Ecological restoration success from community and agency perspectives: exploring the differences.
Ecological restoration is an integral part of conservation efforts worldwide. Projects are actioned at all stakeholder levels, with many projects claiming success. However, debate over what constitutes "success" in the context of ecological restoration is long-running. Local communities commonly collaborate with government agencies in restoration projects, with many taking on responsibilities for project management. This study surveyed restoration practitioners in New Zealand at both community and agency levels to explore perceptions of what constitutes restoration "success," and how this is measured. We found all stakeholders perceived their projects to be successful, although different perceptions of determinants and measures of success were evident. Agencies with ecological management responsibilities claim to follow systems-level attributes of success although monitoring is often limited to standards that are the easiest to measure. Community-based practitioners identify with gains in ecosystem structure, but their measurements of success tend to be of species-focused standards, possibly because of the ease by which such outcomes can be measured and, especially for New Zealand, focused by widespread publicity about threatened species and the impact of invasive species. Also, for long-running projects, perceptions of success may shift as ecological milestones are achieved. Although all restoration stakeholders aspire to universal outcomes of improved ecological status, for many community-based participants, social motivation, and rewards may be as important as their environmental stewardship intentions. We highlight the need to recognize the scientific and social duality of modern ecological restoration, particularly as community engagement is an explicit aspiration of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.