Return of the Springs: Mapping the impact of landscape restoration

Return of the Springs
Mapping the impact of landscape restoration

Welcome to the Decade on Restoration

We are living in a time where urgent restoration initiatives are needed to save ecosystems and landscapes. The UN and FAO have coined this the Decade on Restoration.  But how do we know if our efforts are effective?

You know them. We know them. And we love them as much as anyone: lush green pictures labeled ‘After’ – right next to barren yellow pictures labeled ‘Before‘. Indeed it is important to show the effects of landscape restoration initiatives: planting trees, cleaning up beaches, creating rainwater harvesting structures.

But this is where the critical educated mind kicks in…. How do we know these pictures are taken in a similar season? Or even place? What about areas that are not shown in the picture? We love to be part of #GenerationRestoration. But also we want make sure that our restoration work has real impact. Let us show you how!

The Return of the Springs (mini-documentary)

Years ago, an international collaboration led by Wetlands International initiated an ambitious landscape restoration project in Ethiopia. Hundreds of hectares of eroded hillslopes were transformed using nature-based solutions together with local inhabitants, farmers, and organisations to halt soil and water loss from the area. Thousands of rocks were lifted and carefully placed to form half-moon shapes and countour barriers to capture soil sediments and rainwater, for bringing back life to these so-called badlands.

Curious for the results? So was project partner Acacia Water, who hired Cambisol for mapping the impact of this landscape restoration project. Because it’s easy to see the benefits of this work. But what were the most effective interventions? And what works less well? Check this video as a mini-documentary about what we did for the project:

Landscape restoration from a bird’s-eye view

Our drone footage provides a new perspective on landscape restoration. Drones allow a unique bird’s-eye view (although we’re not sure if the actual birds in the video are happy with the aerial competition…).

But what does this innovative technology really add? Everyone knows drones, whether as a fun toy or a nuisance during your holidays. To us, drones means much more than nice footage. Aerial imagery can be translated into an accurate 3D model capturing any detail of the project site, down to the exact placement of each single rock. This opens up a world of possible analysis for impact analysis; enough stuff to dedicate a PhD to. (Which, Cambisol analyst Anton Pijl actually did, making Cambisol academic-grade specialists in drone mapping and remote sensing).

Teun Vogel, Anton Pijl, Cambisol, sustainable land management, landscape restoration, UAV, drone, mapping, soil and water conservation, environmental consultancy, nature based solutions, duurzaam landgebruik, landschapsherstel, kaarten, bodem, duurzaam advies, bodem en waterbeheer, bos, natuur, forest, nature, aerial imagery, luchtfoto, drone services, drone pictures

What is the practical use? Drones allow us to create detailed maps of the restoration works: the half moons, the stone rows, the vegetation growth. Even the captured sediments (soil particles) are visible!

Visualising the invisible – powered by hydrological simulations

But our job does not stop at 3D terrain scanning. What we’re really interested in is: where does the water flow? And do the stone structures really capture soil sediments and rainwater?

In arid places such as this Ethiopian valley with few moments of intense rain per year, it’s challenging to capture the pathway of rainwater across the hillsides and down into the valley. But we have another tool up our sleeves for visualising the invisible: hydrological simulations. These academic-grade physical flow models are a powerful way of showing where water flows during rain storms. Check it out for yourself! 👇

Cambisol drone map: orthophoto Cambisol drone map: simulated water flow

While this is quite a cool gimmick on it’s own – it also serves an important purpose for project Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL). Simulations like this give unique insights in the effectiveness of soil and water conservation structures. Did you notice how some halfmoon structures better able to capture water runoff than others? The impact of stone walls to collect water is clearly visible too… and so are the weak points in the wall, responsible for the loss of water and sediments from the hillside.

This unique workflow of drone mapping, 3D modelling and water/erosion simulations is the core of our work. It allows us to give data-based advice and consultation for diverse projects related to sustainable land management, climate-smart farming, drought mitigation, and more.

#GenerationRestoration: let’s go with the flow?

We love to follow the flow, as will be clear from our mapping and simulation work above.

But do we also go with the flow of #GenerationRestoration, stunning Before vs. After pictures, and prime-time TV ads to ask donations for massive reforestation projects?

Yes, but not blindly. Landscapes and ecosystems have been deteriorated at an unprecedented scale, and now is the time to revert this. But: restoration efforts should always go hand-in-hand with impact assessment. Quantifications. Maps. Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL).

Pushing for impact quantification probably means we will find fewer one-fits-all solutions. Yet we believe it’s worth it – and moreover – it’s a condition for long-term viability. For future continuation of restoration effects, even after projects end.

Sticking to the example of Ethiopia above: water can be a blessing and a curse. Water regreens, and water erodes. It’s our vision at Cambisol to find balanced solutions that really help landscape and ecosystem restoration on the long term. Not just by implementing, but also by testing, evaluating, quantifying impacts, and optimising sustainable solutions.

Learning from reality is a big part of this evaluation process. And learning also allows sharing. Sharing best practices as well as methods with local professionals, to stimulate future efforts of restoration and monitoring worldwide. Read more about our vision on this at Restoring.Earth.

Teun Vogel, Anton Pijl, Cambisol, sustainable land management, landscape restoration, UAV, drone, mapping, soil and water conservation, environmental consultancy, nature based solutions, duurzaam landgebruik, landschapsherstel, kaarten, bodem, duurzaam advies, bodem en waterbeheer, logo
Cambisol have partnered up with Acacia Water on their Basin in Balance restoration project in Ethiopia, to bring drone mapping solutions

Picture below: yes, we’re Mad about Maps. Mapping is our work, but also our passion, our art.