Protective nature: Restoring ecosystems

15th April 2011


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  • Natural resources ,
  • Management ,
  • Resource extraction ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Biodiversity



The environmentalist reports on Lafarge's commitment to habitat restoration at its quarries

Most people would not draw an immediate parallel between a heavy industry, such as quarrying, and protecting rare and endangered species, such as the dingy skipper butterfly, badger and frog orchid.

In the past, quarries were typically worked and then abandoned, with no thought for the impact on the ecosystem this left in their wake. But modern planning regulations have boosted the protection of biodiversity much higher up the business agenda.

Lafarge, a quarrying and construction materials company employing 80,000 people around the globe, has long been committed to enhancing biodiversity and integrating its quarries into the natural environment to create habitats for various plant and animal species.

As far back as the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, there were many examples of Lafarge quarries and groups of naturalists forming joint initiatives, but these partnerships were localised and informal. For instance, the rehabilitation of Bamburi quarry in Kenya began in 1971, long before most industrialised countries had legislation on the issue.

This ad hoc approach started to change in the mid-1990s when Lafarge became the first industrial company to sign a contract with the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in France.

This partnership involved drawing up scientific inventories at Lafarge’s French sites, with total transparency, and working on rehabilitation projects. It also paved the way for setting up a coordinated redevelopment strategy applicable to all of the group’s 730 quarries in 70-plus countries.

In 2000, this culminated in a signed partnership agreement between Lafarge and WWF, another first between a multinational industrial company and a nongovernmental organisation involved in protecting the environment. This partnership, which remains in place today, has been instrumental in formalising Lafarge’s biodiversity approach.

The company is now the proud recipient of numerous external awards for its biodiversity work, with its commitment in this area being hailed as a beacon for other businesses.

As David Park, restoration manager at UK Lafarge Aggregates & Concrete, comments: “As a result of our collaboration we have developed a biodiversity management plan and innovative methods to redevelop our quarries – our partnership has set a precedent in the cement sector and in industry as a whole.”

Early start, long process

The rehabilitation of a quarry into a viable natural site is a lengthy programme – it takes years to make it a success and should therefore be started early, says Park.

Any planning application by Lafarge to extend a quarry includes the rehabilitation plan, which is in place well before any activity starts on-site. For particular sites in or close to sensitive areas that are home to a wide variety of plant or animal species, the timescale for rehabilitation can extend to many years.

Dry Rigg, Lafarge’s gritstone quarry in NorthYorkshire, is a case in point: this sensitive site is located in a national park and lies adjacent to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and its rehabilitation plan will run for 25 years post-closure. This is mainly due to the time it will take for the quarry void to fill with water. But the biodiversity work to create habitats and help wildlife at Dry Rigg have already been set in motion.

More than 25 species of bird now breed there, including the raven and locally threatened lapwing. More than a hundred pairs of sand martins are also regular breeders. Scarce dragonflies and butterflies can be seen on the restored fen area, which also houses a healthy population of rare great crested newts.

Lafarge always budgets for the work needed to rehabilitate a quarry at the outset, as part of its operating costs. This ensures that its redevelopment and biodiversity work is a built-in cost of the quarry’s operations, just like any other operating cost.

This is calculated by adding a certain number of pence to the cost of quarrying per tonne of material. The cost of rehabilitation varies enormously depending on the type of site.

Four-stage process

Lafarge’s collaboration with WWF has resulted in the development of a four-stage management system for the rehabilitation of its quarries: analysis, scheduling, action and review.

The first stage entails analysing the site and identifying its level of sensitivity; if the environment is deemed to be sensitive, the company incorporates a biodiversity management plan into the quarry’s operations and rehabilitation plan.

This biodiversity planning work builds on the environmental impact assessment that pays close attention to biodiversity at each stage of the quarry’s life, from extraction to rehabilitation.

A “biodiversity checklist” is used at the initial screening stage, covering areas such as:

  • biodiversity conservation – sites of ecological interest within a 2km radial area of the site such as an SSSI, or a World Heritage site, or one with a national, regional or site biodiversity action plan (sBAP) in place;
  • whether the site is located near to key ecosystems services/functions (eg stopover, feeding, breeding areas along migratory routes); and
  • whether the site is home to habitats that are providing local communities with a source of livelihood.

Following the stage-one analysis, a “site biodiversity fact sheet” is produced, providing a detailed breakdown of the biodiversity features of the quarry that provides the groundwork to prepare the site sBAP.

By the end of 2010, 97% of Lafarge’s sites worldwide had been screened, with just one new site yet to be analysed. Around 30, or 10%, of these active sites require a biodiversity action plan. The target is that, by the end of 2012, all 30 will have one in place.

Site biodiversity action plans An sBAP forms part of a quarry’s wider rehabilitation plan (which also deals with wider environmental issues).

“The action plan is used both as a statement of the current biodiversity interest in the site and what may be achieved in the future,” says Park. “This involves the appropriate management of existing biological resources and the development of future interest through habitat creation.”

