In a previous post, I suggested how land degradation can be overcome by 10 simple and effective management practices. However, these steps are mostly to prevent further land degradation. What to do when faced with a piece of land that is already degraded? How is it restored to it’s past ecological prime?
For that, we look to restoration ecology. The process we follow in restoration degraded lands (or wastelands) is called land reclamation.
Objectives of land reclamation
The objectives of restoring degraded land is common to all restorative projects. They are-
- To increase biomass of the land.
- To bring back to high ecological productivity and balance.
- To be of economic use to the communities surrounding the area.
All restoration projects follow certain guidelines, which I have enlisted in Restoring a degraded site: Process to follow. Along these guidelines, we take the following steps to restore degraded lands…
- We should keep in mind short-term and long-term goals of the project. The short-term goals are to ensure fast revival of the degraded ecosystem and the ability to support local communities. Long-term goals are to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. These factors are taken into consideration while creating a reference system.
- The site should also be connected with appropriate drainage systems to ensure that the area can support the restored ecosystem. This drainage system is artificial, although it should be created to mimic natural drainages. Check dams, dug-channels can be used to redirect water from a nearby source. Ponds can also be created to improve the groundwater condition of the area.
- If the soil is depleted in certain nutrients, those nutrients should be added in the initial stages of restoration. A detailed analysis of the environmental characteristics is done during “identification of project site” in this regard.
- A major problem with degraded lands is soil salinity and alkalinity. Salinity can be combated by properly draining the soil before plantation of seeds. Alkalinity is combated by adding components that can neutralize the bases and create salts (this of course, would increase salinity. This can be removed via proper drainage).
- Organic matter needs to be added to stimulate microbial activity.
- After the soil is ready to be planted, appropriate species that are present locally should be selected. Some of the characteristics of the plants chosen should include-
1. They should be native to the area.
2. Good rooting ability.
3. High reproductive fertility.
4. Good regeneration.
5. Enhances soil nutrient content.
6. Meets local requirements of food and fodder.
- Exotic species must be avoided as far as possible, and should only be used when native species cannot thrive in the local ecosystem. This information can be gleaned from studying the “ecological history of the area”.
- Species recommended in India for restoration of degraded land are Acacia catechu, Acacia concinna, Cordia myxa, Mangifera indica, Terminalia chebula, among others.
- It is extremely important to use the assistance and knowledge of local people. The biggest objective of a restoration project is to uplift the economic conditions of the local communities by helping them maintain their ecosystems.
- The final step to restoration is long term monitoring of the area. This is because natural variations in the ecosystem generated will certainly occur. It is possible that these natural variations will take the ecosystem in a direction different from what is to be taken to ensure our climax community is the reference ecosystem we created. Ecologists monitoring the area should assess the species composition, diversity and other characteristics if such a deviation is taking place. They should also assess if this deviation is better or worse than our reference ecosystem. Accordingly, remedial action must be taken. This is why restoration ecology is considered an experimental science.
And this, my readers, brings us to end of the land degradation series of this blog. I hope I have covered everything of importance. Do explore the other posts under this topic (click on the link). I’m sure you will find them useful. If you feel I have left out particular topics, do comment so I can add that to this series.