Holcim Switzerland: Habitat restoration and species conservation

In Switzerland, since the 1950s, 90% of dry meadows have been lost and thus they are considered as an endangered habitat. Testori Quarry of Holcim Switzerland was also one of such dry meadow areas where some rare species were on decline due to habitat loss. In response, Holcim Switzerland restores its closed and degraded Testori quarry, where this initiative also helped to get an extension for an active quarry Mormont. Testori now provides habitats for rare species and gradually, the site is becoming as one of the best spots in the region for dry meadows, which are nationally important.

 

Project description:

Company: Holcim (Suisse) SA
Site: Eclepens Plant, Testori Quarry
Duration: since 2003
Project Partners: Service cantonal Forêts Faune Nature (local government authority)


The Eclépens plant of Holcim Switzerland has one active quarry, Mormont, and one closed quarry, Testori. Mormont supplies limestone, the main raw material, to the cement plant. To ensure the continued supply of limestone, the plant needed to extend its quarry limit.

The Testori quarry, closed in 1953, over time developed into a forest of woody trees and shrubs. However, this reduced the extent of dry meadow, a rare and endangered habitat in Switzerland that was present prior to quarrying at the site. Locally threatened and rare species that depend on this habitat such as lizard orchids and aspic vipers were on the decline.

In Switzerland, dry meadows are considered as an endangered habitat and today only one-tenth of this ecologically valuable land exists compared to 1950. The loss is primarily due to changing land-use practices. Today, dry meadow habitats, including Testori are classified as “nationally important” in Switzerland.

In order to extend its Mormont quarry permit, Holcim Switzerland offered to re-establish the dry meadow habitat that was present prior to quarrying, at the closed site, Testori. The company recognized the opportunity to use its closed quarry to create increase the biodiversity value from forest to an area of national biodiversity importance.

Activities:


As a first step, the plant undertook a multi-year comprehensive study (including floral and faunal study) to understand the biodiversity profile of the site. Based upon the findings, an action plan was developed together with local authorities and expert biologists. The main objective of the action plan was to promote the dry meadows ecosystem in order to provide habitats for the Lizard orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum) and Aspic viper (Vipera aspis).

To minimize the damage to natural floral and faunal population, heavy machinery was avoided for vegetation removal. Instead, “Soft clearing” - plant by plant - was undertaken, sometimes over several years. Horses were employed to help transport tree cuttings and cleared material without damaging the delicate soils. These activities were normally conducted in January to minimize disturbance to the snakes. To promote herbaceous and shrub vegetation growth, regular pruning of the taller and woody vegetation to a desired height was undertaken. Since the inception of the project, progress has been tracked through annual botanical monitoring which has informed update and revision of the action plan as required.


Results:

The Testori rehabilitation project earned Eclépens approval to extend its quarrying permit for Mormont and at the same time brought back a important ecosystem to the Testori site. Today, the site is a favorite location for naturalists and supports a range of IUCN Red List flora and fauna species, including the Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgarism) and Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera).


Best Practice:

Closed quarry sites and non-productive sites can be opportunities to restore and enhance biodiversity which help in reducing the overall impact from the extraction operations. This can help to secure the needed consents and approvals for extraction operations elsewhere. Regular monitoring and an adaptive management approach are also significant in rehabilitation projects.
By using its present landholdings to create a high value habitat, Eclepens has converted the risk into an opportunity that benefitted the company as well as the environment.