Environmental Rehabilitation

Environmental Rehabilitation Management – An Introduction

Nicolaas Kerkmeester September 28, 2021

Environmental Rehabilitation Meaning

Environmental rehabilitation means restoration of disturbed areas and seeks to reverse negative environmental impacts. Environmental disturbance or damage can happen at a local, landscape or region scale by many activities including mining, agriculture, urbanisation or other development. There can be various negative effects of this disturbance including biodiversity loss, soil and water contamination, and impacts on other ecosystem systems. 

The objective of environmental rehabilitation is to ensure that all environmental aspects are adequately addressed to minimise ongoing negative impacts from disturbance.

In this article we explain the following foundational topics:

Types of Environmental Rehabilitation

Why Environmental Rehabilitation is Important

What is a Rehabilitation Management Plan?

Steps for Successful Rehabilitation 

How Applied Environment & Safety Can Help

Types of Environmental Rehabilitation

Land Rehabilitation Following Disturbance

A common application of environmental rehabilitation is the restoration of disturbed land following vegetation clearing and/or soil disturbance. Rehabilitation should ensure that disturbed areas are restored, leaving a stable environment that is conducive to the establishment of landscapes characteristic to the area. 

Land Rehabilitation
Land Rehabilitation

The main aim of land disturbance rehabilitation is to provide a protective soil cover through vegetation cover. Vegetation acts to reduce dust and wind erosion, suppress weed infestations and provide protection to exposed soil surfaces from raindrop impacts and erosion processes. This then allows for further productive ecosystems on stable landforms. 

Specific Rehabilitation Requirements

Some industries, particularly those with potential significant or long term environmental impacts, will have specific rehabilitation requirements including the development and approval of specific rehabilitation management plans. 

In Queensland under the Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) Act 2018, the State Government has established the requirement for a life-of-mine plan (i.e. from commencement through to surrender) through a Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure Plan.  

A Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure Plan is used to:

  • Describe the intended post-mining land use or non-use management area
  • Outline rehabilitation techniques for achieving the post-mining land use or management measures for a non-use management area
  • Map where mining and rehabilitation activities are forecast to occur
  • Set binding (enforceable), time-based milestones for actions that achieve progressive rehabilitation or management outcomes

Progressive Rehabilitation 

Rehabilitation is an important part of a project’s environmental performance and is effectively considered as another component of operations. Rehabilitation should not be considered as something that begins towards the end of the project, but rather a process that begins in the planning phase and is progressively sequenced throughout the life of the operation.

Why Environmental Rehabilitation is Important? 

Effective rehabilitation planning and implementation can be a ‘win/win’ for Project Managers and stakeholders. When executed well, it can:

  • Reduce financial risk and liabilities
  • Reduce costs in relation to environmental bonds / security deposits
  • Improve regulator and stakeholder confidence.

Early planning can also reduce future costs by ensuring operations are conducted in a way that facilitates and maximises the efficiency of rehabilitation.

Poor rehabilitation can lead to environmental, social and economic legacy issues, which may require regulatory intervention and result in financial uncertainty, reputational damage, potential liability and difficulties obtaining approvals and finance for future projects.

What is a Rehabilitation Management Plan?

A Rehabilitation Management Plan describes the rehabilitation objectives, strategies and actions that are necessary to address rehabilitation of a disturbed area. The strategies should be designed to ensure maintenance-free rehabilitation over the long term.

For small scale disturbance or restoration projects, a Rehabilitation Management Plan may be developed as a scaled drawing showing the location, site context, management detail and management specifications of treatment areas that require submission to your local Council for approval. For larger-scale projects or specific industries, such as mining as previously mentioned, a Rehabilitation Management Plan may be required to be developed in accordance with specific legislation requirements and form part of your development approval.

Although each project may have very different requirements in regards to the development of a Rehabilitation Management Plan, there is a typical process to be followed as provided in the next section. We would recommend that you speak to one of our experienced Environmental Consultants to discuss your requirements for rehabilitation management.

The process to Develop a Rehabilitation Management Plan

The typical process followed for the planning and development of a Rehabilitation Management Plan can be seen hereunder:

Rehabilitation Management Plan
Rehabilitation Management Plan

Steps for Successful Rehabilitation 

To successfully rehabilitate disturbed areas, it is important to plan, implement and monitor. 

Here are six steps to set you up for successful rehabilitation:

  1. Plan for rehabilitation. Prior to disturbance, plan and prepare for rehabilitation including retention of vegetation, topsoil and fauna habitat.
  2. Understand your local environment and constraints. What season will rehabilitation take place? Will the disturbed area be impacted by the wider catchment area? Are the soils dispersive, saline, acidic or low in nutrients? 
  3. If your site is prone to erosion, choose the correct erosion control material or design protection around your site.
  4. Select the appropriate plant species. As part of your project’s approval, you may need replant native vegetation species. Sometimes you will need to return a vegetated cover to stop erosion.
  5. Install your erosion control, seeds and plants properly. Make sure your contractors or ground staff do not blast tubestock out of the ground with high pressure water. Ensure your erosion control is properly installed. Always ask an expert if you are unsure about the ‘right’ way to do something.
  6. Inspect and maintain. Plants may die, some seeds might not germinate or erosion control might need maintenance. It is important to do regular inspections to fix these problems as they arise. The longer you leave these issues the more difficult they might become to remediate.

How Applied Environment & Safety Can Help

Applied Environment & Safety have supported projects through to rehabilitation. For the TransGrid Wagga Wagga to Tumut transmission line rebuild project, substantial earthworks were required to establish safe access and construction work areas. These large-scale disturbed areas were monitored and managed from construction through to rehabilitation. 

Planning and early engagement with earthmoving contractors ensured valuable topsoils and vegetation were managed appropriately for reuse in rehabilitation. Other rehabilitation controls included erosion and sediment controls; topsoil stockpiling and management; and seeding to promote vegetation growth and ground stabilisation.

For more information on the Projects that we have supported, see our Projects Page.