharing across disciplines and among countries, both in the Nordic countries and internationally. An obvious advantage
of such cooperation is that a wider range of experiences from different habitats and different socio-economic conditions becomes
available and thus provides a more solid basis for developing practical solutions for restoration methods and policies.
Key Words: economic incentives; habitats; land use pressure; northern Europe; regional scale; restoration efforts
INTRODUCTION
Ecological restoration has become an important practice for
counteracting ecosystem degradation, improving ecosystem
services and biodiversity, and mitigating global climate
change (e.g., MEA 2005, Bullock et al. 2011, Hobbs et al.
2011). Ecological restoration projects vary with regard to
objectives, designs, and stakeholders, and relate differently to
geographical, political, and historical factors. They also range
in scale, methods, and level of intervention (Hobbs and Cramer
2008). Ecological restoration can be motivated by a number
of factors, including a need for increased areas for fodder or
fuel, or for the provision of other ecosystem services, such as
clean water or climate change mitigation; for biodiversity
conservation; or simply for counteracting land degradation
(for example, Hobbs and Norton 1996, Clewell and Aronson
2006, Suding 2011). A number of financial and nonfinancial
mechanisms can also drive ecological restoration, including
financial incentives by national or regional governments (de
Groot et al. 2007), law and policies, and voluntary work by
locals or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (McGhee et
al. 2007).
The many and varied restoration projects that have been
undertaken during the last few decades provide an opportunity
to analyze how different geographical, political, historical, and
ecological factors influence ecological restoration and its
implementation. We present such an analysis, using the Nordic
countries as an example. The Nordic countries show many
similarities in terms of social, political, and historical
backgrounds. They provide a range of habitats with various
degrees of abandonment, land use pressure, and degradation,
which pose a variety of challenges to restoration. Furthermore,
the Nordic countries simultaneously provide several
ecosystem services that are important on an international scale,
such as carbon sequestration, recreation, and biodiversity.
A multidisciplinary network of scientists, practitioners,
policy-makers, and entrepreneurs was established in 2009 in
order to improve Nordic collaboration and compile an
overview of ongoing ecological restoration activities
(Halldórsson et al. 2012). The overview, together with
additional information from scientific publications, reports,
websites, and expert judgment, was used to analyze ecological
restoration in the Nordic countries in order to answer the
following questions: (1) Do ecological restoration efforts
reflect the level of degradation and land use pressure? (2) How
do restoration activities vary among habitats? (3) How do
drivers like policy, legislation, and economy influence
ecological restoration?
1Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, 2Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, 3Landscape Ecology Group, Department of Ecology and Environmental
Science, Umeå University, 4Finnish Forest Research Institute, Oulu Unit, 5Thule Institute, University of Oulu, 6Department of Geosciences and Natural
Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, 7Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Agricultural University of Iceland, 8Faroese Museum of Natural
History
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Fig. 1. The study area includes Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and
Sweden. The figure shows the distribution of the main vegetation zones illustrating the
variation in physical conditions within the region. Based on data from Tuhkanen (1987),
Moen (1999), and B. Traustason and T. H. Jónsson (unpublished data for Iceland).
We start by describing for each Nordic country the land use
conditions, together with historical and present ecological
restoration; we then discuss the similarities and dissimilarities
among countries, and finally, put our conclusions in a broader
perspective.
THE NORDIC COUNTRIES
Geography and land use history
The Nordic countries are located on the northern European
mainland and in the North Atlantic between 54° and 71° N
and 24° W and 30° E. Five countries (Denmark, Finland,
Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) and one associated territory
(Faroe Islands) were included in this study (Fig. 1), but we
refer to them all as countries. The Nordic countries cover
approximately 1.3 million km2 or about 13% of the land area
in Europe (Table 1), and include Europe’s northernmost
(Norway) and westernmost (Iceland) countries. All except
Denmark and the Faroe Islands reach the Arctic Circle. The
Nordic countries encompass a range of environmental
conditions. Five vegetation zones are present—arctic, alpine,
boreal, boreonemoral, and nemoral—of which, the boreal zone
is the largest (Fig. 1) (Tuhkanen 1987, Moen 1999). All
countries have undergone various degrees of ecosystem
degradation, such as deforestation, wetland drainage, river
channelization and fragmentation, overgrazing of heathland,
urbanization and construction works, and introduction of
exotic species (Halldórsson et al. 2012). They also share a
common history and have similar societal and cultural traits.
All countries are members of the Nordic Council; Denmark,
Finland, and Sweden belong to the European Union (EU); and
Iceland and Norway are part of the European Economic Area,
and ratify legislation similar to that of the EU in many fields,
including the environment.
Agriculture has influenced all countries for millennia, and
modern forestry has influenced most of them for centuries, but
the type and intensity of these land uses have changed in recent
decades. Traditional cultural landscapes, such as pastures,
rangelands, and streams used for timber floating have been
abandoned, and the associated ecosystems are changing
because of various successional and recovery processes
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Table 1. Geographic and land cover information for the six Nordic countries (see also Fig. 1). Definitions and descriptions of
the land cover types are not completely congruent in the different national statistics.
