Holcim Spain, El Puente: Biodiversity Conservation during active operation.

Holcim, Spain, El Puente: Biodiversity Conservation during active operation

The El Puente gravel pit is located in Seseña, Toledo, south of Madrid. Onsite activities include the extraction and
preparation of aggregates.

Known Biodiversity
The Jarama river, which runs through the site, has a wide network of rivers as well as sand and mud banks, depending on fluctuating river levels. The riverside forest is not very developed and the undisturbed areas on the site are mainly waste land, shrubbery and herbaceous uncultivated lands. The area surrounding the site is dominated by farming and fallow lands. The rehabilitated areas have been transformed into a series of habitats with different flora and fauna structures.
Holcim Spain recognizes that wetlands are some of the richest ecosystems on the planet due to their high biological productivity ie, their great ability to sustain life. Their disappearance threatens the various animal and plant species that directly depend on them. The restoration efforts at El Puente incorporate the creation and enhancement of wetland environments to address this loss.

Targets and aims

  • Demonstrate that the exploitation of a gravel pit for commercial purposes can be done in a sustainable way
  • Improve the level of biodiversity in the rehabilitated areas to have greater environmental quality than before exploitation: create a variety of habitats specifically for aquatic birds with the surrounding topographic characteristics in mind and the requirements of the species it attracts.
  • Demonstrate Holcim's commitment to the environment and to the communities in which we operate

In recovering the natural habitats for aquatic birds, the rehabilitation efforts in El Puente have built on existing vegetation to create various types of land formations (such as small islands) as well as a series of water formations (such as small lakes), in order to meet the basic needs of the various species.
This type of restoration usually obtains better results in exploitation where excavations are performed below groundwater level. The restoration design includes different water depths, temporary and permanent islands, irregular banks, marshland vegetation, partial recovery of riverside forests, and ensuring natural links to the adjacent riverside and marshy vegetation. Attention was given to suitable nesting areas, ensuring spaces for feeding, resting, refuge, and areas for monitoring of the birds.

Holcim works with a local biologist to design the rehabilitation.

The 180 hectares of land of El Puente are home to 200 different bird species, 72 of which are aquatic. In a single year more than half of Spain's usual species can be spotted in the lakes of El Puente alone.

In 2007, about 43,000 birds passed through El Puente monthly, a record even by international standards.

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Innovation / Highlights
The restoration efforts have received numerous accolades from governmental institutions. In 2007 the Group of Aggregate Producers of Castilla-La Mancha province awarded El Puente 1st prize for best environmental practice, specifically for the design of natural habitats for birds. In addition, Holcim Aggregates is a frequent recipient of the Spanish National Association of Aggregates Producers 1st prize for gravel pit rehabilitation (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005), as well as the European Aggregates Association's Sustainable Development Award for Reforestation, Quarrying and Landscaping (2000, 2001, 2005).

Holcim is currently producing a book on the sustainable process of extracting and preparing aggregates with the example El Puente gravel pit. To be released in Spring of 2009, the book also highlights the rehabilitation efforts made in El Puente. A first book, published in 2003, proposed a detailed analysis of El Puente's bird fauna:
"El Puente gravel pit : Environmental Commitment, Creation of Bird Habitats, Restoration of the Natural Environment".

Lessons learned
The production of cement and aggregates depends on long-term access to raw materials acquired through quarrying, which in return depends on the good state of the environment and of relationships with stakeholders. In view of the importance of locating production close to the market, Holcim's business is local. It has deep roots in the communities in which it operates and is an important stimulator of local business. The value generated is returned to the local economy and multiplied many times via the activities of suppliers and customers. The most valuable lesson Holcim has learnt is the importance of returning land of equal or greater environmental quality than before exploitation to the community with tangible social and economic results.

More information
Contact Manuel Soriano Baeza: