As the Nature After Minerals (NAM) programme celebrates ten years of working with the minerals industry to help create homes for wildlife, Debra Royal reflects on the thinking behind the programme, its activity over this last decade and its hopes for the future.

In 2006, the RSPB set up a project to assess the contribution minerals site restoration could make to alleviating ongoing species declines and habitat loss in England. The resulting report has been a catalyst for change.

Revealing the huge possibilities the right sort of restorations hold for species conservation, it highlighted that this potential remained largely untapped at the time. The report's conclusions hit a chord with the minerals industry and other stakeholders — ten years on, mineral companies' recognition of the leading role they can play in helping to safeguard nature continues to grow.

Sharing best-practice with minerals restoration stakeholders. Photo credit NAM/Restore

Realising the potential

Following on from this well-received report, Nature After Minerals (NAM) was established by the RSPB and Natural England in 2007 with the aim of driving home its key findings and breaking down barriers perceived to hinder the minerals industry's unique position to deliver for nature on a vast scale.

Since 2010, NAM has contributed advice and feedback on the creation and management of approximately 3,600ha of new habitat. It has worked with some 800 minerals restoration stakeholders to provide advice, training and a platform for best-practice sharing through four events programmes. It has also engaged with and provided input to the minerals plans of 26 mineral planning authorities. Their Minerals Local Plans now increasingly promote biodiversity-led restoration as the preferred option.

The programme has made a difference at an international level too. Between 2012 and 2015, NAM events and guidance formed an integral part of the RESTORE project, led by the RSPB with partners in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.  It engaged with around 200 industry representatives at best-practice events and helped provide restoration advice for some 2,000ha of land, resulting in 500ha of new habitat for species such as yellow-bellied toad and European eagle owl. The project's closing event in Brussels attracted attendance by members of the European Commission and Parliament alike.

Taking action

Most operating companies now have biodiversity strategies and action plans in place for their sites and they want to share awareness of their contribution. The Mineral Products Association (MPA), the trade body for the UK's largest minerals operating companies, has recently calculated that the number of sites which its members have restored or managed for nature and people is equivalent to a national nature park covering some 29,550 hectares.

A new biennial Biodiversity Awards scheme was set up in 2011, in conjunction with Natural England, to encourage and recognise MPA members' efforts to manage and restore their sites for biodiversity gain. The winner of the 2015 award for outstanding restoration was the RSPB’s own Middleton Lakes reserve in partnership with Hanson — a perfect example of a restored quarry delivering for nature and the local community on its doorstep.

NAM and its objectives have also been supported by members of the British Aggregates Association (BAA), the trade association for the small and medium-sized independent quarry operators.

Sandy Heath Quarry, Bedfordshire Photo credit Carol Ampe

A changed landscape

Things have come a long way since 2006 and the RSPB report findings. In 2017, as NAM celebrates its 10th anniversary, minerals restoration is achieving amazing things for nature on the ground:

  • Priority wetland habitat creation through minerals restoration was cited as a positive factor in helping guard against species decline in the multi-partnered State of Nature 2016 report.
  • 15% of all UK breeding bitterns now successfully nest in restored quarries.
  • 2016 saw the first recorded successful breeding of bearded tits at the RSPB’s Langford Lowfields reserve and across Nottinghamshire, where the RSPB is working in partnership with building materials company Tarmac.
  • The RSPB has teamed up with Hanson to create Britain’s biggest reedbed at its Ouse Fen reserve in Cambridgeshire.
  • And the RSPB is working in partnership with Cemex UK to manage habitat for wildlife across its quarries.  It is also providing special flower seed mix for the critically-endangered turtle dove at four of its sites across the country.

So, ten years on but what a different landscape — both in terms of the will to acknowledge the vast potential to do great things for nature through biodiversity-led minerals restoration and in terms of the actual changing landscape on the ground as, increasingly, more of that potential is being realised. The Nature After Minerals programme, for one, is looking forward to seeing what the next decade will hold and will continue to work to ensure that as much of this potential as possible becomes a reality.

For more information and a chance to keep in touch with this exciting project, @NatureAM