Drones will revolutionize the ecological restoration of opencast mining

The Government of Catalonia and CREAF, the public entity member of Catalonia Smart Drones, have presented a new methodology that, through the use of drones, will revolutionize the monitoring of the ecological restoration of open-pit mining operations.

The protocol, presented by the Director-General of Environmental Quality and Climate Change, Mercè Rius, and CREAF researcher Vicenç Carabassa, allows a detailed follow-up of both the rehabilitation project of the exploited area and the exploitation process itself. “It’s a win-win where all parties win: private enterprise, public administration and, ultimately, society in general,” said the scientist.

For his part, Rius stated that “this innovative protocol should help companies and the administration to improve the monitoring of restorations of extractive activities, to speed up inspection and should contribute to an improvement of the environment and an increase in biodiversity ”.

More agile and cheaper process

The legislation obliges to inspect annually the restoration tasks developed in each extractive activity. The new protocol can greatly speed up and reduce the cost of this process because drones can fly over mines quickly, obtaining quality and objective data. In this sense, they allow to obtain, for example, a very high topography and avoid doing the work from the ground as is done with classical systems.

In addition, thanks to the use of sensors and cameras, they can perform more than one action at the same time. Thus, this technology allows to obtain aerial images of much detail and to construct maps of covers to see how the vegetation of the restored zones is regenerated. In fact, with the technology that has been tested during the elaboration of the protocol, it has been possible to construct images where even the species of trees that grew covering the recovered area could be differentiated. They are also useful for monitoring the dust generated by the farm, which can reach forested or inhabited areas, or for monitoring episodes of erosion, which can make it difficult to recover the land to be reclaimed.

The protocol was drawn up by CREAF in response to a request from the Government of Catalonia, which wanted to make the process more efficient. It has been tested on farms with different climates and problems that have been able to demonstrate the wide range of scenarios in which drones can help.

Only in Catalonia, there are more than 400 active extractive activities, to which must be added about 500 that are pending restoration. In total there is an area authorized to exploit or already exploited of more than 11,000 hectares, of which it is estimated that 43% has been returned to its previous natural state, which has gone through what is called an ecological restoration process.

Test bench in Castellgalí

The protocol has been developed in collaboration with many entities, both public and private, including companies that manufacture drones and offer services associated with their use. In this sense, research staff involved in the project have been able to test different models of drones, including a fixed wing designed and manufactured by the Catalan company CATUAV, in collaboration with Exodronics. This drone has a fast flight, similar to that of an airplane, unlike others that fly like a helicopter, which has allowed to fly over large open pit mines in less than an hour, a procedure that would have been on foot. to do in days.

The Corps of Rural Agents has also participated in the pilot tests, by conducting flights through the RPAS Unit of the Air Support Service. Likewise, other research centers such as the CTFC or the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona itself, through the Grumets research group, have been important actors in developing or testing parts of the proposal presented today. Since 2017, CREAF has been collaborating with a decorative stone mine in Castellgalí managed by a family business that has also been a test bed for testing the protocol. In Castellgalí we can find areas that were exploited twenty years ago where a young forest has now grown, others restored 15 years ago where the scrub grows and the most recent ones from 5 years ago that are already covered with a grassy carpet.