The dictionary definition of restoration is, ‘the action of returning something to a former condition’. This in theory is pretty straight forward. For example, fixing up an old bike would involve cleaning it, replacing any broken parts and giving it a lick of paint. The idea of restoration seems paramount to society. It is courteous to return things the way we were given them. However, what happens when we are unsure how the object or thing looked like to start with? Here things get tricky. The environment poses us with this problem. There is no way to prove what we had to begin with, there are only scientific speculations and hypothesis but nothing set in stone. Hence, environmental restoration projects require a lot of thought.
This week we have been working in a stunningly beautiful area named Sellway Meadows, which historically and currently is being heavily utilized for grazing.
This has meant that the streams have been diverted for irrigation. As a result of this manipulation, the river system is different now to how it was before humans interfered. To restore the system, is it best to remove the grazing from the area completely and walk away or to yet again manipulate the channel flows? The former while sounding idealistic is not so simple. We cannot just move farmers off the land – it is their livelihood. A compromise could be made meaning farmers have to rotate their cattle limiting damage done to specific areas. Still we are left with the issue of how to restore the stream and surrounding vegetation. One option is to plant native species and change the stream channel geometry. This however, is financially expensive and may not work. It involves us further interfering instead of letting nature run its course. On the other hand, if natural processes will take thousands of years to occur maybe it is best to intervene and speed them along now. In addition, if processes are left to thrive by themselves where does that leave environmental consultants? Potentially jobless, no agency says; ‘lets just leave the stream alone’ because then they themselves will get no funding. Everything comes back to the central issue of money. There is no right answer in regards to restoration techniques. All projects seem to have some flaws.
Sellway Meadows is still my favorite place to work in. While the streams may not be as they should, to me they are picturesque and perfect.