Role of History in Restoration Ecology amidst Rapid Environmental Change

By Vijaylakshmi Suman

Each place has a story to communicate, and ‘History’ does the needful. What I find interesting in history is that it gives an insight into the process of transformation which has shaped the present conditions. It plays a crucial role in the process of practising ecological restoration. The basic idea of ecological restoration is to return the state of an ecosystem to its former or in other words, to the past state. History is one of the significant elements in restoration projects as it is used to set goals and even parameters for success. It is important to know what existed before and how different factors affected the place. The composition of vegetation, soil, flow of water channels, or even the role of humans in that area is important to know, which gets known via the study of history. But the core idea of this article is not to state the importance of history, it is rather to question its role in present time.

With rapid global environmental changes, the role of history and historic reference conditions in ecological restoration has been repeatedly questioned. In the present scenario, human dominated areas have gone through drastic changes out of which few of them can’t be changed or revived to their original state.

Some of my previous articles have been linked to the Dheerpur Wetland Park. This project also needs to engage in this debate of historical reference, as live projects are best platform to validate theories. Historical data collection processes, conducted through archives and also by interviewing local people who lived for at least 50 years, stated that Dheerpur used to get flooded every year, thus marking the presence of wetlands. Gradually human settlement was increasing and it became important to control the flood issue. Burari barrage was then constructed for this purpose. However, if we are in the process of restoring a wetland, the most important part is to resolve the natural flow of water. But deconstruction of barrages to get natural flow of water is impractical. Thus, the role of history in ecological restoration becomes debatable.

Hourdequin (2016) mentions that rather than making a choice between traditional value for history and new approach which finds history irrelevant, it is advisable to understand significance of history in present time. In such a scenario, the idea of layered landscapes can be of use. Landscapes accumulate history of cultural and natural events which can be discovered in layers, and this can be understood as ‘layered landscape’. However, Hourdequin (2016) also suggests that in such a conflict an effort can be put to restore landscapes which would be suitable for the present time. Landscapes should be restored in a way which allows scope for change and continuity both.

So, it certainly raises questions if restoration practitioners at present time should just follow the pre-stated guidelines or should they modify them for particular situations. Also, if certain factors, like flow of water which is important in restoring a wetland cannot be re-established, how should one deal with it. Moreover, if such issues are resolved via man-made constructions, then should the resultant ecosystem be called natural or artificial.

Reference:

Houredequin, M. (2016). Ecological Restoration, Continuity, and Change. In Hourdequin, M. & Havlick. D.G. (Ed.), In Restoring Layered Landscape (pp. 13-33). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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