Europe and Central Asia
22 Sep 2016

The best of both worlds: a joint statement from HeidelbergCement & BirdLife

Romania Bicaz Chei Quarry (c) Stefan Moldovan
By Alice Paone

If politics is, as they say, ‘the art of the possible’, then the HeidelbergCement-BirdLife partnership has very good news for the European Commission. All too often, environmental concerns are unwisely dismissed as secondary to – or, in some cases, incompatible with – economic activity. Yet, Eurobarometer polls show that European citizens expect progress in both domains[1] – and rightfully so. HeidelbergCement is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of building materials and its pioneering work with BirdLife on biodiversity conservation at its mining sites proves that the best of both worlds is possible.

In their joint statement ‘On Improved Protection for European Protected Species at Mining Sites’ – delivered to Director General Daniel Calleja Crespo at DG Environment – HeidelbergCement’s Rob van der Meer and BirdLife’s Ariel Brunner [2] highlight that the EU’s Birds & Habitats Directives are flexible enough, when properly implemented, ‘to allow environmentally sustainable economic development’ while at the same time ‘ensuring high quality species protection in accordance with the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy targets’. In short, the economy and environment can indeed ‘go hand-in-hand’.

When carefully designed, mineral extraction operations can minimise their negative impacts on our natural landscape and can even create new habitat opportunities for rare species. Since 2011, HeidelbergCement companies and national BirdLife partners have worked in concert with local communities and environmental authorities to implement local biodiversity projects in their quarries – the result is the perfect combination of global commitment with local action. At the Gerhausen quarry (Germany), for example, Taurus cattle and Konik horses graze all year round, maintaining the species-diversity of the grassland. Meanwhile, at the Betotech gravel pits by Lake Tovachov (Czech Republic), common terns (Sterna hirundo) are thriving on man-made floating concrete islands. 

Countless similar projects have seen great success and, earlier this month, a new joint website – The BirdLife International – HeidelbergCement Project Map – was launched to provide a sweeping visual narrative of these achievements to date. In sharing these stories, the partnership hopes to inspire future collaborations between other businesses and NGOs by demonstrating, irrefutably, that businesses can bring people and planet into harmony – and still deliver profit.

However, while many quarry operators fully recognise the need to respect nature and abide by existing legal requirements, inadequate enforcement of these laws by Member States and local/regional governments means that protected species keep being killed while even the best of corporate intentions may be shattered by the cold reality of ‘increased costs, delays and uncertainty’.

With this in mind, today’s joint statement proposes 6 concrete actions for the EU to take in order to ensure better implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives: from providing Member States with clearer guidelines, common methodologies, useful tools, as well as financing and training, to ensuring quality project impact assessments and greatly increasing enforcement capacities.

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The partnership is confident that these recommendations will not only help the EU meet its Biodiversity Strategy targets but that they are entirely compatible with the community’s economic agenda. Environmentally sustainable economic development is the art of the possible. Let’s have our cake and eat it too!


The HeidelbergCement & BirdLife joint statement "On Improved Protection for European Protected Species at Mining Sites" is available here


The HeidelbergCement & BirdLife joint letter to Director General Daniel Calleja Crespo at DG Environment is available here

[1] Special Eurobarometer 416: Attitudes of European Citizens to the Environment,

[2] Ariel Brunner is Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe and Rob van der Meer is Director of Public Affairs at HeidelbergCement AG.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.