The maintenance and promotion of biological diversity is one of the most important functions in the area of environmental protection – not just in the context of extracting primary energy sources but also in the production of electricity and the distribution of electricity and gas. We are engaged in the protection of ecosystems beyond the requirements of statutory regulations.
In cooperation with German environment organisation ‘Deutsche Umwelthilfe’, the Heinz-Sielmann Foundation and the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), we launched the project ‘Ecologisches Trassenmanagement’ (Ecological Line Management), in Berlin in 2012. The project gains expertise through more than twenty years of RWE’s experience in biotope management around electricity transmission lines.
The objective is to introduce a conceptual transmission line maintenance procedure throughout Germany based on our role model. The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the Heinz-Sielmann Foundation believe that our system should be implemented with other grid providers. The first step consisted of drawing up a project outline for the Rhineland-Palatinate. This mapped the areas where our transmission lines passed through conservation areas (Bird protection in grid operation).
Opencast mining and recultivation
Since the start of lignite mining in Germany, RWE has recultivated 20,000 hectares of landscape. Right from the beginning of mining activities, the promotion of biodiversity has been a constituent element of extraction plans and has included the reinstatement of old opencast mines. Around half of the former mining area is now agricultural land and a further 8,000 hectares are forests and grassland. Another 800 hectares of new water area have been created. Around 8,600 hectares of mining areas in the Rhineland industrial region are located in nature conservation areas or directly next to such areas.
RWE set up the Forschungsstelle Rekultivierung (Recultivation Research Centre) with the objective of making the landscape more diverse in the course of recultivation and increasing the number of animal and plant species compared with the time before mining operations commenced. This research centre cooperates with experts from independent institutes and a large number of volunteer initiatives to carry out research to support this work in ecological studies. The result of this research makes an important contribution to continuously developing the recultivation know-how of RWE. Around 3,100 animal and plant species have so far been identified in the recultivated areas of the Rhineland mining region. Over the past five years alone, more than 300 new plant species have been recorded as growing in these areas. Many of the species were on the Red List of endangered species drawn up by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), including species that are under threat of immediate extinction in the Lower Rhine Basin.
Alongside recultivation of old mining areas, we also carry out measures to enhance the ecological value of other areas. We therefore developed a comprehensive concept for the measures necessary to continue opencast mining at Hambach. The initiative involved networking the old-growth forests in the region by creating corridors to new breeding and hunting habitats for the rare species living in the mining area. Alongside Bechstein’s bat, around 250 species of bird and numerous amphibians are benefitting from significantly improved living conditions.
Around the Inden opencast mine, RWE invested around €1.5 million in ecologically sustainable relocation of the River Schlichbach to a new semi-natural stream bed. Over a section of about four kilometres, the stream now flows so that a wide expanse of water meadow can be developed where a new habitat for threatened animal and plant species is being established. This development is similar to the successful ecological relocation of the River Inde.
We also take steps to ensure that the wetlands around opencast mines are preserved. We have to pump large volumes of groundwater out of opencast mines in order to keep the production area dry. We compensate the removal of groundwater in ecologically important areas by returning a large proportion of this water to surrounding lakes and rivers or through a drainage system into the soil, particularly in an environment of wetland areas that need conserving. We monitor the success of these measures at around 3,900 test stations, with sampling stations located in 350 wetland areas.
Recultivated areas are also an integral element of lignite production in two Hungarian opencast mines in Mátra. To date, a total surface area of 2,570 hectares has been identified as an area to be recultivated for agricultural and forestry use. This includes more than 900 hectares of land that has already been recultivated, with around 20 – 25 hectares being reclaimed each year. A total of nearly 5.8 million saplings have been planted in the recultivation programme. We have also created a lake measuring 3.5 hectares.
Cooperation with IUCN
We are joining forces with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with the objective of defining biodiversity criteria for investment projects financed by RWE. The aim is to work together with project developers and IUCN to identify projects where a joint venture can bring about improvements and ‘best practice’ in biodiversity reporting and management can be piloted. Potential fields of cooperation are in the area of offshore technology and solar power plants in North Africa.
Nature conservation in Hungary
The most important project for the ELMŰ-ÉMÁSZ Group in the area of nature conservation and protection of water resources is mapping natural areas with major ecological significance in the environment surrounding mining areas, transformer stations and substations. Employees on the ground are supposed to support detailed mapping by taking account of biodiversity aspects. The data surveying is initially taking place in a small trial area in the Aggtelek National Park. The results of the pilot project will then guide the decision on expanding the project.