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Manning, A. D., Lindenmayer, D. B., Fischer, J., 2006, Stretch goals and backcasting: approaches for overcoming barriers to large-scale ecological restoration, Restoration Ecology, 14:4, 487-492.

The destruction and transformation of ecosystems by humans threatens biodiversity, ecosystem function, and vital ecosystem services. Ecological repair of ecosystems will be a major challenge over the next century and beyond. Restoration efforts to date have frequently been ad hoc, and site- or situation-specific. Although such small-scale efforts are vitally important, without large-scale visions and coordination, it is unlikely that large, functioning ecosystems will ever be constructed by chance through the cumulative effects of small-scale projects. While the problems of human-induced environmental degradation and the need for a solution are widely recognised, these issues have rarely been addressed on a sufficiently large scale. There are numerous barriers which prevent large-scale ecological restoration projects from being proposed, initiated or carried through. Common barriers include the “shifting baseline syndrome”, the scale and complexity of restoration, the long-term and open-ended nature of restoration, funding challenges and pre-emptive constraint of vision. Two potentially useful tools which could help overcome these barriers are: stretch-goals and backcasting. Stretch goals are ambitious, long-term goals used to inspire creativity and innovation to achieve outcomes that currently seem impossible. Backcasting is a technique where a desired endpoint is visualized, and then a pathway to that endpoint worked out retrospectively. A case study from the Scottish Highlands (Trees for Life) is used to illustrate how stretch goals and backcasting could facilitate large-scale restoration. The combination of these approaches offers ways to evaluate and shape options for the future of ecosystems, rather than accepting that future ecosystems are victims of past and present political realities.

Read Greening Australia's review of this paper here.

Thinking big!
Based on the concepts in this paper, I recently had an article published in Mammal News specifically on the use of stretch goals and backcasting in the British Isles. The article is titled:

Manning, A. D., 2007, Thinking big! How can we overcome barriers to large-scale ecological restoration in the British Isles? Mammal News, 147, 8-9. PDF

The following is an excerpt from that article:

…imagine some ambitious vision for future landscapes of the British Isles. These future visions should be unconstrained. Based on your knowledge and interest in ecology and conservation, what would you like the varied landscapes of the British Isles to look like in the future? Each of us will, understandably, have different visions. For example, imagine the British Isles consisting of a mosaic of sustainable rural and urban landscapes and places where self regenerating “wild” ecosystems flourish from the treeline to the coast. Imagine landscapes where biodiversity is simply a by-product of good management and planning. Imagine landscapes where currently rare species thrive or re-colonize naturally, where common species stay common and where reintroduced species, like beaver, spread and flourish. Imagine a British Isles where resilient landscapes allow organisms to move and adapt in response to climate change. Imagine the development of a cultural appreciation of, and support for, maintaining these landscapes. Whatever our visions might be, the challenge is not the “what?”, the real challenge is the “how?”. How do we achieve ambitious large-scale restoration projects on the ground? There are considerable barriers to doing this. How can we overcome these barriers and achieve what currently seems impossible?



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