Lafarge, the world’s largest cement manufacturer, has been a member of the Wildlife Habitat Council since 1992. In 2001, it partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to design standard practices to create biodiversity indices at its locations and develop Biodiversity Management Plans (BMP) for every quarry to help site teams identify key issues in the management of flora and fauna at their sites. To support this effort, Lafarge created an International Biodiversity Panel of stakeholders from North America, Asia, and Europe. The Wildlife Habitat Council, Lafarge’s key partner in North America, participates on this panel.
This year, the panel was invited to convene in Madrid, Spain, and visit two quarry sites owned by Lafarge.
The first was a gypsum quarry that is still operational but needs to develop a BMP and a restoration plan that reflects the BMP. The second site was a fully restored location on the former Yepes-Ciruelos Quarry in Castilla la Mancha, Toledo, Spain. These sites presented a contrast with the Yepes quarry a prime example of how good restoration can create rich biodiversity.At the first quarry, the Panel members toured the quarry floor where two sections of the site showed differing levels of natural regeneration. In the first section (Figure 1), white poplar, poplar, tamarisk, and nine other different species had managed to establish through natural regeneration in locations where the hydrology of the site had created ideal conditions for growth.
A poplar tree (Figure 2) had colonized a physical niche in the quarry wall to grow, provide shade, retain water, and create habitat for birds and small mammals. In the other section of quarry, due to the absence of water, no such regeneration had taken place, although a small landslide of soil created a sandy slope that was covered in grasses and, on closer observation, occupied by rabbits (Figure 3.) The panel, informed by Professor Santiago Sardinero of the University of Castilla La Mancha and Pilar Gegundez, Lafarge Spain’s Director of Environment and Resource Sustainability, learned about the importance of water to this site’s reclamation and the opportunities for connectivity with an adjacent Natura 2000 site.
At the top of the quarry, Professor Sardinero gave a master class on gypsiferous soils and the importance of understanding the steps of natural succession that. For example, we Thymus vulgaris is required to be established to provide cover before esparto grass, a perennial of the Iberian Peninsula, can successfully return. Professor Sardinero expanded on this theme later in the day when he gave a presentation on the restoration of our second site, the Yepes-Ciruelos Quarry.
The Panel, on completion of the visit to the quarry, discussed how to develop the best restoration plan that would create meaningful connections with adjacent conservation areas, take advantage of the existing hydrology, provide high quality habitat for wildlife, and engage the adjoining quarry operator to create more opportunities for restoration.At the second location of the day, theYepes-Ciruelos Quarry, the Panel learned about limestone quarry reclamation and how the restoration of the location was designed to increase biodiversity richness through smart design and restoration management, to use the site for environmental education and awareness-raising, and to create passive recreation activities for local communities.
Lafarge personnel and students from the nearby university began monitoring rehabilitated areas and the surrounding environment of the quarry, in operation since the 1930s, in 2003. The results of this monitoring effort have allowed restoration plans to be developed to take into account findings of biodiversity surveys. Today, more than 190 plants species are recorded inside the rehabilitated quarry with some classified as having high ecological importance. Seed collection and nursery germination of valuable and local species ensure the flora continues to thrive while the entire location is operated as a laboratory for successful planting in semi-arid climates.
Beyond the biodiversity studies at this location, Lafarge built a community engaged with restoration of this site. Local management lead the effort and a culture of interest in biodiversity was born, resulting in the development of innovative approaches to restoration and a location that provides education and recreation opportunities to the local communities.
As a member of the Panel and a representative of the Wildlife Habitat Council, I learned a lot from my visit to these two different sites and contributed valuable input on how the first location can, through strong partnerships, shared learning, and a willingness to embrace innovative approaches, be restored to the rich biodiversity of Yepes-Ciruelos.