Thursday, 5 April 2012

The return of nature

Improving strip mining in the Czech Republic.

by Martin Maska 

Devils stairs. Photo by Martin Maska.

Strip mining doesn´t have to mean definitive destruction of the landscape. There are projects which help nature return to its former condition. And it does not even have to take a long time for it to happen.

There are many strip mines and quarries in the Czech Republic, especially in the North. Landscape is devastated and the environment is not good for living. But when the mining is finished, people should still be able to avoid living close to the so called “moon areas”. Some mining companies are aware of this and they want to contribute to a better environment. But what is also important for them is that it does not cost too much money. The solution to this is called renaturalisation or revitalization. It practically means changing the quarry area which is no longer in use into a landscape. That is not difficult or expensive and nature would manage that itself, but only in tens or maybe hundreds of years. But the process is about to be made faster.

Renaturalisation as a strategy 

The most significant renaturalisation project in the Czech Republic is taking place in big quarry Certovy schody (Devil´s stairs) near the Czech capital city of Prague. The owner of this quarry, the company VLCS a. s., decided to start this project in 1996. It had re-cultivated some parts of quarry before, but not programmatic. In 1996, renaturalization project became strategy and was divided into three parts: short-term (redevelopment and re-cultivation of the southern and western part of quarry between 1997 and 1999), medium-term (ending at the west side of the quarry and transforming it into a geological park), and long-term (gradual re-cultivation of the eastern part of the quarry and shifting of mining eastward).

An abandoned mine that nature has transformed into a wooded area. Photo by Martin Maska.

Learn about nature

Renaturalized areas additionally provide an opportunity to learn about the natural heritage and Czech landscape. In the Certovy schody quarry a geological park has therefore been developed. It will become a place, where we could learn about our landscape, geology or palaeontology. Some parts of the quarry sides will be adjusted for trees, bush and other plants to grow. The park would become accessible to wild flora and fauna.

Ing. Vaclav Korbel, director of VLCS a. s., wrote on the company´s website, that „project of geological park aims to avoid such interventions, which would create so called “green deserts”. That are places, which are not integrated into surrounding landscape.“ Company also informs on its website, that it wants to create lake, perhaps with islands, on the bottom of the quarry after its transformation into a geological park. But some parts of the quarry will be inaccessible and they should be like wild nature with rock nesting sites. When renaturalization will be complete in several tens of years, there won´t be any signs of the former quarry and mine.

Similar projects are taking place in different locations in the Europe. Those are for example Kunagora, that is an abandoned quarry near the city of Pregrada in Croatia and which should be transformed into a theme park with a walking trail, or Marianka project in Slovakia that should open the former quarry to the public. Revitalised and renaturalised can be not only quarries, but also coal strip mines. But this is more difficult since coal strip mines are larger and in most cases still in use.

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