Quarry rehabilitation re-frames nature
By Gretchen Lyons, Manager of Conservation Communications at WWF International.
A restoration project for the Matasaru-Fusea quarry has brought together building materials company Lafarge with WWF Romania to find a way to maintain ecosystems and help nature find its way.
In 2011–2012, more than 500 local schoolchildren toured the Matasaru-Fusea quarry.
“In Romania, people think they have to go to the Danube Delta to see birds. They are so surprised to see the same birds in their own place”, says Andreia Petcu, Environment & Rehabilitation Manager, Lafarge-Romania.
You can almost forget you’re in a quarry. Yes, from a certain vantage you can see piles of sand. And over there is a grading machine at work. But there’s a butterfly, and a heron. There’s a man fishing for his supper. This isn’t an ordinary quarry.
In the 1980s this site, located on the floodplains of the Arges River, was the biggest sand and gravel operation in Romania, providing materials for what is now the Romanian Parliament building (People’s House), the second-largest building in the world after the Pentagon. Rehabilitation work on the quarry started in 2009 on the first section; the company plans to replicate this pattern of quarry and nature restoration, section by section over several decades.
Lafarge has worked with WWF Romania on the restoration – just one activity within a global partnership that began in 2000 between the construction materials company and the conservation organisation.
Working for nature and societyThe first goal of the rehabilitation was to improve water quality, which in turn created more attractive habitats and nesting areas for birds, fish, frogs and other native species. The second goal was to educate surrounding communities and generate enthusiasm for the natural beauty and biodiversity in their midst.
Enhancing the social value of the landscapeA Bucharest-based landscape architecture team was asked to create installations and objects to enhance the restored site’s appeal. Architect Ioana Tudora described their work during a recent tour of Matasaru-Fusea:
“As a landscape architect instead of an ecologist, I have a different perspective. Sometimes, while quarrying, you create absolutely gorgeous landscapes – even more beautiful than before. A quarry can be a plus because it exposes geological strata and structure, often showing astonishing beauty that we don’t want to cover again in the rehabilitation process. Reconstructing what was, might not be the best solution if it means destroying something new that has come into being. It takes a lot of consideration.
“Our aim here was to enhance the social value of the landscape. We want to show it in an understandable and relevant way.
“People work here. You can’t chase people and villages away to put nature in their place – it doesn’t work like that. People need to live with an ecosystem if they are going to respect it. I discussed with WWF both the ecological and social perspectives. We acknowledged and agreed that this is an active area. The site is crossed by a main road; it won’t be wilderness.
“These objects are here to invite people, to welcome people, to make them part of the site. Because if they respect it, they will protect it.
“Originally, everyone thought we must do something rustic, made of wood; you know wood is considered the ‘ecological’ construction material. But it doesn’t fit this situation. It would totally disappear in the landscape. I said, concrete won’t harm the landscape. It’s stone, part of nature, and it’s made right here. So we tried to do something ecological out of concrete, and worked on different concrete options with Lafarge to create the installations.
“Lafarge really cares about rehabilitation of nature. Others plant a tree and think they can call it ‘nature restoration’. Lafarge wanted to create a landscape that worked for nature, yes, but for people, too.”
“The history of landscapes begins with painting; the idea was to frame nature. So, if it’s not human, it’s not a landscape. Someone has to look. Foxes and wolves aren’t seeing beauty – they’re too pragmatic.
“Landscapes should touch diverse audiences. We all live in landscapes every day, we just don’t see them. We look at landscapes during our holidays – only then we take the time to admire. But our daily environments, whether urban or rural, can be admired every day. An attractive environment invites contemplation; that’s a social service today, to take that quiet moment and just contemplate things.”
The value of restoration for businessJim Rushworth, Lafarge VP Environment and Public Affairs, Quarries, Aggregates & Concrete, talks about why quarry restoration makes business sense:
“The projects we support aim to help communities, whether it’s through education, providing employment, using local services or turning a quarry into a place of beauty for recreation.
“The business value is that, for the majority of our operations we need water in addition to raw materials. Any operation near a watercourse must be managed correctly to avoid negative impacts on the ecosystem or surrounding communities. A comprehensive restoration project does more than mitigate harm, it adds value.
“The good thing about restoring a sand and gravel pit or a quarry is that quite often it doesn’t require a significant amount of money. By working with an NGO that understands the local biodiversity, you can create significant improvements just using the equipment on site.
“It also really boosts the morale of the people at the quarry, because they can see that the area that was extracted has now become a beautiful place, with forests or wetlands. As we get more examples of what can be done and the benefits it creates, I believe Lafarge can encourage greater interest in the environment within our industry.
“When industry, NGOs and governments come together, you quite often find that the goals are aligned. Industry can provide land and resources, NGOs provide expertise and governments can create legislation or policy that encourages others to replicate the success.”