Conformity of Biodiversity and Carbon Storage objectives in Ecological Restoration Projects

A Case of the "Tasmanian Midlands Restoration Programme"

Master's Thesis, 2016
47 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content


List of Acronyms

1. Introduction

2. Literature Review - Key concepts and Theory

3. Methodology

4. Results

5. Discussions and Conclusions

6. Limitations




Table of Tables

1. Interview Overview

2. Summary of Data Obtained from Interviews with Private Landholders

Table of Figures

1. Theoretical Model: Ecosystem Function Theory

2. Conceptual Model: Biodiversity Restoration

3. Geographic Location of Northern Midlands

4. Biodiversity Corridors in the Northern Midlands

Table of Appendices

Appendix A: Questionnaire Addressing Greening Australia

Appendix B: Questionnaire Addressing Project Partners

Appendix C: Questionnaire Addressing Private Landholders


Ecological restoration may pursue multiple objectives related to functions and services provided by ecosystems. To understand the different characteristics of restoration programmes prioritising carbon storage and biodiversity conservation this study analysed the case of the TMRP and interviewed 13 stakeholders including project management, partners and landholders. The results revealed that a number of requirements for the two different restoration types are complementary but some specific characteristics particularly related to the selection, composition and diversity of restoration plantings exist. The effectiveness of restoration depends highly on the commitment of the stakeholders and the study showed that there are different interests between larger landholders, who care more for the general environment, and smaller landholders, who are more concerned about the land´s productivity. Market-based instruments including carbon and biodiversity trading markets could be used to provide further incentives for all restoration stakeholders and enhance the effectiveness of restoration programmes.

List of Acronyms

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The Need for Ecological Restoration in Tasmania

Australia has lost about ~90 million ha of its original forest since the arrival of the first Europeans in 1788 (Bradshaw 2012). More than half of Tasmania´s landmass was covered by forest but disproportionate losses of temperate eucalypt woodlands reduced the forest cover to around 45 % (DPIPWE 2012; Wilkinson 2001; Yates & Hobbs 1997). In 1970 Tasmania introduced the National Parks and Wildlife Act, which was replaced by the Nature Conservation Act in 2002, and this helped that today most forest is reserved as World Heritage and National Parks.

Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) management plays a key role in view of storing carbon, conserving biodiversity and enhancing environmental resilience to climate change (DPAC 2013). Recently there have been incentives to encourage restoration activities in previously cleared areas to establish carbon sinks (Prior et al. 2015). Among these projects mixed-species restoration plantings are one of the most common planting approaches due to their additional benefits for biodiversity conservation. However, strategies to achieve deep cuts in carbon emissions while restoring ecosystems can lead to a ´ fork in the road´ because the objectives for carbon storage may not exactly align with the goals of biodiversity conservation. Depending on the objectives of restoration programmes, restoration programmes have specific requirements in terms of planting selection and land-use management practices.

Although most of Tasmania´s high wet vegetation is well protected, the biodiversity hotspot of the Northern Midlands with its low dry vegetation is in a state of decline. Less than 10 % of native vegetation and less than 3% of grasslands remain (EMR 2016). In 2012 the independent non-profit organisation Greening Australia, which is dedicated to restoring and conserving Australia's environment, initiated the largest restoration project in Tasmanian history, namely the ´Tasmanian Midlands Restoration Programme´ (TMRP). In face of climate change and increased commercial land use practices the revegetated land will re-create and restore the natural habitat for native wildlife and provide vegetation corridors and stepping stones for animal migrations (Greening Australia 2014).

The Tasmanian Government has introduced legislation which targets to reduce Australia´s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to at least 60 per cent below levels from 1990 by 2050 (DPAC 2011). The Midlands offer potential to store dense and long lived organic carbon stocks in soil and in living and dead biomass (May, Bulinski, Goodwin, & Macleod 2012). Therefore, carbon sequestration in the Midlands and subsequent carbon credit trading could offer some economic incentives for the state and for the landholders. The landholders agreed to cooperate with Greening Australia and the question appeared, what are the incentives for them to be voluntarily involved in restoration (Davidson 2016). The landholders´ decision may be influenced by different personal, social, cultural, and economic drivers and by the practices and policies of natural resource management and conservation agencies (Pannell et al., 2006; Jellinek et al. 2013).

Purpose of Research

The purpose of my dissertation was to identify and analyse the specific planting selection and land-use management characteristics for biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration restoration. Subsequently, I evaluated whether the TMRP´s primary objective of biodiversity conservation could be achieved complementary to carbon storage or if these goals are rather exclusive. For this purpose, I researched if the carbon storage financial incentives and Tasmania´s pressure to reduce their carbon emissions due to their government’s commitments influence the TMRP´s strategic design and thereby impede or underpin the biodiversity restoration objectives. Furthermore, I analysed the main drivers of landholders to participate in the restoration.

