The aggregates industry plays
a significant role in delivering biodiversity conservation
in Northern Ireland, as land managers they have a dominant influence
on ecosystems and habitats.
Quarries and sand & gravel pits are of importance for a wide
variety of wildlife during active, extraction phase and after
extraction has finished. Mineral extraction can also uncover important
geological exposures and archaeological features.
Both nature conservation organisations and the aggregates industry
now recognise the significant contribution aggregate extraction
operations can deliver for biodiversity. Quarries and Sand &
Gravel pits can be of importance for a wide variety of wildlife
during the active extraction phase and after extraction has finished.
Extraction can also uncover important geological exposures and
archaeological features. Any action for biodiversity conservation
should be harmonized with geological management requirements of
the site where possible.
Aggregate development, like all types of development, has to
compete for land. However, unlike other forms of development quarrying
is a temporary use of land and progressive restoration means that
sites are effectively “borrowed”. More often than
not aggregate extraction creates new and diverse habitats; therefore
biodiversity interests are as unavoidable by the industry as much
as they are an opportunity.
Quarrying is also a unique form of development because aggregates
can only be extracted where they occur. This means extraction
is limited to certain geological areas. Often these geological
areas are in areas of inherent beauty or value because of the
relationship between geology, its biodiversity and the landscape.
However, quarrying is an essential part of modern society and
aggregates are a vital resource for economic growth and development.
Annual demand for aggregates in Northern Ireland is approximately
24 million tonnes, there are around 160 quarries and sand pits
producing £400 million worth of products per year.
The quarrying industry is conscious of the need to carry out
its work with sensitivity and responsibly. It is committed to
minimising the environmental impact of its operations and to making
a positive contribution to the environment through the restoration
of sites and, in particular, through the creation of new wildlife
habitats which can increase biodiversity and geodiversity.
Quarrying is strictly controlled and has to meet high standards
of environmental performance set by government and local planning
authorities. The industry is continuing to push standards still
higher. Many of our companies implement Environmental Management
Systems, part of the company’s management system used to
develop and implement its environmental policy and manage its
interactions with the environment.
Companies implement environmental management systems to ensure
that operations are carried out as sensitively as possible. The
creation and management of new wildlife habitats is often carried
out in partnership with local conservation groups. Biodiversity
and Geodiversity action plans are becoming increasingly common
throughout the QPA membership to ensure the highest levels of
The Aggregates Levy was introduced, UK-wide,
in 2002 and is an environmental tax on the commercial exploitation
of aggregates. The aim is to address the environmental costs associated
with aggregates extraction not already covered by regulation.
It is also aimed at encouraging the use of alternative sources
such as recycled materials and certain waste products. The Levy
is set at £1.60 per tonne. There were particular problems
associated with the impact of the Levy in Northern Ireland and
the Aggregates Levy Scheme was developed to overcome these. The
Scheme has EU approval and will run to March 2011. Operators who
join the Scheme are entitled to a reduction of 80% in the Levy
i.e. will only have to pay £0.32 per tonne. In return, operators
sign a legal agreement undertaking to carry out environmental
improvements at their sites on an incremental basis. Companies
join the aggregates scheme (ALCS) 0n a voluntary basis to receive
the levy reduction and are audited by the Department of the Environment
who Administers ALCS on behalf of Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue.