German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Post-Mining Landscapes

Post-Mining Landscape

Open-cast mining in the lignite districts of central and eastern Germany has affected huge areas of land, leaving behind entirely new landscapes characterised by their unique yet typical forms, in some cases bizarre and striking surfaces, and the absence of human activity.

What makes the eastern German mining districts particularly interesting is that at the beginning of the 1990s, more than 50 percent of the region’s disused mining sites had still to be reclaimed. Many went untouched for years and even decades. Rehabilitation work has since been stepped up and in recent years, nature conservationists have shown increasing interest in eastern Germany’s post-mining landscapes as many of them are highly valuable in terms of nature conservation and harbour unique development potential. This is largely due to the differing developmental stages that have evolved since mining activities ceased.

The sites have developed into characteristic habitats marked by heterogeneity, the absence of fragmentation, nutrient poverty, locational dynamics and the presence of numerous and often rare animal and plant species. The opportunity to preserve these structures should thus be seen as an important piece of contemporary heritage.

Rehabilitation and recultivation of the sites bring yet another complete change to the landscape. With the main focus on risk prevention, measures involving slope reinforcement, soil improvement, erosion abatement and cavity flooding all help to destroy the uniqueness of many post-mining landscapes.

While in recent years site rehabilitation measures have taken in nature conservation knowledge to a significantly greater degree than before, it is evident that for the most part activities still focus on the notion of reproducing cultural landscapes untouched by mining. This results in the loss of habitats typical to post-mining landscapes and so of highly valuable nature conservation areas. It also leads to the irretrievable loss of one of the region’s most prominent ‘hallmarks’.

At first glance, mining landscapes are seen as areas in which mining has destroyed vegetation and living soil layers. In reality, they harbour valuable and significant nature conservation potential because the conditions found in mining landscapes rarely occur in cultural landscapes untouched by mining. This is why in many cases, nature conservation activities are aimed at saving the structures that have evolved in these areas over time.

Nature Conservation and Rehabilitation of Opencast Lignite Mines

From a nature conservation standpoint, rehabilitation should ideally focus on integrating nature conservation goals into plans for other post-mining uses. Recreation plays a key role here: visitors to the sites can experience at first hand the special scenic attractions and impressions created by post-mining landscapes. But with a range of tourism initiatives planned for the region, there is evidence of tension evolving between certain tourism trends and nature conservation needs. Local administrations especially are relying on tourism to boost the local economy. This set of circumstances provided the incentive for a further research and development project designed to produce a set of criteria and strategies to achieve sustainable recreation and tourism in post-mining landscapes.

Sustainable recreation

Over the past decade, the nature conservation value attached to former lignite mining sites has led state and non-state nature conservation activities to sharpen their focus on post-mining landscapes. With the increase in rehabilitation measures that completely raze the structures so typical to opencast mining and sales of the sites accelerating apace, there remains an urgent need to safeguard this unique natural potential. Site acquisition involved clarifying a wide range of unresolved issues – things like the risks arising from former mining sites, the related obligations (liability issues) and compliance requirements, and the associated costs (insurance). As a result, BfN intensified its efforts in promoting the cause for preserving and safeguarding nature conservation areas in post-mining landscapes.

Safeguarding post-mining landscapes

Last Change: 29/03/2016