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Rethinking quarry rehabilitation

World Cement,

The Gerhausen/Beiningen quarry near Blaubeuren is home to a herd of Heck cattle (a back breed of the extinct Aurochs) and wild Konik horses, which settled on some 75 ha. of pastureland at the site in June 2012.

This year-round pastureland project is the largest of its kind in the German state of Baden Wuerttemberg with wild horses and cattle. Day-to-day operations are handled by Urzeit Weide GbR, which was formed specially for the purposes of the project. HeidelbergCement AG and Blautal-Land-und-Forst GmbH & Co. KG are partners in the project, both of which have provided the land used for grazing. Two associations, Industrieverband Steine und Erden (ISTE) and NABU Baden-Württemberg, have been involved as cooperation partners and advisors from the very beginning of the project, alongside GeoPark Schwäbische Alb.

Quarry sites as biotopes

Quarries are home to secondary biotopes created by human activity, which exhibit a broad array of landscape diversity – with respect to sun exposure, the water factor and soil structure – in a relatively small area. “This diversity of valuable refuges offers numerous specialised animal and plant species a unique habitat, the likes of which is otherwise few and far between in today’s world. It is precisely the open, barren spaces in a quarry whose structure and habitat features are reminiscent of formerly abundant flood-meadows and grasslands, and offer vital sanctuaries for rare pioneer species like the Little Ringed Plover or the European Tree Frog,” says Dr Michael Rademacher, Biodiversity and Natural Resources Manager at HeidelbergCement.

The Konik horses and Heck cattle also have grazing grounds available in the surrounding forests.

Wild grazing ensures thinning of vegetation

Without (human) intervention, however, such spaces rapidly grow over with vegetation – thus losing their value for endangered species. Year-round grazing is a nature-based concept for a dynamic landscape management process, which is largely outside of direct human control. The herds foraging throughout the diverse quarry landscape ensure that small streams remain open, as well as maintaining open habitats and varying states of forest succession. This benefits not only the amphibians living in the quarries, but also birds and myriad insects such as dragonflies and beetles.

The trampling and random cropping of vegetation through grazing helps to create unique areas that are small but of vital importance for organisms relying on a dynamic habitat. In times of dormant growth, plants that are not part of the animals’ principal diet (e.g. blackberry thickets) are cropped. From a landscape management perspective, the most important months for grazing are November to March.

Pastureland also contains forested areas

Since September 2013, various forested areas throughout the quarry have been incorporated into the section of land made available to the 12 Konik horses and the 19 Heck cattle living there at the time of writing.

“This kind of forested pasture landscape is quite unusual nowadays. In order that the free-ranging cattle and horses could have access to the forests, we first had to go through an administrative approval process, because the use of forests by grazing animals has been strictly forbidden in Germany since 1833,” explains Rademacher. “Today, forestry is once more willing to accept forest grazing to a limited extent, as the ecological value of the forests grows in importance among the population, alongside their pure wood producing functions.”

The primitive Heck cattle are very content at their home at the Gerhausen/Beiningen quarry.

Ideal characteristics of the animals

Their profile is a simple one: the cattle and horses must be robust so that they can deal with the temperature fluctuations and precipitation faced when living outdoors year-round. Only in times of dormant vegetation and extreme winters must extra feed be provided by humans, in the form of hay, straw and mineral supplements. All the same, the health of the animals – as well as whether they are all present and accounted for – is kept track of by an agricultural expert on a daily basis. Moreover, biologists have drawn up a monitoring concept, and provide scientific support for this one-of-a-kind project.

Heck cattle and Konik horses

The introduction of Heck cattle alongside Konik horses is a proven combination that has previously been used in similar projects in Germany and neighbouring countries.

The now extinct Aurochs, or Urus (Bos primigenius), is the direct ancestor of all domestic cattle. In the 1920s, the brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck worked to breed the Aurochs back into existence from their domestic cattle descendants. Over time, they were able to come closer and closer to this goal.

Today, the “Taurus” breeding programme continues to move even closer to the original Aurochs through cross-breeding with southern European primitive breeds, primarily from Italy and Spain.

The Konik is a primeval, robust and self-sufficient pony, with wild horse tendencies. It originally comes from Poland, where it is now systematically bred and valued as a tough work and riding horse. The typical characteristics of the Konik are its pronounced head, often with a short neck, as well as its mouse-grey coat, dark mane (usually with a dorsal stripe) and “Zebra stripes” on its legs.

Harmonious coexistence between quarrying and grazing

Despite the continuing operations at the Gerhausen/Beiningen quarry, most of the areas enjoy long periods of undisturbed, natural growth.

The freely roaming herds of Konik horses and Heck cattle are meant to help keep overgrowth in check, maintain the semi-open character of the landscape and increase biodiversity at the site. The ongoing work does not disturb the animals, since the quarry is large enough and offers adequate space to move about.

Given the great success of this project, HeidelbergCement is already planning a similar one at its Tula site in Russia.

Written by Stefanie Kaufmann, HeidelbergCement, Germany. This is an abridged version of the full article, which appeared in the June 2014 issue of World Cement. Subscribers can view the full article by logging in.

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