Mining Giant Commits to Conservation

November 2006

The De Beers Group, the world’s largest diamond mining company, has committed more than $250,000 to continue development of ecological and financial tools for restoring lands degraded by mining in the Succulent Karoo biodiversity hotspot.

The De Beers funds will enable the Namaqualand Restoration Initiative (NRI), a conservation program managed by the Leslie Hill Institute for Plant Conservation at the University of Cape Town and supported initially by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), to extend its pioneering work by one year and further develop its restoration protocols for the entire Central Namaqualand Coastal Priority Area.

Mining or prospecting occurs in discontinuous patches along virtually all 400 kilometers of the Namaqualand coastline. Yet despite the extraordinary wealth generated by the mining industry, until 1992, little was done to restore the unique landscapes and ecosystems to their pre-mining state.

Since January 2005, NRI has been working to establish a forum for the mining community and local stakeholders, reviewing available research and compiling current best practices in the restoration of arid lands. The NRI team also interviewed local people involved in both agriculture and mining, gathering anecdotal knowledge largely missing from the research literature.

In recent months, the team has started testing “restoration packs” for mining companies to use in re-establishing indigenous plant communities that will in turn help stabilize ecosystems in the degraded areas. In addition to providing background information on the area, these packages contain seeds and equipment for planting.

“We’ve planted 1,300 small plots with 16 indigenous perennial species,” said Peter Carrick, NRI project director. “And we’ll be monitoring them regularly to see which are most effective in improving soil conditions, mitigating erosion, and providing stable and resilient ecosystem conditions so that eventually some of the rarer endemic succulent species can grow here once more.”

NRI hopes to train small teams of Namaqualanders both in ecological and business skills so that once the trials are complete, mining companies will be able to employ local people to implement the restoration work. With this, companies hope to address the ongoing resentment among some local communities that they have not benefited from the region’s extraordinary mineral wealth.

“IUCN and the International Council on Mining and Metals meet regularly at the global level,” Carrick said. “But support from De Beers and CEPF means that we can ensure the partnership between conservation and industry develops in the field and subsequently share our findings as widely as possible.”

For more information, contact , project director, Namaqualand Restoration Initiative.