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Innovation for land restoration

Remediation and restoration work is a key part of every mining project.

Innovative projects to work out better ways to restore landscapes are underway throughout the world, as ICMM members help to contribute to a nature positive future.

From improving seed performance and growing plants without topsoil in Australia, to growing healthier trees by using seaweed in Canada, here are some the ways in which nature is being restored.

Improving seed performance

In Western Australia, Alcoa is developing new technologies to improve seed performance during landscape revegetation. They have contributed almost $500,000 to the Australian Seed Scaling Initiative, in collaboration with research bodies such as the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformation in Mining Economies and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (Kings Park Science).

Precision-seeding has already been trialled in iron ore mining areas in the Pilbara. The new project will further develop the technology to treat and sow seed mixes, so they have the best chance of thriving at Alcoa’s bauxite mining operations.

Trials will run over three years across 10-15 hectares with researchers aiming to determine the optimal sowing depths for a range of jarrah forest species, as well as evaluating seed mixes, seeding rates and the effect of soil preparation.

The initiative will publish its findings and run workshops and conferences to help share the knowledge it develops. Sharing this information helps to broaden their positive impact on nature and forms a community of knowledge-holders.

No topsoil? No problem

Re-planting an ecosystem without topsoil is hard to imagine but that’s exactly what Rio Tinto is doing at its bauxite mine in Northern Territory, Australia. Bauxite is the basic raw material needed to make aluminium, an important material for the world’s low-carbon transition.

Rio Tinto expects to finish mining at the Gove mine site in 2030 and is working with Traditional Owners and government stakeholders on the rehabilitation plans. The usual method to rehabilitate a tailings site – where waste material is stored – is to cap it and cover it with topsoil. However, there is not enough topsoil at the Gove mine site to use this method, so the company is trying something a little different.

A pilot programme was developed for growing plants without bringing in topsoil and initially made slow progress. Seed viability was a problem and attempts to introduce wood mulch into the soil mix failed owing to its high clay content.

However, through partnerships with industry experts, since 2020 over 90 per cent of native plants have been successfully established in the topsoil-free areas. Rio Tinto hopes that the lessons learned at the Gove mine site will contribute to improving rehabilitation outcomes at mines around the world.

Can seaweed make healthier trees?

Teck plans to conserve or rehabilitate at least three hectares for every hectare affected by its mining activities.

In support of this goal, it has begun an innovative collaboration with Ocean Regenerative to study how seaweed can be used to enhance forest health and accelerate the growth of tree species native to the areas where Teck is rehabilitating former mining sites in Canada.

Improving the health of trees will strengthen the resilience of the ecosystems of which they are a part and help to boost biodiversity and nature.

The project is also looking to help mitigate climate change by examining the potential of seaweed derivatives to increase the ability of forests to capture and store carbon.

All ICMM members have committed to contribute to a nature positive future. Innovation across a host of disciplines is playing a major part in helping to restore and regenerate previously mined areas as they work towards this goal.