Research Questions:

1. Are Biodiversity conservation objectives complementary or exclusive to carbon storage objectives?

1.1. What are the specific characteristics in terms of planting selection and land-use management practices in:

- biodiversity conservation restoration programmes?
- carbon storage restoration programmes?

2. What is the ´Tasmanian Midlands Restoration Program´s´ potential to pursue biodiversity conservation goals while achieving also carbon storage objectives?

3. What are the main incentives for private landholders to participate in restoration activities?

2. Literature Review - Key concepts and Theory


Recently ecology literature focused on researching the role of biodiversity for maintaining functioning ecosystems. Definitions for biodiversity can be adopted from the United Nations´ (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1992, Article 2. Use of Terms) that “biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” Ecosystem functions are “the capacity of natural processes and components to provide goods and services that satisfy human needs, directly or indirectly” (de Groot 1992, p. 7); and ecosystem services are “conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfil human life” (Daily 1997, p. 3). In other words, services are “the set of ecosystem functions that are useful to humans” (Kremen 2005, p. 468). In this context, biodiversity belongs to the group of ecosystem functions where carbon sequestration is a service generated by functional ecosystems.

The Ecosystem Function Theory and Its Implication for Restoration

Zedler (2005) suggests the ecosystem function theory to evaluate if an individual restoration programme can achieve multiple goals by stimulating multiple ecosystem functions. The theory describes how stressors directly and indirectly impact ecosystem functions. In the indirect way stressors affect an ecosystem´s diversity and composition of species which in turn influence an ecosystem´s functioning (see Figure 1) (Srivastava & Vellend 2005). Multiple studies have drawn a clear link between the functioning of ecosystems and the level of species diversity (Hector et al. 2001, Naeem 2002; Srivastava & Vellend 2005; UNEP 2014). The higher the level of biodiversity the more efficient and effective functions the ecosystem (Zedler 2005). Thomson et al. (2012) not only refer to biodiversity but also distinguish between different vegetation habitats and they found evidence that grasslands have the highest correlation between biodiversity and ecosystem functions. However, Wardle (2002) states that the effects of biodiversity are limited to areas with low species richness. In respect of carbon storage, Paul et al. (2016) add to this point that, besides density and composition, the configuration of plantings in reforested areas, belt or block patterns, have a direct influence on biomass carbon accumulation (Paul et al. 2016). Therefore, the theory delineates that biodiversity is an important factor for stocks and fluxes of energy and materials and impacts directly carbon storage (Díaz et al. 2009; Wilson 1992; Hobbs & Harris 2001).

Figure 1: Theoretical Model: Ecosystem Function Theory

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Source: Srivastava & Vellend 2005

Most studies analysed the roles of biodiversity and carbon in forests and wetlands and despite the research of Coastal and Marine Union (2005) who investigated the carbon sequestration potential of grasslands, there is a lack of research focusing on arid vegetation (Fisher and Harris, 1999). Although, grasslands have generally lower levels of biomass than forests, appropriate management can increase the carbon stored in soil to approximately 133 t CO2 ha–1 (Coastal & Marine Union 2005, Fan et al 2008, Amundson 2001).

The Society for Ecological Restoration International (SER) (2004, p. 1) defines ecological restoration as “an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability.” Based on the conceptual frameworks of Hobbs & Norton (1996) and Palmer et al. (1997), Brudvig (2011) constructed a model for restoration of biodiversity. It describes how the regional species pool in restoration, discussed by Srivastava and Vellend (2005), is influenced by three intermediate factors: site level, e.g. biotic and abiotic conditions, landscape, e.g. inter-patch connectivity, and historical factors, e.g. land use legacies (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Conceptual Model: Biodiversity Restoration

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Source: Brudvig 2011

The three factors need to be scrutinised in the planning process for restoration when selecting the plantings and planning the management practices. As Srivastava and Vellend (2005) and Zedler (2005) highlighted, restoration projects may have multiple objectives. Therefore, it is important to recognise that the most direct impact of restoration is on the landscape factors and the site-level factors not directly addressed by restoration may have reciprocal influence on biodiversity and other ecosystem functions (Brudvig 2011).

Economic values can be assigned to ecosystem services regardless whether they can be marketed or not (Srivastava & Vellend 2005). The values depend on the importance perceived by humans for their well-being. Emission trading, the first mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, provides financial incentives to promote restoration aiming for carbon storage (UNFCCC 1998; Bradshaw et al. 2013). Bradshaw et al. (2013) found evidence that LULUCF aiming for carbon sequestration in Australia may have negative impacts on biodiversity outcomes besides a number of complimentary benefits. They analysed the following main ecosystem restoration practices: plantings, native regrowth, fire management, forestry, agricultural practices, and feral animal; and compared the characteristics of biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration restoration programmes (Bradshaw et al. 2013). However, as the Midlands´ vegetation appears to be low grasslands this study neglected forestry and regrowth practices.