Denmark1Faroe2
Islands Finland3Iceland4Norway†5Sweden6
Area (km2) 43,094 1393 338,424 103,000 324,300 450,295
Population density 127 35 17 3 15 21
Highest altitude (meters above sea
level) 171 882 1324 2110 2469 2097
Land cover %
Forest 14 < 1 45 1 38 53
Wetland/peatland 5 1 26 6 6 9
Heath and natural grassland 3 78 4 31 46‡ 7
Freshwater system 2 1 10 2 7 9
Agricultural land 66 8 8 2 3 8
Built up land 10 5 1 3
Barren land 12 2 29 7 12
† Svalbard not included
1 http://www.dst.dk/
3 Finnish Statistical Yearbook of Forestry 2011
5 http://www.statkart.no/
‡ Including low-alpine heaths
2 Fosaa et al. 2006
4 Hallsdóttir et al. 2012
6 http://www.scb.se/statistik/_publikationer/
MI0803_2005A01_BR_MI03BR0801.pdf
(Olsson et al. 2000, Nilsson et al. 2005). Land use pressures
related to construction, road building, energy development,
tourism, and the mining industry are increasing and cause
stress on natural environments on small and large scales
(Nilsson et al. 2010). Alien species transform ecosystems,
including intentionally introduced species, e.g., in forestry
(Larsen 1995, Øyen 1999, Gederaas et al. 2012) and
reclamation (Magnusson 2010).
The Nordic countries have a long tradition of cooperation on
various environmental issues (e.g., Nordic Council of
Ministers 2008). They currently put an increasing emphasis
on restoring ecosystems affected by degradation. Although
ecological restoration activities in the region have increased
in recent decades, some efforts date back more than a century
(Magnússon 1997, Crofts 2011) but have, over time, been
described using various terms. Until recently, there has been
very limited cooperation on ecological restoration issues in
the region (Halldorsson et al. 2012).
Land use pressure and ecological restoration
Denmark
The potential vegetation in Denmark is mixed nemoral
deciduous forest dominated by beech (Fagus sylvatica).
Today, only a few minor forest remnants without intensive
management are left. Most forests are intensively managed
either by the use of non-native species, such as Norway spruce
(Picea abies) in even-aged monocultures, or as strongly
homogenized broad-leaved stands (Nord-Larsen et al. 2010).
Most of the land area is managed for agriculture, including
high livestock density and the intensive use of fertilizers and
pesticides, which results in severe eutrophication and pollution
of freshwater and shallow marine waters (Nørring and
Jørgensen 2009, Nielsen et al. 2012). Furthermore, ecosystems
such as riparian zones, shallow lakes, and wet meadows have
been drained, and streams and rivers have been channelized
to maximize land for agriculture.
Restoration activities in Denmark are related to both
abandoned agricultural land and forests, whereas the
rehabilitation of rivers and lakes frequently aims at mitigating
significant eutrophication and improving habitats for valued
biodiversity (Table 2) (Morsing et al. 2013). Forest restoration
includes setting aside natural forests without management, and
more frequently, conversion to more nature-friendly
management practices (Larsen 2012). The largest restoration
project in Denmark is the restoration of the Skjern River
(Pedersen et al. 2007). Its main purpose is to restore natural
nitrogen and phosphorous retention processes and wetland
habitats, and to stop ochre mobilization in the reclaimed
meadows. Restoration takes place mainly on public land, but
there are also large private-driven projects. Projects are
financed by the state, EU funds, and private funds (Table 3).
Faroe Islands
Intensive sheep grazing has changed ecosystems throughout
the Faroe Islands, and the risk of landslide hazards is increasing
(Fosaa and Simonsen 2011). Peat has played an important role
as fuel for the Faroese population, and peat harvesting has
changed the soil conditions and landscape locally.
Hydropower exploitation has also exerted pressure on the land
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Table 2. Summary of ecological restoration approaches in the Nordic countries after habitats. The table describes the current
best available knowledge and was compiled using national reports and databases, together with other published data.
Countries Forest Wetland/peatland Freshwater system Heathland/natural
grassland Cultural Key references
Denmark Intensive activities,
including set-aside
unmanaged forests and
conversion of
plantation to more
nature like structures;
also restoration of
formerly artificial
drained land
Intensive activities
restoring and
rehabilitating raised
bogs, meadows, and
riparian zones;
management by
controlled grazing in
order to avoid
overgrowing by trees
Rivers and lakes are
intensively restored
and managed for
conservation;
biomanipulation and P-
precipitation in lakes
are tools often used to
mitigate
eutrophication; rivers
are restored to re-
meander
Intensive
management of
cultural heathlands
in order to avoid
overgrowing and to
conserve
characteristic
habitats and species
Marginal lands,
often reclaimed
wetlands, are being
restored;
afforestation taking
place to protect
groundwater and for
recreational
purposes
Larsen and Nielsen
2007, Jeppesen et al.
