Restoring and learning: six months as Restoration Steward

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We, ecosystem restorers, face the challenges of time and money constraints to achieve our goal. At present, unfortunately, most restoration projects have funding for only one or two years. Few projects have a budget and an implementation plan for a decade or more, making it difficult to achieve sustainability.

The Restoration Stewards programme enabled us to continue our project in the north of the department of Tolima, Colombia. It aims to improve the habitat of two endangered endemic birds: the Yellow-headed brushfinch (Atlapetes flaviceps) and the Tolima dove (Leptotila conoveri).

How have we advanced our project in 2022?

This year, we returned to the places where, with a lot of effort, we planted trees between 2020 and 2021. We are happy to see how much they are growing!

Tree growth in a productive biological mini-corridor of the San Isidro farm, in the municipality of Murillo, Tolima, Colombia.

However, restoring an ecosystem goes beyond planting trees. One of the key activities carried out this year has been the monitoring and maintenance of the plantations. Among others, we weeded land, more than 3000 trees, and replanted over 1000 in the areas where they had been lost.

Maintenance and weeding of one of the project areas.
Plantation area of the project

As restoration is a constant learning process, we discovered that protecting and isolating an area from livestock takes more than a fence. Also, that economic benefits or incentives help to protect restored sites.

For instance, a farmer leased his land for cattle ranching on one of the project farms, which resulted in the lost of 2,000 trees that we had planted a year ago. Fortunately, we reached an agreement, replanted the trees  and repaired the fences that had been cut. 

Although at first I was frustrated with this situation, I understood that it is part of the process and that we must provide more options and benefits to farmers to ensure that what we plant will last over the years.

On the other hand, there are situations that we can’t fully control. A landslide in a planting area caused the loss of more than 500 trees. On reflection, we found that we may have failed by planting trees on a slope at risk of erosion. Today we know that bioengineering techniques could be applied in this area to ensure soil stabilisation before planting.

Landslide area where 500 trees had been planted.

Another of our activities in 2022 was to assess tree growth. For this, we used the protocol proposed by the Pacto pela Resturaçao da Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact), which is widely employed in forest restoration projects in Brazil and throughout Latin America. In a future blog post, we will share the results of this monitoring.

Monitoring in one of the areas under restoration.

In the first semester of the year, we also collaborated in the process of declaring Civil Society Natural Reserves. Eight of the project’s farms are currently undergoing this process with the National Natural Parks of Colombia. After this experience, we know that declaring a reserve requires patience, which is a slow process.

Participants interested in declaring Civil Society Natural Reserves

We are truly grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Restoration Stewards programme and to continue improving habitat in the mountains of northern Tolima.

Sergio Esteban Lozano Baez

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Supporting partners

Under the banner of Generation Restoration, the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) launched the Restoration Stewards program in 2020 to support and highlight the work of six young restoration practitioners and their teams, dubbed ‘Restoration Stewards’. The year-long program provides funding, mentorship, and training to deepen the impact of these projects.
In 2021, the Restoration Stewards and their teams will be supported to further develop their project and will become ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards will share their journey in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges. Locally, they will spark a restoration movement, creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for more sustainable landscapes.