Ecosystem restoration, regeneration and rewilding. Which are the differences?


Valentina Lovat

30 Mar 2023

Sometimes terms like ecosystem restoration, rewilding, rehabilitation, repair, remediation and regeneration are used as synonyms. However, each of these words has a proper meaning and definition to know. Being able to properly use these terms and explain the features behind that processes can support us while taking decisions for preserving the ocean, its resources and its biodiversity.

Let’s start by saying that these words describes different nature restorative approaches, which are groups of various kind of interventions, such as actions, activities and treatments, aimed at reducing degradation or improving conditions for the partial or full recovery of ecosystems. These approaches can be different by kind of actions undertaken and final goal to be achieved. Let’s dive deep into the definitions to understand better the different processes.

1.Ecosystem restoration

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) define “ecosystem restoration” as the process of reversing the degradation of ecosystems to regain their ecological functionality, and to improve their productivity and capacity to meet the needs of society.
One example of ecosystem restoration is the creation of a protected area where there was an overexploited ecosystem. In this way, nature have the time to fluorish again.

2.Ecological restoration

It is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed to reflect its intrinsic values and to provide goods and services that people value. The aim is to return the ecosystem to the condition it would have been in if degradation had not occurred, accounting for anticipated change.


It is quite a new concept defined by the IUCN Rewilding Thematic Group as the process of rebuilding a natural ecosystem by restoring natural processes and the food-web at all trophic levels as a self-sustaining and resilient ecosystem using biota that would have been present if the disturbance not occurred.

The final goal is the restoration of functioning native ecosystems across a range of landscape scales.

4. Rehabilitation

It is a management action that aims to restore a level of ecosystem functioning in degraded sites. The goal of a rehabilitation project is the renewed and continued provision of ecosystem services rather than the biodiversity and integrity of a designated native reference ecosystem.

5. Environmental repair

Environmental repair collects any intentional activity, including mitigation, rehabilitation and ecological restoration, that improves ecosystem functionality, ecosystem services, or biodiversity.

6. Remediation

Any activity or process aimed at stopping, reducing or removing pollution and sources of degradation that are threatening the health of people or wildlife. Clean-up activites are examples of remediation actions.

7. Regeneration

Regeneration is usually used as a synonym for restoration, but it is slightly different as in its meaning it also considers design and economic approaches.
The origin of the term comes from the scientific and biological world, where “regeneration” is used to describe the ability of some organisms to recreate certain parts of their bodies after being damaged. This ability is called “regenerative capacity”.

Conservation and restoration efforts alone, even if crucial, are not enough. To halt and reverse biodiversity and habitat loss we need to transform the way we produce, use, and consume goods, products, food and services.

Economic activities can, and need to, actively participate and contribute to restore biodiversity. New economic models, such as the circular economy one, consider regeneration as a core pillar of the economic process and success.
Regeneration approaches use holistic thinking to create resilient, flourishing and equitable systems that respond to the needs of society while respecting and restoring the integrity of nature.

This video shows the IOC-UNESCO Save the Wave project to restore the Posidonia oceanica meadows in the Tremiti Islands in the Mediterranean Sea