The sBAP is structured around the identification of “broad habitats” and their relationship to “habitats of principal importance” (as defined in the National Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) 2006). So, for example, one broad habitat in one sBAP is described as “woodland”, which in this case links to two habitats of principal importance, lowland mixed deciduous woodland and wet woodland. In turn, the latter links to UK National Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitats, as well as to local ones.

The same process is carried out for the species already found on the site. For example, under “mammals” for the sBAP for Dry Rigg, the “species of principal importance”, according to NERC, are bats and the brown hare. The UK National Biodiversity Action Plan priority species is the brown hare, while the local ones (in this case Durham County’s) are bats, brown hare and badger.

As well as mammals, under “species” the plan takes into account birds, invertebrates and plants. In this way, Lafarge is trying to create habitats of both national and local importance.

The sBAP does not only take into account the biodiversity already present at the site, but the potential for creating new habitats and encouraging rare species that are not currently present. For each priority habitat, a brief description of the site is provided, followed by the consideration of targets, actions, implementation dates and potential partners. All four areas are reviewed on a five- to 10-year cycle.

Working in partnership

Lafarge works closely with specialists to expand its understanding of biodiversity and to realise its rehabilitation plans. These include international experts from WWF, and the company has also created two panels to provide a critical perspective of its sustainable development efforts, including an advisory panel on biodiversity. This panel was created in 2006 to develop Lafarge’s biodiversity strategy and to contribute ideas to improve and develop it.

Its membership is drawn from around the world and members are selected for their expertise in biodiversity, ranging from the preservation of fauna to the management of natural zones.

At a local level, Lafarge works with a wide range of national, regional and local conservation and wildlife groups, and interested parties, to help realise its biodiversity vision for the site, including Natural England, external specialists, local authorities and tenant farmers.

A redevelopment plan takes time to implement, which is why, internally, Lafarge is gradually incorporating biodiversity protection into its training programmes. It has tested pilot training courses in the subject and research is under way to identify relevant employees – such as quarry managers, excavation teams and geologists – and their specific needs. Globally, a vast internal awareness-raising and communications campaign was also launched for 2010, the UN International Year of Biodiversity.

Good for business?

The debate about the value of biodiversity and its link to continuing economic viability, including business success, is gaining recognition. It is an agenda that has long been a priority for Lafarge. Park agrees that, regardless of the environmental and business benefits biodiversity protection attract, its work in this area still represents a significant cost to the business.

And sometimes Lafarge’s strong commitment to biodiversity can be disruptive to the business on a practical level. In France, for example, employees noticed that two bird species, the bank swallow and the European bee-eater, were nesting in stockpiles of materials. These materials were cordoned off and, since then, some storage areas have been reserved for these colonies of migrating birds.

However , says Park, the costs and adaptations incurred by Lafarge’s biodiversity strategy are but another layer of complexity in an already complicated business environment. And the benefits cannot only be measured in individual company terms.

The role of the natural world and its impact on the economy and how we live is, says Lafarge, “priceless” and therefore well worth the company’s investment.

Biodiversity in action: examples of Lafarge’s global initiatives

North Wales – quarry rehabilitation in a maritime setting

Dinmor Park quarry, on the Isle of Anglesey, was mined until the early 1980s. Stone was shipped by sea and this required the construction of a large pier and other facilities that marred the natural beauty of the coastal scenery. Lafarge acquired the site and decided to restore it. As well as removing the pier, foreshore stabilisation systems were put in place to counter wave erosion. To off set the lack of topsoil, the quarry floor has been covered with crushed stone to promote the growth of new vegetation and a fish farm has been established to help stimulate the local economy.

Germany – protecting sand martins

At the Rahmstorf quarry, sand mining and nature conservation go hand in hand, says Lafarge. The objective is to preserve the nesting habitat of the sand martin, a rare species of swallow that comes to nest in the quarry every year. The first males return from tropical Africa in late April and begin to dig their cavities; the walls occupied by the birds are left intact until they leave in late July. Mining operations are not suspended but are carried out in other parts of the quarry, taking care to avoid disturbing the birds.

France – the creation of a wet meadow

The wet meadow is an increasingly rare ecosystem and plays a useful role in flood control, as well as supporting a wealth of biodiversity. In France, these ecosystems have been disappearing over the past few years due to the establishment of extensive agriculture. Lafarge undertook a €130,000 trial project, creating a wet meadow in La Bassée near Paris. Three hectares were established in 1996 and 1998 and, by 2001, the ecobalance confirmed the success of the project.

Morocco – producing olive oil in a rehabilitated quarry

Lafarge has replanted more than 70,000 trees in the Meknes region of Morocco, including 12,000 olive trees that have already experienced their first olive harvest. Lafarge in Morocco also aims to install an observatory and a quarry museum dedicated to geology and biodiversity.

Canada – the snapping turtle

Lafarge in Canada has diverted two waterways and recreated their occupants’ habitat at Brookfi eld cement plant. The project became a reality thanks to a strong partnership with Ducks Unlimited, experts in creating wildlife habitat. In all, 2.3 million tonnes of materials were moved for the diversion of the two brooks. Many ponds have been created that attract a wide range of species, some of which are very rare, including the great blue heron and the snapping turtle (so-called because of its bad temper).


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