With continuous degradation of ecosystems combined with the recognition of human dependence on functioning ecosystems, global interest in ecological restoration (ER) has intensified. From being merely a nature conservation measure, it is today advanced as a way to improve ecosystem functions, mitigate biodiversity loss and climate change, as well as renew human–nature relationships.
However, ER is a contested and diversified term used in research, policy and practice. Substantive public funding is allocated towards this end worldwide, but little is known about its concrete purpose and coverage, as well as what decides its allocation. With inspiration from environmental funding literature we analyze the case of Sweden to provide the first national overview of public ER funding.
The understudied political context of ER is thus addressed but also regional variation in funding allocation. A database of all national government funding programs between 1995 and 2011 that included projects and sub-programs aiming at practical ER measures was created.
Results show that ER activities counted for 11% (130 million USD) of the total government nature conservation funding. Water environments were highly prioritized, which can be explained by economic and recreational motives behind ER. The ER funding was unevenly distributed geographically, not related to either environmental need or population size, but rather to regional administrative capacity.
It was also found to be small scale and short term, and hence part of a general trend of “project proliferation’’ of public administration which runs contrary to ecosystem based management. As ER is not yet a long-term investment in Sweden, commonly seen as an environmental lead state, we expect even less and more short-term ER funding in other countries.