2007, Baastrup-Petersen
2011, Kristensen et al.
2011
Finland Many large-scale
projects aiming at
returning the elements
of pristine forests
through disturbances,
which trigger natural
succession
Many large-scale
projects aiming at
returning peatland
processes and
vegetation succession
through raising the
water table
Hundreds of projects
varying in size aiming
at returning the biota
through manipulations
of stream structure and
improvement of
chemical conditions
Some single
projects aiming at
fixing deteriorated
sites and worn trails
in tourist areas
Hundreds of small
projects aiming at
keeping the
landscape open
through grazing and
mowing, which
prevents natural
succession
Raatikainen 2009,
Similä and Junninen
2011, Finnish Water
Restoration Strategy
Group 2012, Aapala et
al. 2013
Iceland One large and many
small projects aiming
at triggering
successional processes;
native birch and
willows are sometimes
planted in clusters for
establishing seed
source
Few small projects
aiming at restoring
wetland function and
structure by raising
the water table
Few small scattered
projects aiming at
returning the biota
through manipulation
of abiotic factors
Numerous projects
of various size
aiming at
accelerating and
manipulating
succession
None Aradottir and
Halldorsson 2011,
Aradottir et al. 2013
Norway No regular activity Some single projects,
often aiming at
restoring habitats for
birds or amphibians
Liming program and
other mitigation efforts
mostly aiming at
improving condition
for anadromous fish
A number of small
and a few larger
projects, mainly in
low-alpine heath
aiming at restoring a
plant cover in
severely disturbed
sites
Many management
initiatives on
abandoned land
aiming at keeping
the landscape open
by removing shrubs
and reintroduce
grazing and mowing
Moen 1999, Navrud
2001, Sverdrup-
Thygeson and Birkemoe
2009, Hagen and
Skrindo 2010
Sweden Scattered activities to
restore structural and
functional
heterogeneity; some
projects expand areas
of deciduous forest by
removing conifers to
support rare species
Many projects restore
drained wetlands by
blocking ditches and
restoring former
water tables
Numerous projects
return boulders to river
channels used for
timber floating; others
increase nutrient
retention to reduce
leakage
Many activities to
restore cultural
openness by
removing shrubs
and trees
Many small and at
least one large
project aimed at
restoring e.g., old
pastureland by
removing shrubs
and reintroduce
grazing and mowing
Lindborg and Eriksson
2004, Lilja et al. 2005,
Jansson et al. 2007,
Malson et al. 2008,
Gardeström et al. 2013
and on streams. Currently, no ecological restoration projects
are carried out in the Faroe Islands (Fosaa and Simonsen 2011).
Finland
Intensive forest management and energy production are the
main land use pressures creating needs for restoration in
Finland. Forestry has led to the fragmentation and
deterioration of forests and peatlands, and the destruction of
the most fertile peatlands. The lack of decomposing wood and
burned areas, resulting from forest management, threatens
forest biodiversity. In peatlands, draining and peat harvesting
cause the greatest risks to biodiversity (Rassi et al. 2010).
Freshwater systems are impacted mainly by hydroelectric
development and heavy nutrient runoff from construction,
forestry, and agricultural areas (Rassi et al. 2010).
Restoration efforts in Finland are directed principally at forests
and peatlands located in protected areas, and in overgrowing
cultural habitats either on protected or unprotected land with
valuable landscapes (Table 2). Restoration of freshwater
ecosystems is also active but can be problematic where
neighboring areas continue to cause nutrient loading.
Freshwater habitats are, however, usually not restored if this
compromises energy production. Most previously harvested
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Table 3. General outline of societal factors relevant to restoration activities in the Nordic countries, with focus on the main
elements within each factor. The Faroe Islands are not included because there is no current restoration activity. The table describes
the current best available knowledge and was compiled using national reports and databases, together with other published data.
Country Initiators/actors Main drivers Land tenure Economy
Denmark National authorities,
municipalities, private funds,
nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs)
National policy on nature protection,
including biodiversity, habitat, and water
framework directives
Mainly on state-owned land, but
also some large projects on private
land
Mixture of national,
European Union
(EU), and private
funds
Finland Both state and local authorities,
such as the Metsähallitus, and
NGOs
National policies on the environment
(forestry, water protection, pollution
control and control of non-native species).
