ECO recognises that there is a need for local sources of aggregate and other minerals as importing large quantities of material is unsustainable both economically and environmentally. However, it is ECO’s belief that resources should be extracted in a sustainable manner that does not compromise Orkney’s environment.
Orkney has, until fairly recently, had a fairly ad hoc mineral extraction policy that has done little to safeguard Orkney’s landscape and natural heritage. As a result of illegal small and large-scale sand extraction, beautiful beaches, dune systems, wetland areas, staging posts for birds, habitats for rare butterflies and plant species have been lost or irreparably damaged. ECO has persistently advocated the adoption of a strategic policy for mineral extraction throughout Orkney Mainland and the Isles in order that this type of malpractice might be prevented.
Orkney Islands Council began to address this problem in 1995 with the establishment of a working group whose aim it was to develop a strategic mineral extraction policy for Orkney. A Planning Enforcement Officer was also employed with a view to monitoring any unwarranted extraction. Unfortunately, due to lack of council support, the enforcement officer’s reign was short lived and damage to some of Orkney’s most attractive beaches continued (for example, at the Bu Sands in Burray).
In 2004, nearly ten years after the original appointment, ECO welcomed OIC’s decision to recruit another enforcement officer. Also at this time ECO were asked to comment upon a long awaited consultation document for a strategic minerals extraction policy for Orkney. In this document ECO made particular reference to the need for council support of the new planning enforcement officer in order to prevent illegal damage Orkney’s remaining resources. In addition, ECO utilised this document to reiterate a number of its key views with regards management of Orkney’s mineral resource:
Recycle and re-use secondary materials wherever possible. Opportunities exist to recycle road and building materials. Glass, of which the cost of transporting to Mainland Scotland makes its recycling difficult or prohibitive, can be crushed and effectively utilised to augment hard core for road construction. ECO will be working with Orkney Zerowaste (OZ) to further local initiatives for the reuse of secondary materials and to help establish an attitude towards sustainable use of resources.
Reinstatement of sites should be an integral part of OIC’s mineral extraction policy. As part of planning consent there should be a commitment placed upon the developer not to simply abandon the area once extraction has ceased, but where appropriate, to work with the local community to make the area suitable for further use, perhaps for recreation, native tree planting, or in the case of large quarries, perhaps a man-made fresh water loch, or other worthwhile conservation project. Assistance for such projects is available from the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) through the Aggregates Levy. This is a UK environmental tax on the commercial exploitation of aggregate. In Scotland, a percentage of the Levy is redistributed amongst some major environmental projects and to community projects in areas where there is or has been aggregate extraction in order to assist environmental renewal. Clearly there are opportunities for the development of some valuable reinstatement projects in Orkney.
|The picture shows the Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
In 1904, the idea of the Butchart Gardens began with an effort to reinstate a worked-out quarry site on the 130-acre estate of Mr and Mrs R.P. Butchart - pioneers in the manufacture of Portland Cement in Canada. These spectacular gardens are one of the main tourist attractions and sources of income for Victoria. For more information on the gardens, see www.butchartgardens.com.
What might be achieved in some of Orkney’s abandoned quarries for the benefit of Orkney’s inhabitants and important tourist industry?
Alternative technologies are an important consideration in the development of any sustainable management strategy. Considerable advances are being made in the area of building design and materials, e.g. in the use of sustainable sources such as timber and straw. Other features such as compacted mud walls are also a tested building technique in many parts of the world and may be applicable to the Orkney environment. Planning policy in Orkney and throughout Britain is generally unfavourable towards alternative building technologies, however ECO believe that a supportive system for green building is an essential part of a sustainable future. Timber is a sustainable resource that is becoming used more widely to clad buildings in Orkney. Whilst ECO favours the use of timber, many of these buildings are inappropriately designed. Respect for the vernacular built heritage is essential in the use of any new materials in order that the unique characteristics of the Orkney landscape are not compromised.
Monitoring at working quarries is essential to ensure that there are no detrimental environmental effects due to operating procedures. Modern extraction methods allow excessive nuisance caused by dust and ground vibration to be eliminated. However, significant pollution can occur if fuels, reagents and chemicals from quarry workings are allowed to contaminate watercourses. Silt discharge in water contaminated with dust, mud, concrete and other waste products into the Bay of Firth over a number of years could have a potentially serious impact on the marine environment. Thus in continuing to grant silt discharges to sea or discharges into watercourses, OIC and SEPA need to ensure that adequate treatment and close monitoring is integral to any extraction works.
Balance is of course essential when considering the needs of industry and development and the need to conserve the natural heritage. Often there is a perceived conflict of interest between development and the environment, however ECO believe that with sensible and sustainable management there is no reason why both cannot operate harmoniously.
Dylan De Silva