What we've learned (and got wrong)

Like all pioneering projects, CANAPE has had a fair amount of “learning by doing”, or to put it another way, discovering things that definitely do not work. We do not want this learning to be lost, and would prefer people discover entirely new ways to get things wrong rather than repeating the errors that we have made. At the end of the project we have collected a list of these lessons

3 people gathered around a table covered in diagrams and paper.

Planning & Design

  • Listen to local people. The person who has worked in the area for their entire career knows where the water goes, where it comes from, and how it flows through the ground. They may not be able to explain why exactly it is 10cm lower than it should be according to the model, but they are probably right.
  • Stakeholder mapping needs to be carried out at an early stage of the project, to avoid missing people with a key interest in the project. Do not under estimate the power of a small group on social media if they feel cut out off a project that is going to impact them.
  • Obtain accurate estimates of soil removal before the start of the project, and aim to minimise this. In seeking to achieve “gold standard” growing locations led to more soil removal than was necessary. This reduced the carbon benefits of the project.
  • Estimate the “conversion” cost before the start of the project. In CANAPE, of the carbon savings made on an annual basis, there is an approximate 30% lost due to factors such as fuel use, topsoil removal, plant removal. This can vary a lot depending on the restoration method chosen - in the worst case this can be nearly 100%. 
  • Funding for project planning as proved a specific challenge. Funding timelines often require that a project be essentially ready to go “off the shelf”. In the CANAPE experience, developing a project from first concept, stakeholder engagement and then delivery is at least a 3 to 4-year experience. Conversations should be had with funders to emphasise the importance of supporting this preparation work. Funders should be aware that not funding this work will hamper delivery.


  • Following the release of Blue Planet II, the sustainability of material used on site has gained increased attention. Common methods that involve the use of plastic membranes may no longer be acceptable, even though measures can be made to ensure the plastic does not degrade and remains permanently in situ.

2 people, in Hi Vis vests, planting reeds.

Technical – Plants

  • Water control is very important to germination. In locations where the water could not be controlled, heavy winter flooding disrupted the germination of plants. This was both a case of unsuitable growing conditions, or the seeded material being washed away in particularly deep floods.
  • On sites where the water level could not be precisely controlled, pre-planted coir matts were found to be significantly more effective for establishing plants than using transplanted rhizomes and seed.
  • Where different plants are being germinated in separate compartments, it may be necessary to ensure that there is separate water control – attempts to germinate typha alongside phragmites proved challenging when individual compartments could not be drained.
  • Animal control is vital to the development of a healthy site, and it is worth assessing this and paying upfront for control measures. At one CANAPE site, deer and geese intrusions rapidly destroyed much of the planting, requiring costly replanting.

Technical - Water

  • Water supply & water control are the most crucial elements of paludiculture sites, and insufficient attention to this will cause the failure of a site.
  • In all CANAPE sites were an abstraction licence was required, the initial estimate was too low by a minimum of 50%.
  • The increasing climate uncertainty, such as the dry summers of 2022, means that relying on rainfall looks to be increasingly risky.
  • The most effective sites are those that had unrestricted water supply.
  • There are a lot of people who have tried to build paludiculture farms – seek them out and ask about their water usage!

Construction equipment on a lake.

 Construction methods

  • When working in a shallow lake, it is worthwhile pre-determining routes for vessels so that as small an area as possible is disturbed. Without this, you may find larger (temporary) losses of macrophytes than are desired.


  • Do not assume that the legal process will be simple. In much of Europe permitting processes around water and drainage are based on large scale agriculture, with an aim for drained soil with irrigation for watering crops. This system is often entirely unsuited for small scale rewetting, resulting in very extensive delays. 
  • Finding the right person to negotiate with stakeholders that have potential legal remedies is key. After a protracted dispute concerning one CANAPE site, the logjam was able to be resolved by bringing in a 3rd party with more experience of dealing with negotiations.


  • There are a lot of fish – citizen science based projects based around “catch and release” tagging can be an effective way to engage the public. However, if you only tag a few hundred fish and release them into a sprawling ecosystem with hundreds of thousands of fish, you are not going to get much data. In fact, we got 1 data point (+/- 1).
  • Equipment has more legs than you realise – it shouldn’t be possible to misplace a tracker attached to a pole hammered into the middle of a lake. It very much is however, so budget for replacements.