Heath restoration research

Landscape with purple blooming heather in Nature park Veluwe, Posbank, Oosterbeek, Gelderland in the Netherlands

More than 85% of the world’s heathland has been destroyed since the 19th century. Did you know that heathland is even rarer than a rainforest? Because of its undeniable value to wildlife and biodiversity, most of the remaining heathland is now protected. Sibelco is proud to be contributing to heathland preservation. Today, we would like to introduce the research led by Mary Lane, Weighbridge Operator and Doctor in Heathland Restoration after Mineral Extraction, at Sibelco in the UK.

How it all started

"’Ive always been interested in the environment and taking care of our surroundings, which I also see – just like Sibelco – as a moral obligation,"

explains Mary. "
Although I was not working in the Sustainability department, my colleagues at Cornwood quickly picked up my interest and started to involve me in sustainability projects on site
.” That’s where Mary’s idea to obtain a Ph. D was planted. She became increasingly interested in the restoration of Sibelco’s sites, and what role rare heathlands could play in their future.

After a conversation with her manager, Mary decided to submit a business case to Sibelco to ask for support with obtaining a Ph. D in Heathland Restoration after Mineral Extraction. With Sustainability, and more specifically restoration, being one of our long-term priorities, Sibelco quickly saw the added value and decided to partially fund Mary’s Ph.D. Her research was planned to be conducted at our Cornwood site, where we extract china clay.

The research

With the support of her colleagues in Cornwood, Mary started her research in 2015 with two main goals: understanding how to most efficiently and cost-effectively restore the site’s surroundings with heath after active quarrying, and investigate the effects of storage on soil used for restoration.

In the picture below, you can see the area in Cornwood that was freed up by our colleagues in Operations for Mary to conduct her heath restoration research –  lovingly named ‘Mary’s garden’ by colleagues on site.

To give you an idea about the size of the area: it consists of 
99 squares (3 x 4 m)
 with heath receiving 
9 different treatments
 – to test what is the most cost-effective and fastest way for restoration. Surprisingly, the outcome of the research was that the best way to make the heath thrive, is not to work the heath with things like compost, but to let it go 
its natural ways
. Regarding the stored soil, Mary’s research found that its chemical characteristics change after five years in storage. The soil remained suitable to use for restoration, but benefits from the addition of organic matter that elevates the C:N ratio of the substrate – positively impacting the soil’s usability for restoration.

The research results will help Sibelco with future restoration projects, and we hope to continue to support Mary’s research at other sites. But another major accomplishment of the research, is that the area you see in the picture above is now a fully functional ecosystem – grown from nothing in 2016 to an area that is even being hunted by raptors.

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