Rock to Road

One More Load: Opportunities for rehabilitation are endless

When it comes to project planning, biodiversity is key

November 15, 2023  By Nicole Charlton

Sand and gravel operations, as a regulated land-use practice, often address biodiversity as a key consideration throughout the lifecycle of an operation. Planning a project to comply with biodiversity-related regulations and policies is important for obtaining approvals and reducing delays, disruptions during operations phases, or even the outright rejection of project applications.

The project planning, permitting and approvals stages require inventories and assessments of the biodiversity of the proposed site, so that avoidance or mitigation of any potential negative impacts can be planned before a project is approved. Key pieces of biodiversity-related legislation may apply, including the Federal Species at Risk Act and Migratory Birds Convention Act, or any number of provincial jurisdiction-specific policies and regulations. 

Environmental management plans can be useful documents for guiding biodiversity protection and management throughout the operation of a project. For example, implementing standard vegetation clearing windows to avoid potential harm to nesting migratory birds may be a common component of such plans. Other biodiversity monitoring components could include assessments of mitigation measures, such as whether transplanted rare plants or compensation habitat is on the anticipated success trajectory. 

While biodiversity-related policy and legislation can pose potential challenges or constraints to project planning and operations, it’s also important to recognize the significant opportunities and benefits that aggregate operations and good biodiversity management can offer to a given setting. An aggregate operation can be a blank canvas. A pit or quarry can offer the potential for the restoration and rehabilitation phases with near endless opportunities to provide alternative and varying habitats and enhance biodiversity. 


Wetland creation and restoration is one component that is frequently implemented and that can provide key breeding and feeding habitats for a huge variety of wildlife and plants. Habitat for at-risk bird species can also be provided through grassland restoration, or within vertical substrate faces for cliff and bank nesters. Barren or exposed substrates can also provide opportunities to create rare habitat types that are inherently more suited to these immediate post-extraction conditions, and these can even act as transitional habitats as part of a longer-term rehabilitation or restoration plan to another end land use. 

Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) is an increasing component of the social license to operate and is becoming critical for corporations, the public and investors. Maintaining and improving biodiversity forms a significant part of that. The United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15), held in December 2022 in Montreal and attended by 188 governments, yielded a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through 2030. One of the agreed to points was requiring transnational companies and financial institutions to monitor, assess and transparently disclose risks and impacts on biodiversity through their operations, portfolios, supply and value chains. Many companies are already tracking and publishing their biodiversity progress as part of their ESG. 

The industry is being recognized for biodiversity achievements and some incentives are available to continue this work. Provincial aggregate organizations have a variety of awards that can be obtained through biodiversity projects. Additional recognition opportunities are available through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) or the myriad of outside environmental groups. Other voluntary mechanisms such as the Biodiversity Indicator Reporting System (BIRS) methodology developed in partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are also available.

Nicole Charlton is a senior ecologist with SLR who focuses on botany, vegetation community classification, and species at risk. She helps clients navigate the approvals, permitting and compliance environments on a wide range of projects and provides advice and specifications on habitat and restoration plans and monitoring.

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