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.
Research centre for recultivation (only German)
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.