Assessment is probably the most crucial and lengthy component of Ecosystem Restoration. But as with every topic hereafter, it is very much depending on the scale and purpose of the project and the desires of the client.
Assessment and Analysis are executed with a range of tests and observations. Soil and water research, at times via laboratory testing. Climate and climate change, annual precipitation, local and area demographics, land-form and geology are taken into consideration. Inventory is made of buildings and infrastructure, hardscapes in general, existing or desired, patterns of access and circulation, agricultural water systems (rainwater catchment, irrigation, and ponds) and tools and existing resources. But also the evaluation of existing ecosystem types (vegetation and wildlife), zones of use and activity, sun/shade, useful micro-climates and soil fertility and management. Needles to say always keeping high regards towards aesthetics.
With an assessment, one is neither confined to a digital research trajectory nor bound solely to the grounds, but a fair share of both. In the best cases, one rises and lays with the sun, living the project for a number of days or weeks, again depending on the scale. In-depth interviews with the landowner(s) or caretaker(s) are indispensable. It is a shared process that requires patience and observation where awareness evolves mutually.
For regeneration of any land, water is a primary resource. It's presence or absence will decide the fate of life on the land. Water being such an essential natural resource, collecting all rainwater into our design is crucial. By observing the action of gravity and the physical properties of water. Since water finds its level, we have to deal with levels. We have to consider contours. Only then will we be able to arrest the flow of water and gather it at contours and hold it there as long as possible so that it percolates into the soils at various depths. Water thus harvested and stored in soils will be available for plant growth, annual crops, trees, shrubs etc. Equally important is increasing the organic matter in our soils, thus raising the water retention capacity of our soils.
"Just 1% of organic matter in soils can augment the water carrying
capacity by approximately. 17L"!
Depending on location and scale, Earthworks may be advisable. Implementing Swales, Trenches, Bunds, Gullies, Dams, Ponds, to name a few systems, potentially increase the water retention and storage capacity in tenfold. But can also arrest the erosion of fertile topsoils, create fire breaks and much more. Implementing water features in a design can also benefit many more complex ecosystems for habitat and plague control. With a global decline of aquifers and clean fresh water access, this is a design aspect to be taken very seriously.
History of the decline and fall of many past civilizations can be traced to the failure to maintain the fertility of soils. The fate of the present and future civilization also rests on this truth. For continued production and reproduction, the fertility of the soil is a pre-requisite.
Soil is a living biological ecosystem by itself, ever-changing (and capable of changing by our efforts), dynamic and teeming with micro- and macro-organisms.
It is the life, work, death and rebirth of these organisms that give fertility to soils.
And only by allowing nature's own cycles of growth and decay to continue can this life in the soils be restored, maintained and nurtured.
The main factors governing formations of soils are;
The mineralogical/geological origins and composition from parent rocks;
The prevailing climatic background;
The long chain of micro-& macro-organisms that inhabit the soils;
The cover of vegetation of the soils;
The last two being fully controllable by us and open for maximum intervention in a beneficial way.
"Without man, trees can exist. Without trees, man cannot exist"
The elemental and vast energies of sun, wind and rain that fall on the earth are so powerful and destructive that they have to be modified for creating conditions for life and growth. Trees are for the earth the only and ultimate moderators of these elemental incoming energies.
The interaction of plant life in general and trees in particular, in maintaining the life-supporting composition of the gases of our atmosphere is fairly well known. So too the moderating influence on temperatures. But also the provision of food, fuel, fodder, green manure, timber etc.
However, the role of trees and vegetation in general in the building and conservation of soils; recharging groundwater tables and their role in recycling water back to the atmosphere for the birth of moisture-bearing clouds to shed more rain in inland and arid regions are two important roles which need more of our attention. ( Take a look at Green The Sinai for an amazing example of this potential impact)
"Some mature and well-grown trees can transpire up to 5000 gallons
of water in a single summer day"!
By integrating a well-designed planting plan we can create many microclimates, capturing heat, blocking strong winds, controlling erosion, and harvesting condensation. By increasing microclimates, we can expand the diversity of crops, flora, fauna and functions, and with diversity comes resilience.
Looking at full ecosystems over time has led to increased understanding of the mutually beneficial relationships between plants, land, air, water and animals. We now know how to build and manage systems that allow animals to impart their benefits on the ecosystems they inhabit. On a larger scale, introducing grass-ruminants in a Silvopasture or Agroforestry system. But also in Orchards or rotational grazing of pastures can increase fertility, biodiversity, weed control, improve water retention in soils, and assist in pest management. On a smaller scale, poultry is a popular option. Adding a small flock of hens to a backyard, homestead or small farm brings myriad benefits, to build healthy soils in the vegetable beds and to scratch and eat weed seeds and insect larvae, breaking pest cycles and adding their high nitrogen manure to soils with an extra yield of meat or eggs. Fibre-bearing sheep, alpaca and llamas can provide similar benefits. Ducks can manage the floors of food forests by naturally processing the groundcover by mowing them and converting them to nutrients and thus speeding up the mineral cycle. They eat fallen fruit, pest eggs and larvae and control weeds. Also indispensable in the kitchen garden as they do not scratch and their ability to find and consume insects, especially snails and slugs is unparalleled.
The natural tendency of pigs to dig is used as an excellent land prep tool but you can also run them on pasture and groundcovers to graze them down, recycle nutrients and even food forest floor management. The pigs recycle a wide range of food and crop waste from the systems into dung and during fruit season run them under the food forests to consume fallen fruit and prevent fruit fly.
Developping your ability to integrate animals, from livestock to insects, into a complete regenerative design in ways that best utilise animal resources, and the yields from these properly managed animal systems will be countless – not to mention the animals themselves!
What differentiates and distinguishes regenerative design from other systems of agriculture is that it is a consciously designed system approach, in which we must intentionally design our cultivated systems based on laws governing Nature, only then can we be sustainable.
The changes needed are huge and go to the very foundations of our social system. The task of creating a just, humane and environmentally sound food system cannot be separated from the creation of a just and ecologically sound society.
The main considerations are;
To conserve our energies in the system (internal). To cope with energies entering the system (external) like Sun, Wind, Rain, etc. To suit climate, site, soils and topography, so that the systems do not degrade, deplete, pollute or destroy other natural resources. And in turn, the systems we construct can last as long as possible and need the least maintenance, and are self-managed. So that these systems, fuelled by the sun, should produce not only their own system needs but also the needs of the people creating or controlling them. thus sustain themselves and those who construct them and hence become sustainable systems.
The benefits are an increase in biodiversity, enrichment of soils, improvement of watersheds, and enhancing ecosystem services. Aiming to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, at the same time offering increased yields, and resilience to climate instability,
“"The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production,
even if on a small scale....." Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture