Reclaiming polluted land for birds and humansÖrebro municipality in Sweden provides a learning case about remediating a polluted area around a city into a multi-functional nature area. Örebro’s approach demonstrates the breadth of benefits that remediation of brownfields can provide: e.g. biodiversity promotion, high-quality nature areas accessible from the city, urban park services like recreation and exercise, and prevention of dangerous pollution to water.
Keywords: remediation, nature reserve, biodiversity, recreation, employment
Örebro is located on one of Europe’s most important bird-migration routes and has long featured a highly protected area, Oset reserve. As part of the larger, recent remediation work that created a second nature reserve, Rynningeviken, Oset was doubled in size to enable people to enjoy visiting the area. The 600 ha area now features a wetlands park with: bird observation stations and beaches; more than 200 plant species; grazing animals; and an educational and leisure centre – all highly accessible by foot, cycle, or wheelchair. The two parks are located only 3 km from the central square of Örebro, and both are included in the European Union’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas.
Background of the problems
The history behind the project starts in the 1800s, in the midst of a period of food scarcity in Sweden that caused mass emigration, primarily to the US. Between 1878 and 1888, what has been called one of Europe’s largest land-transformation projects was conducted, lowering the water level of Lake Hjälmaren near Örebro by some 2 metres, which provided nearly 20,000 ha of high-productivity agricultural land. However, the reclaimed land lying between Örebro and the lake was of low productivity, and became a waste dumping ground. Many kinds of garbage dumps sprang up here over the following hundred years, even large-scale garbage mountains arising during the 1970s and 1980s. Military and industrial uses, e.g. a harbour for oil delivery, also found homes here. These developments also made the lake quite inaccessible from Örebro.
Crisis and creativity
It required a new crisis to realise local hopes of remediating and restoring some of the area. Beginning in the 1990s unemployment in Sweden led Örebro municipality to a broad search for useful jobs (see also Malmö). This process included discussions among politicians, city employees, and nature conservancy NGOs. Much credit is given to the municipal ecologists for the realisation of the project.
The story of how the natural area was recovered includes a range of innovative and creative problem-solving. For example, to responsibly bury a large garbage tip huge amounts of clay and biologically active earth were needed – but without funds to buy these, the city sourced them from the wastes of construction sites and earthworks being done in Örebro. Along with recovering natural landscape, this conversion to landfill both solved the problem of pollution leaking into water supplies, and enabled the safe harvesting of methane gas to be used for heating.
Protecting green spaces
Örebro works systematically as a municipality on its greenspace. This work includes:
- mapping all the greenspaces of all ownership types
- inventory of the biological and societal values of greenspaces
- promoting natural spaces made into child-friendly play areas
- personal safety in green areas, which often involves cutting away greenery from beside pathways to enable clear sight
- preservation of the city’s greenbelts
- examining the biological value of marginal spaces such as industrial areas
Marcus Hedblom, “Städernas värdefulla natur”, Biodiverse, Centrum för Biologisk Mångfald, 2009, http://biodiverse.se/2009/04/stadernas-vardefulla-natur/
Naturvårdsverket, ”Övervakning av biologisk mångfald och friluftsliv i tätorter – en metodstudie”, Rapport 5974
Örebro Municipality, 2006/2008, ”Nämen vi har ju en sjö - om Oset och Rynningeviken”, http://www.orebro.se/download/18.3c1ef9ae11d4988e18f800033016/N%C3%A4men+vi+har+ju+en+sj%C3%B6+-+om+Oset+och+Rynningeviken.pdf
Örebro Municipality, n.d., ”Naturreservat Oset och Rynningeviken - på engelska”, www.orebro.se , http://www.orebro.se/download/18.3c1ef9ae11d4988e18f800033023/Naturreservat+Oset+och+Rynningeviken+-+p%C3%A5+engelska.pdf
Statistiska centralbyrån, Befolkningsstatistik, http://www.scb.se/Pages/Product____25785.aspx