EU Habitat Directive and EU Water
Framework Directive
Mainly on state-owned land Mixture of national
and EU funds
Iceland Soil Conservation Service,
energy companies, local
landowners, and NGOs
Extensive soil erosion and volcanic
activity; governmental policies, partly
stimulated by the United Nations
conventions on climate change and
biodiversity
Mixture of state-owned and
private land Mainly national
funds, but some from
industry (mainly
energy companies)
Norway State and local authorities, and
stakeholders within hydropower
and other infrastructure
development
Governmental policies, legacy like the
Nature Diversity Act, EU Water
Framework Directive
Mainly on state-owned land and
common properties, some small
scale projects on private land
National funds or the
industry (like energy
companies)
Sweden State and local authorities, such
as National Board of Forestry,
municipalities, and NGOs
National policies on the environment (on
forestry, water protection, pollution
control and control of non-native species);
EU Habitat Directive and EU Water
Framework Directive
Mainly on state-owned land Mixture of national
and EU funds
peatlands have not been restored but instead have been
afforested. Both state and local authorities are involved in
restoration, and EU LIFE funding is crucial for large-scale
projects (Table 3). The largest restoration project in Finland
currently is Boreal Peatland Life, and it aims at restoring nearly
43 km2 of various kinds of peatlands in 54 Natura 2000
protection areas around Finland.
Iceland
Agriculture, forestry, and infrastructure development are the
major land use pressures in Iceland. The onset of
anthropogenic influences following the settlement of Iceland
in the ninth century, combined with a harsh climate, volcanic
soils, and fragile ecosystems, led to catastrophic ecosystem
degradation and soil erosion, and the loss of more than 95%
of native birch woodlands (Aradottir and Arnalds 2001,
Arnalds et al. 2001, Gisladóttir et al. 2010). During the 20th
century, more than half of the natural wetlands in Iceland’s
lowland areas were drained for agricultural purposes
(Óskarsson 1998), and the woodland remnants were further
fragmented by the planting of exotic trees (Blöndal and
Gunnarsson 1999). Reservoirs associated with hydropower
plants have disturbed many catchments, and power lines are
widespread (Arnalds and Aradóttir 2011). Furthermore, the
use of invasive exotic species in revegetation activities and
forestry poses a risk to native ecosystems (Magnusson 2010).
Most restoration activities in Iceland involve revegetation of
eroded land, which most often results in the restoration of
grasslands, heathlands, or woodlands (Table 2). Some wetland
restoration occurs but is limited compared to the extensive
drainage of wetlands (Aradóttir and Halldórsson 2011). Most
ecological restoration has been initiated by state agencies,
especially the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, but energy
companies, local landowners, and NGOs have also been
important actors in restoration (Table 3). The current largest
ecological restoration project in Iceland is the Hekluskogar
project, which covers approximately 900 km2 (nearly 1% of
Iceland); it aims at restoring the native birch woodland and
shrubland around the volcano Mt. Hekla (Aradottir 2007).
Norway
Forestry and ecological changes in abandoned land are striking
land use features in Norway, but the loss of wilderness, and
land use conflicts related to hydropower and other
infrastructure developments are becoming more prominent
(Taugbøl et al. 2001, Bryn et al. 2013, Directorate for Nature
Management 2012, Statistics Norway 2012). Non-native
species are present in all habitats, and some of them have
negative effects on biodiversity, like modifying rare nature
types and suppressing native species (Gederaas et al. 2012).
Until the last two decades, reclamation activities in Norway
were restricted to practical measures such as seeding spoil
heaps and roadsides (Hagen and Skrindo 2010, Rydgren et al.
2011). There is, however, a growing interest in ecological
restoration in different habitats (Table 2), and close
cooperation between management authorities, public
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agencies, scientists, and practitioners is often the situation for
Norwegian restoration activities (Hagen and Skrindo 2010).
Most projects are small and not part of any larger policy or
strategic plan, but new legislation acknowledges the use of
ecological restoration in nature management (Table 3). The
current largest ecological restoration project in Norway is the
restoration of a mountain military training area (Martinsen and
Hagen 2010, Hagen and Evju 2013).
Sweden
The current main land use pressures in Sweden include
forestry, agriculture, and energy production. Restoration
efforts are directed primarily at ecosystems where prevailing
land use types have been abandoned, and to ecosystems where
current land use causes side effects that threaten other systems.
In the former category, major restoration efforts are directed
at free-flowing rivers that were previously channelized for
timber floating, at drained wetlands with poor wood
production, and at overgrowing pastures (Table 2). The second
category includes projects such as the Kävlinge River project,
where the river catchment has been filled with small retention
impoundments to reduce nutrient leakage into areas
downstream (Lindahl and Söderqvist 2004). In intensively
used systems, such as production forests and hydroelectric
rivers, restoration is restricted because of the difficulties in
combining production with restoration measures. Forest
landscapes include examples of restoration activities to
reintroduce functional and structural heterogeneity, in some
cases triggered by attempts to support populations of
threatened species, such as the White-backed Woodpecker
(Dendrocopos leucotos) (Roberge et al. 2008). In
hydroelectric rivers, facilitation of fish migration is a major
concern, although there are few real-world examples. The
restoration activities in Sweden are funded both by state and
private bodies, and EU funding has made it possible to also
accomplish very large projects (Table 3).
ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION AMONG
COUNTRIES
Land use pressure as a driver for ecological restoration
The large variation in environmental conditions among the
Nordic countries explains most of the differences in land use
history within the region, and contributes to differences in the
type and extent of restoration. Denmark has fertile soils and
the most favorable climate for agriculture, and its physical
geography is comparable with neighboring Central European
countries. On the other hand, Iceland’s harsh climate and
volcanism cause vulnerable ecological conditions that are
unique in Europe. The variation in population density is
concurrent with this geographic gradient, ranging from three
inhabitants per square kilometer in Iceland to 127 in Denmark
(Table 1).
In all countries, the main land use pressure is related to the
dominant habitats. Boreal forests dominate Finland and
Sweden, and the highest land use pressures in both countries
are related to forestry, which affects forests, peatlands, and
rivers. This is reflected in the ongoing restoration efforts in
Finland, where restoration of forests and peatlands is
emphasized. Streams and rivers and other freshwater systems
receive the most restoration efforts in Sweden, and this focus
relates to changes in the forestry industry, as the transition
from timber floating to timber transport by trucks made rivers
and streams that were not developed for hydropower available
for restoration (Nilsson et al. 2005). Heathland and grassland
are currently the dominant habitat types in Iceland, where most
of the forests have been destroyed. The highest land use
pressure comes from overgrazing, which, in combination with
geographic factors, has resulted in extensive deserted areas
(Arnalds et al. 2001). Thus, the efforts and scale of ecological
restoration of eroded land in Iceland have been larger than in
any other Nordic country, more in line with the scale and
strategies of restoration in the North American prairies and
the Australian grasslands (Prober et al. 2005, Mabry et al.
2010). Norway falls between the other countries, with a large
range of habitat types, intermediate land use pressures, and
emerging, but limited, restoration activity within most
habitats. Low population density and remote wilderness areas
have partly diminished land use pressure in Norway, although
technological and economic developments are currently
putting pressure on all habitats, thus increasing the need for
ecological restoration (Hagen and Skrindo 2010). In contrast,
all habitats in Denmark have a strong cultural component. This
is reflected in the restoration activities that focus on land
formerly used for agriculture (Table 2), which has much in
common with ongoing restoration activities in the
Netherlands, UK, and Germany (Madgwick and Jones 2002).
Restoration activities in some habitat types are limited despite
high land use pressures and degradation. For example, wetland
restoration has had low priority in Iceland, despite high
pressure on this habitat type in the latter part of the 20th century
(Halldórsson et al. 2011, Hallsdóttir et al. 2012). Likewise, no
restoration is carried out in heathland or grassland habitats in
the Faroe Islands, even though overgrazing is the most intense
land use pressure causing degradation of these habitats (Fosaa
and Simonsen 2011). This indicates that factors other than land
use pressure influence how much effort is put into restoration
in the Nordic countries.
Habitat restoration
Ecological restoration projects in the Nordic countries vary
both in context and activities due to variation in ecological
conditions, vegetation zones, ecosystem pressures, and
population densities. In spite of this, restoration activities
within specific habitats, such as forests and wetlands, are
relatively similar across the region (Table 2).
Forest restoration, independent of the pressure and the level
of forest destruction in different countries, appears to be done
with an aim of influencing the direction and speed of
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succession (sensu Walker and del Moral 2003). Commercial
forestry has degraded and fragmented the boreal forests in
Finland, Norway, and Sweden, but most of their structure and
dynamics might eventually recover, given enough time.
Restoration speeds up natural succession in terrestrial habitats
(e.g., Walker and del Moral 2009), and natural disturbances
in forests are imitated by using controlled fire, small clearings,
storm simulation, and tree damage, which trigger the
successional trajectories (Kuuluvainen et al. 2002). Planting
of introduced species has strongly influenced significant parts
of Denmark’s forest ecosystems (Larsen 2012), which has
made the reintroduction of native species, such as beech, an
essential restoration component. The same reasoning applies
to degraded woodlands in Iceland that are below the threshold
for natural recovery (Aradottir and Eysteinsson 2005). There,
birch (Betula pubescens) and native willows (e.g., Salix
phylicifolia and S. lanata) are reintroduced by planting or
seeding, preceded by reclamation for surface stabilization
when required (Aradottir and Eysteinsson 2005, Oskarsson et
al. 2006, Aradottir 2007), which promotes transition between
successional stages, and faster recovery.
Restoration of wetland and freshwater habitats is conducted
primarily by restoring the physical and chemical structure, and
allowing organisms to colonize later (Table 2). Wetland
restoration relies on recreating the hydrological regime in its
predisturbance state to aid the recovery of attributes such as
decomposition rate, peat reformation, and species
assemblages (e.g., Laine et al. 2011). The EU Water
Framework Directive, which pushes for good ecological and
chemical status in surface waters (Heiskanen et al. 2004),
makes restoration of abiotic conditions a primary task
(Jungwirth et al. 2002).
