What is LSER?

Definition of large-scale ecosystem restoration

A partnership approach to planning and delivering large-scale land management projects, which are focussed primarily on achieving significant restoration of natural ecosystem characteristics.

Principles of large-scale ecosystem restoration

Four principles have been developed to describe the key aspects of LSER:

  • Restoration

    Projects should undertake a significant extent and degree of restoration of natural ecosystems as part of an agreed, balanced package of ecosystem services and land uses.
  • Large-scale and long-term

    Projects should identify a long term vision and practice integrated planning and management across a large, contiguous area.
  • Engagement

    Projects should actively seek engagement and participation from a wide range of stakeholders in both planning and delivery.
  • Adaptive management

    Projects should adopt an adaptive approach to planning, governance, implementation and monitoring; responding to changing circumstances, new information and lessons learnt from other projects.

Note: The aim is not to replace site-scale management, but to complement it by using landscape-scale planning.

Criteria for LSER projects

The following criteria for LSER projects are proposed, aimed at identifying relevant projects:

  • Scale

    Projects are large-scale typically extending to between several hundred and several thousand hectares, and incorporating a range of habitats and land uses. The size of projects will be determined by their context – with upland projects typically being larger than those in lowland areas.
  • Landscape identity

    The project area has a coherent identity and is readily identifiable in the landscape. Environmental features, rather than ownership or political boundaries, delineate the area.
  • Approach to restoration

    Projects include a significant degree of restoration of natural ecosystem characteristics (structure, composition and functions). Projects do not unduly favour one type of ecosystem services over another.
  • Area of restoration

    Projects aim to achieve restoration across a significant proportion of the total project area; as a rough guide, say at least 30% in upland areas, or 10-15% or more in lowland areas.
  • Long-term vision

    Project activity should be developed under a long term (>50year) vision and plan.

In more detail


Restoration is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) as the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed with respect to its:

  • Health: functional processes, such as nutrient cycling;
  • Integrity: species composition and community structures;
  • Sustainability: durability and resilience.  

The focus in LSER is on these basic ecosystem characteristics – restoring complete suites of species will be important in some situations (e.g. some native woodlands) but less important in others (e.g. a network in Central Scotland). 

Restoration can be thought of as a spectrum embracing:

  • rehabilitation i.e. recovery of existing, but degraded, ecosystems (e.g. blocking drains in a wetland or bog, or reducing deer numbers in a native woodland).
  • restoration i.e. reinstating severely impaired or lost ecosystem, taking cues from the current ecosystem (e.g. expanding native woodland from a remnant population, or removing planted trees from a peatland).
  • reconstruction i.e. more speculative habitat and ecosystem creation, based on reference ecosystems elsewhere (e.g. planting native woodland in an entirely deforested catchment).

Restoration has often been thought of as returning an ecosystem to a former state, including all its habitats and species. This can be a valid rationale for projects, especially in semi-natural upland areas. But defining a past-natural state can be problematic, especially as the effects of climate change take hold. The best approach to restoration will often be to establish a trajectory for the management of the ecosystems concerned - rather than conceiving of a particular endpoint. There will be a range of likely outcomes in the future, and land managers can influence but not completely control what finally emerges in the long term.

Large scale and long term

Landscape-scale means the scale at which it is necessary to intervene to manage ecosystems – larger than site-scale but smaller than regional. At this scale it is possible capture whole ecosystems and all the critical processes that operate in them, e.g.  dynamics of wildlife populations, woodland disturbance and succession, plant dispersal and catchment hydrology etc. Long-term means that the project has a vision at least 50 years ahead. Management plans should include this long term vision, even although they normally focus on actions over shorter periods, typically of 5 -20 years.

Partnership and engagement

A partnership approach that engages owners, neighbours, agencies and local stakeholders is usually vital because landscape-scale projects inevitably affect local stakeholders and communities more than smaller projects do. Engaging local stakeholders can be critical to the success of projects. Projects sometimes also involve several neighbouring owners who are working in a coordinated way to deliver larger scale projects than any owner could individually. 

Adaptive management

Large-scale projects with multiple partners and long time horizons are complex to plan and manage, and things seldom turn out as originally predicted. It is important to practice adaptive management by responding to changing circumstances, new information and lessons learnt along the way.