Restoration of boreal semi-natural grasslands in a complex floodplain landscape: social-ecological resilience at the farm level

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Solvita Rūsiņa, Ivo Vinogradovs , Anna Marija Fīrere, Baiba Strazdiņa, Madara Krūzmane , Marta Ancāne

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In the light of grassland restoration, a focal unit in a hierarchy of social-ecological systems (SES) is a farm comprising grasslands as an ecological subsystem and a household as a social subsystem. Despite the long tradition of grassland conservation, there is little evidence on farm level SES, especially in complex landscapes and across long time scales. Our objective was to evaluate the process and outcomes of semi-natural grassland restoration in a complex floodplain landscape over a period of 17 years in relation to a social-ecological resilience, and to identify the main challenges to achieve social-ecological resilience at the farm level. Study site is a livestock farm with 70 ha of pasture located in the Gauja River floodplain, Latvia. Restoration started in 2004 with establishing grazing with beef cattle, and continued in the LIFE project LIFE16NAT/LV/000262, 2017–2023. We used the framework developed by Krievins et al. (2018) based on seven principles for building resilience of SES by Bigg’s et al. (2012). We interviewed farm manager and analysed project materials. Ecosystem resilience was evaluated in terms of vegetation diversity. The principle ‘maintain diversity and redundancy’ was met after the initial continuous stocking system was transformed into adaptive stocking and a herd was transformed from intensive to extensive breed. Being a partner of long-term restoration initiatives the farm fulfilled principles ‘manage slow variables’  and ‘manage connectivity’. Four governance principles were challenging to evaluate, due to a lack of monitoring data on social subsystem. Floodplain moisture regime expressed in low pasture productivity and seasonal availability for pasturing was the main challenge for biodiversity management and sustainability of farm economics. The resilience of social subsystem was influenced by external factors such as frequently changing agri-environmental policy. The SES framework enabled an in-depth detection of the farm level social and ecological challenges for a long-term sustainable restoration of semi-natural grasslands in a complex floodplain landscape. It highlighted the need for farm-level social and economic aspects to be included in the monitoring frameworks of restoration projects. SES framework was instrumental in identifying the importance of farm-economics for viability of ecological benefits beyond the lifetime of the restoration project implementation.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program