Strategies for restoring heathland and grassland vary among
countries more than for any other habitat. This variability can
partly be explained by the diverse environmental conditions
of heathland, which range from arctic-alpine heath vegetation
in northern and mountain areas of Norway, Sweden, and
Finland to lowland cultural heathland in Denmark and the west
coast of Norway. Seeding, planting, and fertilizing are used
to accelerate the succession of degraded heathland and
grassland communities in Finland, Norway, and Iceland
(Gretarsdóttir et al. 2004, Hagen and Evju 2013). In Norway,
there are examples of heathland restoration without the
addition of plants or seeds, such as the removal of roads and
other infrastructures, and the restoration of physical conditions
in the landscape (e.g., Martinsen and Hagen 2010).
Similarities in the environmental constraints and rates at which
certain habitat types can regenerate within these northern
habitats may explain why the same methods or techniques
were applied in certain habitats, regardless of country.
Alternative explanations could be that habitats have
historically been used in similar ways and thus provide
common challenges for restoration across countries, or that
only limited restoration tools are available for a given habitat.
Similarities within habitats, independent of country, indicate
that the restoration strategy is driven by the type of ecosystem
or habitat that is being restored.
Restoration of natural vs. cultural habitats
An important aspect that varies among the Nordic countries
is the proportion of “natural” vs. cultural habitats. While
Denmark has a large proportion of cultural habitats
characterized by intensive management, other areas,
especially the northern parts of Finland, Norway, and Sweden,
have extensive nearly pristine land. These circumstances
clearly affect the aim and design of ecological restoration.
Where the current land use pressure is low and habitats are
nearly natural, restoration can strive toward reaching a natural
state. In areas with a long cultural history, on the other hand,
such targets are usually unrealistic and not even considered.
Natural successional trajectories are generally not accepted in
cultural landscapes, and ecological restoration requires
continuous management to maintain their values. Thus,
restoration often has the objective of recreating former cultural
states that have desirable values. Such restoration often
requires continuous management to favor specific
biodiversity, as in the restoration of grasslands that are grazed
or scythed. In the Nordic countries, the most notable examples
are the Danish and Norwegian cultural heathlands, which are
maintained as a part of cultural heritage by regular
management, including burning, mowing, grazing, and
removal of colonizing trees (Webb 1998, Norderhaug and
Johansen 2011).
Policy, legislation, and economy behind ecological
restoration
Technological and economic developments have caused large
changes in societies and land use. Opportunities for ecological
restoration have arisen following the availability of previously
occupied land due to farmland abandonment or reduced
emphasis on traditional farming activities (e.g., Aradottir and
Eysteinsson 2005, Madsen et al. 2005), the halting of log
floating on rivers (Nilsson et al. 2005), the relocation of
military practice ranges (Hagen and Evju 2013), or other land
use changes.
The availability of land for ecological restoration seems to be
linked to economic development. This can be associated with
decreased profitability of former land use in an area, which
provides an opportunity for restoration to a more natural state
(Bossuyt et al. 2001) or creation of new habitat types (Milgrom
2008). Hydropower production has considerable economic
importance, and rivers used for this purpose are usually not
available for ecological restoration unless power stations are
in need of renovation or if permissions are terminated; in the
latter cases, even dam removal can be possible (Lejon et al.
2009, Jørgensen and Renöfält 2013). Similarly, large peatland
Ecology and Society 18(4): 34
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol18/iss4/art34/
areas were drained in Finland in order to produce timber, but
unsatisfactory results have generated discussions about
peatland restoration also outside of protected areas (Ministry
of Agriculture 2011). Even on heavily degraded land,
unsustainable use may be favored over ecological restoration
if important stakeholders regard the area as socially or
economically important, as is the case for many highland
commons of Iceland that are used for sheep grazing (Arnalds
and Barkarson 2003). The same applies to intensive
agriculture on marginal soils in Denmark, Finland, and
Sweden, where the profitability relies on subsidies from the
EU or the governmental subsidies for building timber roads
to access forestry in remote areas in Norway (Bruvoll et al.
2011). Various incentives, including monetary ones, are often
the most effective drivers of ecological restoration (de Groot
et al. 2007, McGhee et al. 2007).
Most of the Nordic countries have laws and policies that
encourage restoration, directly or indirectly, such as
governmental support to restore prioritized habitats in
Denmark http://2.naturerhverv.fvm.dk/natur-_og_miljoeprojekter.
aspx?ID=65019), the Swedish Environmental Objectives
(http://www.miljomal.nu/Global/24_las_mer/broschyrer/Swedens-
environmental-objectives.pdf), legislation on nature conservation
in Finland (Finland’s Nature Conservation Act 1996) and
Norway (Nature Diversity Act 2009), and legislation on soil
conservation in Iceland (Soil Conservation Act 1965).