Tasmania´s Restoration Related Legislation

The Midlands are one of Australia´s 15 biodiversity hotspots and the low dry vegetation, formally not protected, are an essential habitat for various endemic flora and fauna. More than 180 plants and animals including 32 nationally threatened species, are endangered because they have coincided with intensive agriculture for over 200 years (Davidson 2016, Tasmania Land Conservancy 2015).

In the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol Australia committed to reduce their GHG emissions by 5 – 25 % based on 2000 levels by 2020 (UNFCCC 2009). However, in 2012 Australia pledged to ratify the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol with a commitment to a ´soft´ target of reducing its annual GHG emissions between 2013 and 2020 to 99.5 % of 1990 base levels and 5 % below 2000 levels (Conversation 2015; UNFCCC 2014). Taking into account LULUCF activities according to the Kyoto protocol accounting rules, this target is equivalent to an increase in GHG emissions by 23 to 48 % above 1990 levels (Climate Action Tracker 2015). Australia has also still not ratified the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol which ends in 2020. In 2015 Australia announced its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) target to reduce its GHG emissions by 26 to 28 % based on 2005 levels by 2030 (UNFCCC 2015). Excluding LULUCF activities, this is equivalent to a range between 5 % below and 5 % above 1990 levels (Climate Action Tracker 2015). Australia was highly criticised for their pledge and under the current policies GHG emissions are projected to increase to more than 27 % above 2005 levels or around 61 % above 1990 levels by 2030 (Climate Action Tracker 2015). To address the gap between policy and GHG mitigation targets Australia pledged in 2015 additional funding for the post-2020 Direct Action Plan. These additional funds would limit the projected increase in GHG emissions to 2 % (Climate Action Tracker 2015). Another governmental initiative was the introduction of the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) under the ‘Clean Energy Future’ legislation in 2011 (Commonwealth of Australia 2011). However, these initiatives have proven inappropriate to close the gap between policies and GHG mitigation targets and can be rather perceived as being an act of goodwill (Climate Action Tracker 2015). These figures reveal Australia´s struggle to fulfil their commitments but they also show the importance of LULUCF activities which allow Australia to continue increasing its GHG emissions while officially under the Kyoto rules achieving lower GHG emission figures (Climate Action Tracker 2015).

The Tasmanian Midlands are of high relevance for LULUCF activities as they offer potential to store dense and long lived organic carbon stocks in soil and in living and dead biomass (May, Bulinski, Goodwin, & Macleod 2012). Therefore, there is public pressure for carbon sequestration in the Midlands and financial incentives for landholders could be generated through carbon trading. In this respect and relating to the ecosystem function theory, Luyssaert et al. (2008) state that the key challenge for ecological restoration and the TMRP is to resist the public pressure for LULUCF activities for GHG mitigation purposes and find a good balance between biodiversity conservation and economic objectives.

Incentives for Private Landholders

Iftekhar (2014) states that it is important for Tasmania, in order to implement effective biodiversity conservation incentive programmes, to understand the factors that influence the attributes of private land covenants. According to Pannell et al. (2006) the drivers for restoration for landholders include personal perception, restoration experiences and the ability to restore land while keeping the farming enterprise productive and profitable. It is necessary, therefore, to understand the landholders´ attitudes to the environment and restoration in particular. Restoration initiatives will only be successful if the landholders remain committed to actively participate in restoration activities (Morse et al. 2009; Polasky et al. 2011; Jellinek et al. 2013).

The most obvious incentive are financial rewards through carbon credits but restoration can also generate additional income through enhanced farm productivity (Jellinek et al. 2013). Other incentives include materials, e.g. fencing, labour, e.g. tree planting, educational, e.g. training courses, monitoring, e.g. weed controls, and environmental norms, e.g. obligation to protect the environment (Moon et al. 2012). Examples of direct environmental benefits are the provision of habitat for native animals, increased habitat connectivity, and increased farm aesthetics. Additionally, restoration may also protect livestock and crops by preventing spread of weeds and pests and therefore restoration activities could indirectly increase the land´s productivity (Jellinek et al. 2013; Moore and Renton, 2002; Pannell et al. 2006). Though restoration does not only yield positive effects, it may also cause some undesired outcomes. For instance, planting trees and shrubs may stimulate the growth of weeds, exotic grasses and feral animal populations instead of endemic grasses and native animals (Nichols et al. 2010; Arthur et al. 2010). It is important to inform the landholders about the potential impacts and to understand the landholders´ motivations, barriers and interests and integrate these into the restoration outline to improve the restoration´s effectiveness in the long-term (Januchowski-Hartley et al. 2012).

