Geomorphic rehabilitation in Europe: recognition as best available technology and its role in LIFE projects

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Geomorphic rehabilitation ([GR], also known as geomorphic reclamation or geomorphic restoration) is a general term to describe alternative methods and procedures to conventional mine rehabilitation. The main aim of GR is to replicate ‘natural’ landforms for the new conditions after mining and to restore functionality and diversity of ecosystems at degraded sites. The correct application of the GR technique ensures visual integration with surrounding landscapes. Although GR is a broad term, referring to any geomorphic restoration of land, GR is often synonymous with fluvial GR, mostly following the GeoFluvTM-Natural Regrade method. This paper describes how and why the application of GR through GeoFluv-Natural Regrade in Spain since 2009 has attracted formal recognition by the European Commission (EC) of the European Union (EU) as one, among others, of a catalogue of best available techniques (BATs) for the management of waste from extractive industries, in accordance with the European Directive 2006/21/EC. GR has been recognised as BAT at the EU for multiple reasons, including mine site monitoring results that demonstrate increased physical stability with minimised erosion from stormwater and snowmelt runoff; natural hydrological function being established; the variability within the formed landform promotes ecological diversity for vegetation and wildlife communities; construction and short and long-term maintenance and repair costs are minimised; and visual impact of the mined landscape is reduced. This paper describes also the role of GeoFluv-Natural Regrade GR in the L’Instrument Financier pour l’Environnement (LIFE) program, which is the EU’s most important funding instrument addressing environment and climate action. A focus is provided on the LIFE TECMINE project, described in detail, since it is the most recent and complete GeoFluv-Natural Regrade example in Europe. The TECMINE project is a geomorphic-based ecological restoration project in the Valencia province, within the Iberian Mountain Range and where conventional mine rehabilitation practice, based on gradient terraces, shows general and widespread failure. The demonstration project is fostered by the Administration of the Valencia Region, which seeks to test innovative techniques (GR, micro-catchments, soil amendments and new protocols of revegetation) for mine rehabilitation, promote improved practices and disseminate the best practice output through their development and analysis. Testing GR is the main focus of the project. The application of GR at the TECMINE project included (a) finding ‘natural’ and ‘stable’ landforms and landscapes to be used as reference or analogues for replication in GR, although difficult, was possible due to ancestral land transformation; (b) the steep terrain, characteristic of the Iberian Range, challenged the formation of GR GeoFluv-Natural Regrade designs, but the project demonstrated that they can be implemented in that mountain setting; (b) the mining company reported similar cost estimations for this alternative GR rehabilitation (as-built) as that for a conventional restoration design (projected); (c) a holistic approach to GR, not dealing only with topography, allowed the identification and use of limestone colluvium as an adequate growth media for initiating soil development; this solution not used before for rehabilitation in this region provided a clear and advanced contribution from the project.
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Martin Duque, JF, Tejedor, M, Martin-Moreno, C, Nicolau, JM & Zapico, I 2019, 'Geomorphic rehabilitation in Europe: recognition as best available technology and its role in LIFE projects', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Mine Closure 2019: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 133-146