A correct management of geological resources allows for compatibility between extraction and biodiversity management, even in protected areas. This was one of the main conclusions to which more that 130 national and international experts came to during the International Forum "Contribution of the extractive industry to the Natura 2000 network - an opportunity for biodiversity". This event was held on 9 February 2017, at the Spanish Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and the Environment in Madrid, Spain.
During the event, the important role which the extractive sector plays at regional and local level in terms of social and economic development, was also highlighted. This added value, generated by the sector, is of particular relevance to the areas surrounding its quarries and mines, turning the extractive industry into a fundamental sector for job creation in rural areas and providing essential raw materials for the well-being of citizens. Most of what surrounds us today comes from quarries and mines.
This important industry supplies raw materials to a wide range of industrial sectors which are at the heart of Europe's economy: cement, lime, ceramics, concrete, mortar, bricks, glass, construction, steel, chemicals, energy producers, food, environment etc. As recognised by the European Commission, '70% of Europe's manufacturing industry depends on the extraction of natural resources in order to generate growth and jobs'.
The extractive industry is a key sector for Spain as it mitigates the deficit in the balance of payments, given that 20% of the rocks and minerals which are extracted every year are destined for exports, generating an trade income of €1.500 million for Spain.
An opportunity for biodiversity
When it comes to biodiversity, the non-energy extractive industry contributes by rehabilitating sites both during and after extraction. In fact, there are many success stories across Spain and Europe in which the rehabilitated sites have been integrated into the Natura 2000 network. In many instances, these rehabilitated areas are of a higher biodiversity value compared to what was there before, particularly in degraded areas - translating into a net positive contribution to species and habitats.
Through such initiatives, the extractive industry is dedicating part of its financial resources to the conservation of nature, thereby reducing the need for public funding. The sector invests not only in in situ improvements, but also finances specific projects undertaken by conservation groups at both local and national level. These projects include improving and increasing the number of bird nesting areas, reforestation projects using native species, or the creation of ecosystems which provide and ideal habitat for threatened species at a local level.
"Authorities must support the inclusion of extraction activities in Natura 2000 management plans, as long as these projects meet legislative requirements, given that for decades this sector has clearly demonstrated its commitment to managing and improving the ecosystems of the areas in which it operates", states Comiroc President, Carlos Monge Ganuzas.
"It is the European Commission's opinion that the extraction of natural resources and raw materials is permitted in Natura 2000 areas, as long as an adequate Impact Assessment is undertaken. We believe that, when correctly managed, the extractive industry provides an opportunity, rather than a threat, to biodiversity. Indeed, the European Commission has developed a Guidance document for the Non-Energy Extractive Industry and Natura 2000 which outlines the procedure to be followed in order to grant a permit to for a new quarry/mine in such areas. The European Commission is working on improving the implementation of the Directives, as this is essential in order to continue to protect and enhance biodiversity, whilst at the same time ensuring that economic activities can continue to develop in Natura 2000 areas" highlighted the European Commission's Director General for Environment, Daniel Calleja Crespo, as well as Nicola Notaro, Natura 2000 Head of Unit.
The Spanish Secretary of State for the Environment, Maria Garcia Rodríguez, and the Director General for Quality and Evaluation of the Environment and Natural Areas, Javier Cachón de Mesa, also participated in this event, organised by the Spanish Confederation for Rocks and Industrial Mineral Extractive Industries, COMINROC. Also present where a broad group of experts representing NGOs, academic, governmental and business groups.
The European Network for Sustainable Quarrying and Mining, composed of several European and national organisations (including COMINROC) was also present. The ENSQM promotes the compatibility between extraction and environmental protection and, in particular, biodiversity.