3. Methodology

The TMRP run by Greening Australia was used as a case study for this research. The project focuses on an area of about 6000 ha which is largely under private ownership of 11 farmers. As stipulated in environmental agreements between Greening Australia and the landholders, the latter are required to comply with specific requirements including the provision of land and exclusion of livestock from restoration areas. The agreements vary in their duration between 10 and 25 years and are based on the ´Forestry Rights Act´, where the farmer can own the land while a third party owns the trees (EMR 2016). The area has historically been associated with high level use for cultivation and fertilisation and the aboriginal land-use management practices go back around 40,000 years (Davidson 2016). Therefore, large proportions of the Midlands temperate grasslands and grassy woodlands are in a stable degraded state. Today the Midlands vegetation is far away from what it used to be. If there was no human modification to the land the literature suggests that the local vegetation would have been low grassland with few or no emergent woody species and the two main species would be silver tussock grass (poa labillardierei) and the kangaroo grass (themeda triandra) (DEE 2009).

As the TMRP is only in its fourth year and due to the special historic circumstances there is a lack of reliable and valid quantitative data, consequently this study will not involve a quantitative data analysis but a qualitative paradigm with a rather descriptive and interpretative approach.

Figure 3: Geographic Location of Northern Midlands

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Source: Northern Midlands No date

Data Collection Instrument and Survey Design

The two main data collection approaches were: 1) an extensive literature review to compare the specific characteristics of biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration restoration programmes; and 2) a survey to evaluate the Midlands potential to achieve multiple restoration objectives and to identify the landholders´ incentives for their participation in restoration. The survey was conducted in form of interviews with the main TMRP stakeholders. The projects´ stakeholders were classified into three categories: 1. project management, 2. landholders and 3. project partners.

Griffin and Hauser (1993) state that a minimum sample size of 20 to 30 interviews are necessary for qualitative studies to reveal 90-95 % of all views. However, in this case the pool of directly involved potential interviewees is limited to approximately 20 stakeholders and therefore the total number of 13 interviews was accepted (see Table 1).

Table 1: Interview Overview

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The first primary data pillar was the continuous exchange and an extensive interview with the two project managers from Greening Australia.

As Greening Australia identified all other main focal points at the partnering institutions and farming enterprises, a mix of non-probability purposive and convenience sampling was applied.

The second data pillar included interviews with landholders involved in the TMRP. Greening Australia asked the landholders for their permission and willingness to participate in this study and provided an agreement list of participating farmers to use as a sampling frame an. Unfortunately, only 7 landholders were available for the interviews. This private side was a very important data source, because landholders showed other interests than ultimate biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, this data helped to analyse the main reasons for landholders to engage in restoration.

The last pillar were the main partners, The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), Tasmania Land Conservancy, Natural Resource Management (NRM), Bush Heritage and the University of Tasmania (UTAS). Unfortunately, only one representative from Tasmania Land Conservancy and Bush Heritage and two PhD students from UTAS were available for the interviews.

The interviews were based on three different cross-sectional semi-structured questionnaires with open ended questions addressing the stakeholders from the three different levels (see Appendices A, B and C). Besides general and demographic questions the interviews covered themes related to the individuals´ attitude to restoration and the environment in general, drivers and incentives for participating in restoration, and the four land-use management practices from Bradshaw et al. (2013): planting selection, fire management, agriculture and feral animals. 70 % of all interviews were held face to face, but some stakeholders were not physically available and thus some data were collected through telephone interviews or email responses. All data were recorded and processed anonymously and subsequently transcribed.

The primary data from the interviews were complemented by observations and secondary.

Data analysis

The data were analysed in the following sequence annotating, description, classification and identifying relationships and evaluation.

The first step was annotating which already started during the data collection process. Striking observations and reflective remarks were recorded and recoded to fit the data set. This led to the next step of data categorisation which involved also data cleaning. The data were organised into more useful and manageable categories and non-usable information were cleared from the data set. For some variables a combination of questions was used for categorisation and interpretation. For example, the attitude to restoration and the environment in general was measured by a set of three questions concerning the participants´ values for environmental sustainability, the role of restoration in their long-term strategies and the need and purpose of restoration for the functioning of ecosystems in general.


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Conformity of Biodiversity and Carbon Storage objectives in Ecological Restoration Projects
A Case of the "Tasmanian Midlands Restoration Programme"
University of London  (SOAS)
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ISBN (Book)
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conformity, biodiversity, carbon, storage, ecological, restoration, projects, case, tasmanian, midlands, programme
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Felix Weber (Author), 2016, Conformity of Biodiversity and Carbon Storage objectives in Ecological Restoration Projects, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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