Europe and Central Asia
15 Dec 2015

Digging deep to find biodiversity

From close-to-natural river floodplains to grasslands, quarries can become any habitat. Photo: Félix Bernet/Flickr
By Boris Barov

To give back to nature more than what has been taken, BirdLife’s partnership with HeidelbergCement promotes the idea that biodiversity and responsible mining can go hand in hand. Yes, mining affects the landscape and the environment, but this is not necessarily bad news on the urbanised and farmed continent of Europe.

On the contrary, through ecological restoration, quarries can (re)create some close-to-natural habitat such as river flood plains and species-rich grasslands. In terms of net conservation gain, mining sites can also play a positive role in reconnecting the lost natural links in our fragmented landscapes and bringing some diversity into our highly homogenised environment.

In 2015, BirdLife and HeidelbergCement have completed numerous successful initiatives to create harmony between a traditionally disruptive human activity and protection of nature.

OTOP (BirdLife in Poland) and the company Górażdże began their first joint conservation project “to improve the breeding conditions for island nesting birds” in four gravel pits in Southern Poland as spring set in this April. There were lots of shrubs and trees to be cut, tonnes of gravel to be spread and ditches to be dug. Four months later, the numbers of breeding Black-headed Gulls, Mediterranean Gulls and Common Terns have multiplied tremendously.

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Photo of the Polish islands before, during and after restoration. Photos: Tomasz Wilk/ OTOP

By this summer, the ecological restoration of Lake Sagsjön in Sweden had been going on for almost a year. In the past, the lake had been receiving too much sediment from the nearby quarry of Jehander and had become clogged with algae. Tonnes of biomass were removed and the lake shores were cleared so that more open water and shoreline could be used by birds and aquatic fauna. Cutting back vegetation and installing visitors’ infrastructure also made the lake a welcome spot for birdwatching and fishing by August.

In September, the company Českomoravský Šterk floated several new concrete islands at its gravel pit in Hulin, Czech Republic. This raft model was first developed in the country especially for use in deep artificial water bodies where wind, waves and ice damage any other floating raft. They are now commonly adopted by the birds for nesting. A partnership with the Czech Society for Ornithology (BirdLife in the Czech Republic) ensures that the best locations for new islands are chosen and the birds are monitored. According to CSO, more that 10% of the national population of the Common Tern breed on these islands.

From top: The islands arrive from the concrete producer; they are lowered into the water; the islands ready to float.
Photos: Českomoravský Šterk

As autumn set in, a team from LBV, the largest Bavarian nature conservation organisation and partner of NABU (BirdLife in Germany), visited the HeidelbergCement plant in Burglengenfeld, Germany for discussions with the director. Apart from the Peregrine Falcon breeding on the factory stack, this plant is well known for the variety of ecological projects implemented by researchers and local school groups.

LBV and the plant agreed to include this Bavarian limestone quarry in a national conservation scheme for rare amphibians. The local Yellow-bellied Toad population has found a safe home.

On the first day of the advent calendar (in December), news came from Germany that Whooper Swans have arrived from the North. They brought exciting new data that reveals the amazing journeys of these beautiful birds. Local ornithologists participating in the project managed to download the data from the data loggers that the birds were fitted with as part of a joint project with HeidelbergCement and NABU. One of the swans had flown nearly 1.500 km in a single day on its way from the Petchora Delta in Siberia to Germany! 

The tagged Whooper Swans. Photo: Axel Degen


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.