Mining is a massive part of the economy of South Africa. It contributes up to 10% of the country’s GDP and employs somewhere around half a million people. However, mining has a significant impact on the local environment, ranging from land loss to soil contamination.
This is where the concept of mining restoration comes in. Let’s look at what it involves and how it works in South Africa.
What is Mining Restoration?
Mining restoration (also known as mining reclamation) is the process of returning mined land to an economically or environmentally usable state. It begins when the mine is decommissioned, but the vast majority of mines begin planning the restoration process long before then.
The intended future use of the site dictates how it’s restored. For example, a site that will become an industrial or economic area doesn’t require the same process as land that’s being returned to its pre-mined state.
As such, there are various processes involved in mining restoration. These can include:
Reforestation, unsurprisingly, involves establishing a forest on the mined land. It involves treating existing topsoil and adding new rooting medium to compensate for the lost land. Trees are then planted and allowed to grow before introducing other native species to the area.
If the land wasn’t previously forest, mining restoration involves establishing rangeland instead. It can be anything from grassland and shrubland to livestock grazing areas. While the end result is different, the restoration process is largely the same. It involves grading topography and laying topsoil before reintroducing native species.
Mining Restoration in South Africa
The first guidelines for mining restoration in South Africa were established in 1981. Since then, there have been various changes to the regulations, with a greater focus on ecological sustainability. The South African Minerals Council has a clear set of guidelines for mining restoration in the country.
These set out the steps involved for restoring land depending on the type of mine established. As may be obvious, there are different processes for restoring an open-pit mine than for underground mines, although the latter depends on the level of surface disturbance.
Proper restoration techniques start even before the mine is built. For example, part of the planning phase involves surveying the land to determine how much usable soil there is. The next step involves storing the soil so it can be returned during restoration.
Once the mine is decommissioned, restoration essentially involves returning all stored materials to their original locations. This process can take several years, particularly with infrastructure removal, although it’s possible to have an open-pit mine fully restored in less than two years.
Final Thoughts on Mining Restoration
Mining restoration in South Africa is a vital aspect of effective land use. Considering it starts before the mine is built, mining companies must plan around it.
If you’re getting involved in mining in South Africa and need information on restoration techniques, reach out to Scribante. We can help you plan the mining restoration process before you even start.