The story

The Mountain Trail Summit on 22nd November 2023 focused on the challenges of scaling the positive impact of landscape restoration. You can rewatch the session above or keep scrolling to read some of the main issues discussed.

Landscape restoration is a wicked problem. More than 2 billion hectares of land around the world is degraded and many communities are already gravely impacted. We require rapid transformation at a landscape scale to tackle the interlinked challenges of poverty, famine, the biodiversity crisis and to mitigate the accelerating impact of climate change. Diverse stakeholders need to come together to create radical and long-term solutions, that reimagine relationships to their landscapes. If we don’t act now, we might miss the opportunity to restore landscapes and protect communities.

Yet what does it take to scale holistic landscape restoration? And what does scaling even mean?

Landscape restoration activities – like digging ponds in the Baviaanskloof, South Africa – require catalyzing on-the-ground work at scale.

These questions and more were discussed in the recent Mountain Trail Summit: a three-month learning journey of Commonland’s landscape partners. Landscape leaders from the Netherlands, Australia, Spain and India are learning together to find out what scaling means and how to exchange lessons to support work in respective contexts. Seerp Wigboldus, Researcher at Wageningen University, and Adrian Röbke, Co-founder & Weaver at Indigenous and Modern, joined the leaders during the Mountain Trail Summit to present their own arguments and ideas around scaling.

Main challenges discussed:

Know what scaling means: Scaling is often used without being precise about what it means. That leads to the danger of oversimplifying complex transitions. Scaling is not neutral – scaling something means not scaling something else. In landscape restoration, maybe it’s also important to consider what needs scaling down, such as degrading practices. Next to this, remember that we don’t scale in a vacuum. We live in a constantly scaling world; once you start tugging on one thread, you’ll find it’s interconnected with many other elements. And who gets to make the decision of what is being scaled?

Quality vs Quantity: Landscape restoration requires working with networks of people across a large geographic area. It is necessary to grow the number of stakeholders interacting like farmers, conservationists, business entrepreneurs and local to the national government. Impactful change means meaningful relations that can be maintained over the long term. But how do organisations scale their impact through a growing network that maintains quality?

Overcoming systemic barriers to achieving large-scale change: Barriers to achieving change can include cultural beliefs as well as government and agricultural policy. A challenge for organisations is how to collaborate with a wide variety of stakeholders while overcoming these barriers.

Moving from individual to collective action: No single organisation can achieve holistic landscape restoration. So a challenge is scaling landscape restoration in partnership with others to encourage collective action that is honest, respectful and includes everyone in the conversation – while placing a focus on marginalized voices.

Scaling can mean working on width, depth and length: Scaling is complex and its design can be done across different measures. Imagine scaling measured across width to foster widespread influence while being rooted in depth to be culturally embedded and along the length to evolve over time and long-term persistence.

Keeping land clear under trees is a common practice in Southern Spain rooted in cultural belief. That belief often prevents many farmers from growing groundcover – a proven regenerative practice.

More learning material to come!

The Mountain Trail for the landscape leaders continues. Once the process is finished, there will be a series of stories that dive into the insights and wisdom generated through this learning journey. We hope that this provides useful learning content for your own restoration mission.

What does scaling mean in your landscape context? Do you have an example of successful scaling in landscape restoration? Share in the comments below.


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A new Dutch polder landscape


Netherlands (Utrecht)

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