Increased emphasis on ecological restoration in international
policies (e.g., Bullock et al. 2011) has influenced national
policies in the Nordic countries. In Denmark, Finland, and
Sweden, much restoration is made possible by the EU’s LIFE-
funded restoration projects. This accounts for the well-
organized forest and peatland restoration in Finland, while
freshwater restoration in the country has received less EU
LIFE funding and comprises numerous small-scale projects
that use different strategies (Table 2). In addition, management
in order to improve so-called favorable ecological condition
rather than strict ecological restoration is also important
(Morsing et al. 2013).
New incentives, such as the Aichi targets of the Convention
on Biological Diversity’s 2011–2020 strategic plan (http://
www.cbd.int/sp/), have the potential to affect national policy
and promote restoration activity in the coming years. Carbon
sequestration in soils and vegetation as a mitigation action
under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change has been one of the drivers of revegetation and
reforestation in Iceland since the late 1990s (Arnalds 2004).
Recently, it has also been shown to be a driver for wetland
restoration (Icelandic Ministry for the Environment 2007). On
the other hand, tree plantation programs aimed solely at carbon
sequestration may counteract restoration if they rely on exotic
species (cf. Lindenmayer et al. 2012). EU policies such as the
EU Habitat Directive and EU Water Framework Directive
have been drivers of ecological restoration in Denmark,
Finland, and Sweden through the LIFE program (e.g., Jones
et al. 2007, Silva et al. 2007, Gardeström et al. 2013, Morsing
et al. 2013). Norway and Iceland have not approved the EU
Habitat Directive and do not participate in the LIFE program,
but the EU Water Framework Directive has nevertheless
become a driver of river restoration in Norway (http://www.
vannportalen.no/).
Most restoration projects in the Nordic countries take place
on public and state-owned land (Table 3). Projects on private
land tend to be smaller (Aradóttir and Halldórsson 2011),
although there are examples of large restoration projects on
private land, like the Filsø restoration in Denmark (http://
www.avjf.dk/natur/filso/). Experiences from all the countries
indicate that landowners are strongly driven by monetary
incentives (METSO 2008, Aradóttir et al. 2013), but other
incentives, such as the provision of materials for carrying out
the restoration, education, and extension services, are also
important drivers (Arnalds 2004, Skarphéðinsson 2011).
Monetary incentives can, however, also counteract ecological
restoration if they fund actions that compete with ecological
restoration (Schuyt 2005). Examples include regional farm
afforestation projects in Iceland that emphasize timber
production with exotic species (Aradottir and Eysteinsson
2005), and seeding of alpine spoil heaps with commercial seed
mixtures in Norway and Sweden (Rydgren et al. 2011).
National and local authorities and agencies strongly influence
land use and development processes in all the Nordic
countries, and are therefore important actors in restoration.
Public presence in ecological restoration is also strong.
Farmers, who most often are private landowners, play an
important role in ecological restoration in Iceland through the
project “Farmers Heal the Land,” in which approximately 20%
of the nation’s sheep farmers participate (Arnalds 2005,
Pétursdóttir 2011). However, the farmers often focus on
ecosystem services, such as grazing, prevention of soil
erosion, or improved productivity. Private companies or
landowners might also promote their own projects based on
private involvement or special interests, which in this sense is
comparable with engagement from NGOs. As observed in
other regions, NGOs have a role in advocating restoration (for
example, McGhee et al. 2007), especially in wetlands and
freshwater habitats. In a recent example, NGOs bought
valuable nature areas in Denmark in order to protect and restore
nature values (http://www.danmarksnaturfond.dk/Default.
aspx?ID=3821). The involvement of NGOs seems to be
stronger in projects with a clear and engaging aim, like saving
birds or re-establishing bird habitats, and such projects are
often carried out in close cooperation with, or receive
monetary support from, public authorities (Martinsen and
Vedum 2010).
Ecology and Society 18(4): 34
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol18/iss4/art34/
THE BROADER PERSPECTIVE: AN
INTERNATIONAL APPROACH TO ECOLOGICAL
RESTORATION
With increasing anthropogenic pressures on the world’s
ecosystems, ecological restoration has become more
important than ever. In a recent review, Suding (2011) asks
whether the young discipline of restoration ecology is ready
for the era of restoration, and emphasizes the need for
evaluating the success of restoration projects. Our analysis
focused on achieving an overview of the extent, types, and
drivers of ecological restoration carried out in the Nordic
countries. We have not included an analysis of the outcomes,
i.e., successes and failures of restoration projects in the region;
however, such analysis is needed, and our study provides a
basis for it.
Our international approach offers new perspectives for
understanding, planning, and implementing ecological
restoration. We have found that differences among countries
in factors such as geography, land use, policy, legislation, and
economy have fostered differences in the extent and emphasis
of ecological restoration. In other words, these differences
determine if, when, and where to do restoration. One important
finding is that the funding of restoration projects by the EU
has given Denmark, Finland, and Sweden new opportunities
to increase the impact of restoration compared to the other
Nordic countries. LIFE-funded projects have often greater
than country-level impacts, as they are evaluated against EU
environmental policy objectives. EU-level evaluation
increases the quality of the projects, and since a significant
share of project funding has to be used for disseminating and
communicating project outcomes, experiences and good
practice spread over a wide area across and beyond the EU.
