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Land reclamation

Themes: Introduction | Managing the soil | Other factors | Quiz

Smithy Dene was a small private drift mine on Waldridge Fell, South West of Chester-le-Street and once had about 9 drift mines plus one NCB Colliery with 2 shafts. Image credit: Roy Lambeth There is a natural balance within a healthy soil - a balance between the micro-organisms and animals living in the soil, and in the nutrient and water cycles where the soil connects to the wider world, and in the physical structure and chemical makeup of the soil. A soil in balance works as a 'system' with many parts. However soil and land can become damaged environmentally by a number of means. Previous industrial, mining and land-fill activities can damage and pollute the soil - hugely affecting the physical and chemical make-up of the soil. Poor agricultural practices can also reduce the quality of the soil. Once damaged, the 'soil system' cannot work properly and the delicate balance between all the parts that make up the healthy soil become disrupted. One implication could be that animal life in the soil becomes impossible and the complex web of interactions in the soil cease. Imagine a complex motor engine with all its many parts driving forward, damaged by some means and prevented from working. In such cases, the soil system, its habitat and the landscape must be managed to coax the soil motor back into life. This is the role of Land Reclamation and Restoration - literally restoring the functions of soil back into working order.

Smithy Dene, the same view,  some 9 years later. Image credit: Roy Lambeth Habitat restoration is now an important part of nature conservation. Government planning regulations try to encourage restoration by a number of means, such as by making money available to fund restoration of existing damaged sites. It is important that those who undertake such projects understand the way that the soil system works, so that their plans can have the biggest positive effect. For instance when restoring a site, understanding the soil and ecological conditions in nearby surrounding landscapes can help guide the correct course of action. One example could be in choosing which plant types to encourage to enhance biodiversity. Another example could be in developing links between habitats in the landscape, allowing animals to travel between locations.

Together with climate and the influence of other living things, such as animals and particularly humankind, soil conditions can both limit as well as support plant growth and the development of plant communities. For any habitat restoration project to be successful, it is important to understand the existing soil conditions and the kinds of vegetation and habitats these can sustain. Restoration projects should use the existing properties and distribution of soils to guide opportunities for habitat restoration. These properties are the result of centuries, if not millennia, of change caused by forest removal, grazing, cultivation, climate change and environmental pollution.

Themes: Introduction | Managing the soil | Other factors | Quiz