Lessons learned in territories, guidelines for avoiding failure to restore the environment and contributions to national climate change programs.

This blog is the first one of a two-blog series.

Small-scale mining has not been historically developed on the basis of territorial planning or land use assessment, which is why most mining projects are currently being developed in the vicinity of forest ecosystems, biological corridors and habitats for various flora and fauna species. Although artisanal and small-scale mining does not produce a large and significant impact as large-scale mining, it does have an important potential to contribute to the conservation of ecological functions in mine surroundings and avoid cumulative environmental impacts.

This blog provides a compilation of the strategies used by small-scale miners and some guidelines for avoiding failure to restore the environment based on verified successful experiences, in addition to the lessons learned in the territories. A brief overview is also provided on the contributions of small-scale mining to the implementation of national climate change agendas and programs in the form of good practices.

Environmental Restoration: Recovery and Adaptation

In the context of the Global Climate Action Agenda, environmental restoration strategies should primarily focus on both environmental restoration and adaptation to climate change. To this end, different actions can be implemented from the small-scale mining sector depending on the specific area, economic and human resources available and area size. These are the two priority lines:

  1. Maintaining existing ecosystems
  2. Restoring degraded ecosystems

These strategies are implemented in small-scale mining operations as follows:

1. Mantaining existing ecosystems

This line of work is implemented from a governmental perspective by defining protected areas. However, not only conservation actions[1] but also preservation actions[2] are performed in small-scale mining projects.

  • Delimiting or fencing off areas to be preserved.
  • Raising awareness among workers of existing biodiversity.
  • Banning
  • Avoiding the intervention in the project in additional matters than those strictly required.
  • Whenever possible, choosing less impactful routes and methods of access (for transport).

These are actions that can contribute to maintaining existing ecosystems, which despite being fragmented, still provide a source of support for species other than trees that encourage natural regeneration over time.

What additional management options are recommended then?

As evidenced in practice, planting native species through environmental restoration in degraded mining areas sometimes becomes time-consuming and costly due to the high water and nutrient requirements and sensitivity to soil conditions. However, the following actions can be taken:

  • Disposal of organic waste compost produced at the mine site as well as treated domestic wastewater (for nutrient enrichment of soil at the border between forest and the mining area) almost frugally contributes to revegetation of these areas. If governmental support is available, it would be possible to define some pioneer species[1] and start planting.

2. Restoring degraded ecosystems

In most regulations, it is a mandatory step applicable for the mining process. For artisanal and small-scale mining, it is often carried out in two directions:

  • Natural process: Sometimes this can result from the initial removal and conservation of soil stripping material[1] and its subsequent reuse over the final soil level since pressure (mining) on the area ceases and some soil nutrients and properties are preserved.
  • Reforestation by planting tree seedlings. The belief that extensive planting of trees, without distinction of species, restores the ecosystem conditions and functions of the area has adverse consequences. It is important to learn more about the species that are compatible with the area!

This blog is the first one of a two-blog series. ¡Follow us in our social networks and don’t miss the last part!


[1] Management measures

[2] Non-intervention of areas, ‘preserving’ natural state

[1] Resistant species that ‘prepare’ hostile environments for subsequent native species.

[1] Topsoil and organic soil horizon have been removed to start the exploitation or construction of waste dumps.

Diana González Jiménez

Diana González Jiménez

Environmental management Specialist at the Alliance for Responsible Mining

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