We have also found that, despite national differences,
restoration methods, or how restoration is done, can be
analogous, although not necessarily identical, at the habitat
level, irrespective of country. These results indicate a
combination of both local habitat-specific solutions and
international influences.
Many authors have emphasized the need for international
cooperation in ecological restoration (e.g., Beklioglu et al.
2007, Steffens 2008, Lü et al. 2011). Furthermore, links and
increasing communication between scientists across
disciplines and practitioners are needed (Eitzel et al. 2012).
To improve the regional development of ecological
restoration, we advocate for increased cooperation and
knowledge sharing across disciplines and among countries,
both in the Nordic countries and internationally. An obvious
advantage of such cooperation is that information and
experiences from a wider range of habitats become available
and thus provide a more solid basis for developing practical
solutions for restoration methods and policies. The level of
intervention required in restoration varies and depends on local
conditions and scale (Hobbs and Cramer 2008). At present,
handbooks and guidelines on best practice restoration methods
are prepared separately in each of the Nordic countries (Table
2). Joint elaboration of project designs and techniques, and
evaluation of restoration outcomes can provide understanding,
planning, and implementation of ecological restoration on
habitat level across borders.
Socio-economic experiences can also be shared. Cross-
comparison of similarities and differences within groups of
countries will most likely give new insight into processes and
mechanisms of relevance to different stages of policy-making
(Baker and Eckerberg 2013). Continuous discussion is needed
between scientists, decision-makers, and the general public,
on a national and international level, concerning the needs and
targets related to land use and restoration. Information on the
ecological, social, and economic impacts of land use and the
needs for habitat restoration can be used by decision-makers
when setting targets and objectives concerning ecological
restoration. Joint identification of restoration priorities will be
valuable, e.g., a Nordic agenda for ecological restoration
aimed at locating restoration efforts to habitats and regions
where they are most useful, in terms of ecological as well as
social aspects.
Responses to this article can be read online at:
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/issues/responses.
php/5891
Acknowledgments:
This paper is a product of a Nordic network “Restoration of
Damaged Ecosystems in the Nordic Countries (ReNo)” funded
by the Nordic Council of Ministers during 2009–2011. We
thank Kari Sivertsen, Norwegian Institute for Nature
Research, for drawing Figure 1, Scott Wilson for reading and
commenting on the manuscript, and an anonymous reviewer
for valuable comments on a previous version.
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... Bjarnason et al. 2008). Second, in contrast to other countries in the North Atlantic region (Petursdottir et al. 2013(Petursdottir et al. , 2017, there are no ecological restoration projects in the archipelago so that the appearance and benefits of ungrazed or less grazed outfields are virtually unknown (Hagen et al. 2013). However, our findings also indicate that if it becomes political opportune to regulate sheep numbers, there are certain areas where such regulation would be supported across the different narratives about sheep management in the Faroe Islands, e.g. the small Islands of Koltur, Nólsoy, and Mykines. ...
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... The other two had regional foci on the EU and NA. The studies on the developed countries centered more on peat restoration and management than the Indonesia literature, which also acknowledge efforts to avoid conversion of new peatland areas (Whitfield et al 2011, Hagen et al 2013, Mulyani and Jepson 2017. Regarding the coastal activities, one observation was in the same study on the EU that also mentioned peatland activities, while the other observation was on Sri Lanka. ...
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... Unfortunately, only a few EU member states have started developing ecological restoration strategies to postpone biodiversity decline and ecosystem degradation or evaluated the restored areas at the country level (e.g. Nordic countries, Hagen et al., 2013;Tolvanen and Aronson, 2016). In Hungary, according to the study of Török et al. (2019), in 2002-2016 1.06% to 5.29% of restored area was achieved regarding ecological restoration, depending on what we consider restorable land. ...
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The increasing number of deteriorating old dams that need renovation or have lost their function make dam removal a viable management option. There are at least four major reasons for dam removal: safety, law and policy, economy, and ecology. Here we discuss 17 Swedish dams that were recently considered for removal. Because dam removal usually causes controversy, dam removal initiatives may succeed, fail, or result in a compromise such as a bypass channel for migrating fish. We identify and discuss three major obstructions to dam removal: funding, cultural-historical values, and threatened species. To facilitate dam removal, the reasons for, and the effects of, dam removal must be carefully explained, and the public and stakeholders must be kept informed. In complicated cases in which compromise solutions may be the most feasible outcome, the integration of the knowledge of different stakeholders is crucial. The involvement of diverse stakeholders increases their willingness to find compromises, thus avoiding conflicts and failures.
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