Ecosystem restoration has emerged as an important approach to safe-guarding biodiversity. In Scotland, the government is committed to restoring the natural woodland ecosystem of mountain areas and gives payments to landowners for establishing new woodlands. Although the aim of the policy is to restore a natural woodland ecosystem, the rate of payment available is correlated with the costs of establishment rather than the contribution new woodlands make to restoring the natural ecosystem. In this study, the cost-effectiveness of government expenditure is investigated by comparing the cost of grant aid with the ecosystem restoration potential of new woodlands. An expert-based system for scoring ecosystem restoration potential is described and applied to over 200 new woodlands in a Geographic Information System. New woodlands varied considerably with respect to both cost and ecosystem restoration score, with the most cost-effective woodlands established close to existing woodlands using natural colonisation techniques. Overall ecosystem score was negatively correlated with government expenditure. Alternative approaches to improving the cost-effectiveness of grant aid are discussed
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