Authors: Wassenaar, TD; Yates, M

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Wassenaar, TD & Yates, M 2008, 'Is it Mineral? Is it Vegetable? Perceptions About Ecological Rehabilitation in the Namibian Mining Industry', in AB Fourie, M Tibbett, I Weiersbye & P Dye (eds), Mine Closure 2008: Proceedings of the Third International Seminar on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 347-362,

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Mines are located where viable ore reserves are found, but more often than not, ore reserves are located in areas used for purposes such as conservation, tourism and farming. This inevitably results in high impacts on biodiversity, land use and sense of place. The importance of sound biodiversity management and rehabilitation during the life of a mine and at closure are generally accepted in mining circles today, yet the question remains: How well does the mining industry understand and manage these issues? Rehabilitation, as generally understood by ecologists, involves the reinstatement of natural ecological processes, with the general aim of restoring a fully functional ecosystem of some type. In ecological terms, a mine causes a severe disturbance, which can halt or degrade natural ecological processes in various ways. Disturbance is a natural phenomenon. Many ecosystems have therefore evolved complex mechanisms to recover their structure and function. For many technical reasons, however, the effects of disturbances, particularly those that are man-made, usually last decades if not centuries. Indeed, it is often not possible to recover some key ecosystem properties at all. To have any chance of success, the industry needs to recognize this disturbance to the natural dynamic, and counteract such negative effects through sound rehabilitation management. Whilst most mining companies now agree to rehabilitate, many are still unaware of the basic ecological concepts in rehabilitation and are therefore unable to develop proper rehabilitation plans. Except for a few case studies, rehabilitation planning in the mining industry is still of a low standard with a poor success rate. To test this hypothesis, and to gain an understanding of its possible systemic drivers, we designed a questionnaire that was sent out to a number of mines in Namibia. The questionnaire dealt with four aspects of rehabilitation planning and management: 1) incentives, 2) understanding of ecological processes and constraints, 3) level of thinking about and execution of rehabilitation plans, 4) capacity and 5) monitoring and evaluation. Our results suggest that, in Namibia, most companies rehabilitate because of shareholder concerns or perceived reputational risk, rather than legal pressure. Very few respondents knew about basic ecological processes, or considered utilizing these in rehabilitation management. Possible explanations include environmental managers with little or no ecological training and/or pressure from the mining companies to do the minimum that will be accepted. None of the respondents were implementing a properly articulated rehabilitation management plan, and only a few had developed some vision for what the land should look like after closure. Our findings indicate that although all respondents understood the importance of rehabilitation, there are a number of systemic shortcomings that are currently hampering good rehabilitation management in Namibia. There is thus an excellent opportunity for restoration ecologists and mining companies to engage, for without it, even modest ecological sustainability targets are unlikely to be met in the medium to long term.

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