As this rather tumultuous and unsettling year comes to a close, we’d like to look back on what 2020 has meant for the Ecosystem Restoration Camps movement. Although many of our camp experiences in the pipeline had to be postponed, we still managed to achieve some stunning things together.
Firstly, we grew from 7 camps in 2019 to 37 in 2020! This exponential growth is very exciting for us all. We are now working with such a large variety of camp partners who are each managed by dynamic, dedicated and delighted camp managers based in 26 countries across 6 continents. The first 15 were added at the start of this year, and the next 15 are being added to our website as we speak. We can’t wait to introduce them to you in the new year.
Many of the camps have come on leaps and bounds this year. Camp Altiplano has started earning revenue from selling courses and experiences, both at the camp and online. These courses have welcomed people from all over, people of all ages, who came to physically do something about the collapse of our ecosystems. One camper, a mother from Germany, said that she was at Camp Altiplano to show her child that all was not lost. That we have agency. That we can do something about the state of our planet. The camp also organized its first kids summer event, welcoming children from Madrid who were more used to sky scrapers and tick tock than ponds, frogs and apple trees. 4,000 trees were planted this year, with 8,000 planned for 2021.
Our second ever camp partner, Via Organica in Mexico, organised a special camp for mexican and international campers in February. Together they got to work with implementing a grand vision for semi arid middle mexico which involves creating an edible polyculture of native Mexican plants such as agave and mesquite, integrated with livestock holistically grazing in between. Many of the Mexican campers remarked about how much they loved the experience, especially of being part of a global movement. It highlights to them that what they’re doing is important for the world, that it is valued.
Another new camp that joined in January 2020 is Mundo Nuevo. Mundo Nuevo is a ecological hotel that is perched high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Colombia. Surrounded by lush tropical rainforest and villages of the Wiwa indigenous people, it’s a far cry from the dusty dry planes of southern Spain or central Mexico. This is a biosphere reserve, an incredibly important ecosystem in terms of its role in regulating the global climate. Yet there are patches of it that have been deforested for cattle grazing, and once it’s no longer used for this purpose, invasive elephant grass moves in and the forest can’t regenerate. This camp was really special because it welcomed 10 people to take part in regenerating these degraded patches. Guided by the indigenous villagers, the campers went into the forest, collected seeds and created tree nurseries to nurture food growing and natural tree and plant species. The elephant grass was removed and older trees that were grown before the camp were planted. As this is a tropical area, these trees are already 4 foot tall.
Other camps were planned for the rest of the year but due to covid, it wasn’t possible to invite international campers. Instead, camps focused on working with local people. Camp Mombasa Mangroves in Kenya has planted 15,690 mangroves this year with the help of 100 people, and Camp Contour Lines in Guatemala has planted 22,800 trees in 12 villages, boosting the livelihoods of 150 people, all whilst increasing biodiversity, biomass, carbon drawdown, and massively reducing erosion.
In May 2020 we launched the first round of the Ecosystem Restoration Design online course, which was a huge success. 147 people from around the world signed up to start their journey towards becoming ecosystem restoration designers. 25 new restoration projects have emerged from the course, with a team of people dedicated to making them happen. 1 of those projects is now an ecosystem restoration camp, and 4 of the camps used the course to create their restoration plans for their sites. The next round of the course starts on January 18th, and we’ve signed up 95 people out of a possible 200 places, with a number of fully paid scholarship places available.
The foundation itself has become more structured this year, with units for fundraising, communications, camp coordination, education and monitoring and evaluation. 4 new staff members have joined us (2 x fundraising, 1 x camp coordination and 1 x comms).
We developed and finalised a version of a monitoring and evaluation framework that is currently being rolled out to camps, as well as establishing a database of data collectors that will visit the camps to collect data according to this framework.
In Communications, our social media following has increased by 54% this year. We massively increased our video production for the movement, creating 60 new videos that were seen 262,425 times! In Feb 2020, we were featured in the Business Insider online publication which has a total readership of 140 million readers in 14 different countries.
We have also gotten much closer to setting up our infrastructure for supporting camps to learn from each other as well as from our network of restoration experts. The first way we are doing this is by organising intercamp sharing meetings once a month, where camps suggest topics to discuss and then those that have experience and ideas in these areas share with the group and ask each other questions.
The next step is to set up an ecosystem restoration help centre, with the help of the team at Zendesk and their software. The idea of the knowledge exchange platform is that camps, members and the general public can ask questions relating to the field of ecological restoration and regenerative agriculture and they will receive a response from an expert that will then be filled into a library that is searchable after the question has been asked.
Internally, we are getting more streamlined with how we communicate with the outside world and manage our contacts, thanks to the setting up and management of a CRM system.
In April, our first online symposium, called the Great Work of Our Time, was organised by Linda and Richard Gibbs from Woodshed Recording in Malibu. The event was a huge success, with 150 new people joining as members in 48 hours. We now have an online symposium team, with plans in the making to run symposiums quarterly on different topics related to restoration. The first will take place on Thursday 23rd January, giving a platform to visionaries within the movement who have roadmaps for how we can achieve the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration! Watch this space for that!
With more and more camps emerging in the USA, we’ve established a 501c3 (legal entity to receive donations). This means that US donors can receive a tax break on their donations.
In terms of money raised by the foundation for the movement, we raised € 365.725,74 from 1,030 donors, through memberships, one off donations large and small, donations from companies and one off inkind donations too. We did two crowdfunders that made it possible to bring 23,000 euros to Camp Contour Lines and Camp Paradise. Some of these funds were used by Camp Paradise to buy straw wattles to stop toxic run off from burned down buildings after the latest devastating wild fire. The local government has picked up this method and made using these wattles state policy across California.
We also developed some new major partnerships with different parts of the UN, including the United Nations Development Programme, the Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. We’re excited to be introducing the camps concept to these organisations, and to be working together for the next decade to implement the decade of ecosystem restoration together!
In October we welcomed another 15 camps into the movement, such as the analogue forestry camp in Sri Lanka, the camp in the Carolinas that is teaching woodland owners how to make a living from keeping the forests standing, a camp bioremediating a toxic industrial site in Belgium and much more! In total, all 37 camps this year have planted 345,043 plants in total, and rehabilitated 1,453 hectares of degraded land.
Next year is the kick off of the UN decade of restoration! We plan to continue to grow with the speed and scale needed to address the problem of ecosystem decline, collapse, and subsequent climate change, and we’re excited to do it together.