Bringing nature back into the mine

Biodiversity conservation at S&B Milos and Fokis quarries, S&B Industrial Minerals S.A.

The extractive sector is of vital importance for human well-being and growth, as it produces products which cover basic needs of modern society. However, by its nature it affects the environment causing visual disturbance. A core element of S&B’s public environmental policy since 2006 is land reclamation. Conserving and restoring biodiversity constitutes one of the basic targets of rehabilitation processes followed by the Company, as well as development of post mining land uses.

The know-how developed over 35 years of systematic work and continuous research on land rehabilitation in Greece have generated good examples of mine reclamation at S&B’s major extractives areas in Greece, at Milos and Fokis areas. Milos is a small island, distinct with respect to its soil and climate conditions (long drought periods, high temperatures and strong winds), high salinity water, grazing problems, forest fires etc. On the other hand, Fokis is a mountainous area and part of it belongs to pseudo-alpic zone.

Reproducing native or endemic plants is of vital importance for successful quarry rehabilitation and the conservation of biodiversity. Endemic species are exclusively used in restoration works since 2010. Of significance is the reproduction of the rare Acer Heldreich in 2004 and other species from pseudo-alpic zone, the germination success of which reached 90% in field trials. In reclamation works at Milos island, it has been found that only native plants can survive. Native plants are modulated in the specific soil and adverse hot-dry climate conditions and consequently are the only ones that can survive, due to their particular efficiency to stay dormant (hibernate) through summer and thus they need no watering during the 6-months hot-dry period. Some of them are durable in fires and/or high saline water concentration. More than 1.500.000 plant species have been produced so far at the two plant nurseries of S&B located at Fokis and Milos.

Independent studies sponsored by the Ministry of Environment and carried  out by the Department of Biology of the University of Athens, has concluded that appropriately designed rehabilitation can contribute to the creation of habitats, suitable even for rare or protected species. At the company’s quarry site (Chivadolimni) at Milos island, the results showed that there was no difference in the number of fauna observed, in comparison to the undisturbed area used as reference. Environmental base studies have been implemented in various areas and further work in that direction is in progress, the target being to document that on cessation of mining activity, following well designed reclamation, native flora and fauna can again populate the mine. The work undertaken may be relevant to assessment against possible no net loss or net gain criteria should they be applied in future.

Michalis Stefanakis
S&B Industrial Minerals S.A.