The number of trees you plant does not matter

In ‘forest restoration’ and tree planting initiatives, there is often emphasis on the number of trees planted or to be planted. But it does not matter if 100 or one million trees are planted, if eventually none of them or only a small percentage survive. These numbers also do not help make a case for nature-based approaches if evidence on the benefits are not well documented and strategically communicated.

Tree planting can provide multiple benefits. These include improvement of air and soil quality, biodiversity enhancement, carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change, protection from rapid onset disasters and much more.

However any project has limits in the type and extent of benefits that it can generate particularly if implemented at small-scale and focusing on one ecosystem (versus a landscape approach).

More importantly, tree planting need to go beyond the allure of big numbers, photo op and PR moves. And actually provide some benefits for nature and people.

It all start with a good understanding of the main problem; a clear and realistic formulation of the main goal e.g. for biodiversity benefits or disaster risk reduction; the use of best practices; and that crucial ingredient of success: having and implementing a good monitoring and evaluation framework.

Planting hundreds, thousands and million of trees is good. But what is even better is having the numbers on the survival rates, enough information to determine causes of failure and the evidence that there are indeed benefits for human well-being.

When it come to nature-based initiatives, time and other resources are luxuries and best invested on well informed and evidence-based projects.

And despite the importance of nature and sound natural resource management as solutions for many global and more localized challenges, a case still need to be made for these. A case that is already lost without (locally-relevant) evidence that they provide net benefits.

Finally ‘restoration’ initiatives do not only need to demonstrate and communicate these benefits to the right stakeholders but they also need to do no harm, for example by avoiding the use of wrong species and/or not contribute to environmental injustices.

This is an introductory post to a five-part series covering restoration best practices, case studies and existing tools to successfully design, implement and monitor restoration projects with a focus on its applicability in Mauritius (SW Indian Ocean).

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