Environmental Protection, Renaturation, Recultivation

Latest Update: September 2023

The extraction of natural resources is responsible for lasting interventions in nature and the landscape in Germany, e. g. because overburden has to be removed and heaped up in piles or areas are temporarily used to erect conveyors or other operating plant. The statutory requirements of the Federal Mining Act guarantee that rehabilitation will be planned at an early stage and taken into account. A balance is achieved between the interests of the extractive sector and the environment in the approval procedure reflecting the Federal State’s plans and mining law. Citizens, the elected political representatives of mining regions together with sectoral authorities, environmental associations and other public interest parties have various opportunities to exercise influence and be involved in co-determination. In general, the principle that the burden on the environment must be kept to the minimum applies to both the planning and operation of mines. In addition to this, the mining operator has an obligation to rehabilitate the areas affected by the extraction of natural resources (§ 55 BBergG). The measures on how the surface will be structured in an individual case is part of the planning and approval process and depends on the original condition of the area used for mining and what the plans are for its future use.
When the mining authorities approve the respective operating plans, one of the aspects they also check is whether the company can finance the costs that will be incurred at the time as a result of future rehabilitation obligations. If there are any doubts, the mining authorities can make approval of an operating plan dependent on implementation securities (§ 56(2) 2 BBergG).
As a rule, the companies make provisions to meet their future mining-related obligations. The purpose of these provisions is to provide financial security for the rehabilitation and the amount must be assessed accordingly. The principles of provisions are the rules on setting up provisions for future obligations that are binding for all businesses under commercial law.

Coal and mining

Rehabilitation during the operational and closing-down phase

Rehabilitation during the operating phase

Where rehabilitation is carried out during extraction and processing operations, the areas taken for extraction are generally rehabilitated in parallel to the continuing extraction. In the course of extracting natural resources, the material on the site is piled up and the shape of the land changed whilst adhering to safety requirements. The land is rehabilitated by means of geotechnical, landscaping, hydraulic engineering, agricultural and forestry measures to restore the land usage or biotopes.
One example of this is groundwater lowering required for operation in opencast mines. In these cases, backfilled areas must be designed in such a way that no unwanted waterlogging occurs preventing the intended public interest use (including agriculture, forestry or construction). In addition, the final slopes of opencast mines that are not backfilled and in which a lake is to be created after the end of coal extraction must be laid out and designed in such a way that permanent stability is ensured during and after the rise of groundwater and the filling of the former opencast mine with water. To this end, appropriate technical guidelines are applied and expert assessments are used. A prerequisite for successful reclamation of mine sites is the targeted, selective extraction of soil and the refilling of mining holes using soil material that meets the requirements relevant for the intended subsequent use of the mine site. This requires a correctly coordinated management of soil material. In slope areas, for example, this soil material must primarily fulfil the requirements relevant for ensuring stability. If, for example, a subsequent agricultural use of backfilled areas is planned, the primary reclamation and thus recultivation objective is to restore soil fertility and soil functions as a habitat for plants and cultivation.
The objectives of reclamation and the measures to be taken and requirements to be met for this purpose are defined in lignite plans or the operating plans approved under mining law. Depending on the type of use, the topsoil used for restoration must be “cultivated” and the areas must be gradually looked after and developed.
  1. Agricultural rehabilitation includes scientifically tested crop rotation with which the rehabilitation of the soil can be achieved. Once successful rehabilitation is complete, the areas are made available for their subsequent use and released from supervision by the mining inspection authorities.
  2. Rehabilitation through forestry aims to establish mixed woodland with a variety of uses. Depending on site conditions, native species of trees dominate an effective mix of broad-leaved trees and conifers.
Elements to benefit nature are incorporated to support integrated and widespread nature conservation, e. g. planting native trees, including dead wood and other small structures, hedge planting, planting solitary trees, including wild fruit, creating dry biotopes and wet scrapes, retention of small unplanned areas and small areas of succession sites. This work is undertaken according to locally recognised methods and in close cooperation with the specialist nature conservation authorities. It will still be necessary to dewater the surface, build paths and contour the surface for optimum site restoration in order to facilitate functional use after extraction has finished.

Rehabilitation during the closing-down phase

Once the natural resources have been extracted, renaturation will be undertaken in accordance with the specification in the final operating plan. In the large majority of cases, a remaining lake exists at the end once open-cast lignite mining has finished. The needs of future use after mining will be taken into account in the completion work, providing it has been agreed with future users before the mine was authorised. Underground coal mining has finally ceased in Germany since the end of 2018. After the cessation of hard coal extraction, the operator will withdraw from the operating buildings. Mechanical equipment, operating materials, pipelines and other operating equipment have to be dismantled and removed from the mine site. In addition, the isolation of mine fields and the backfilling of extraction holes may be necessary. Besides, waste must be disposed of properly. As a rule, the withdrawal from an underground mine site is followed by a rise in mine water. The mine water level must often be limited by removing excess water to avoid any risk to aquifers used to extract drinking water. This usually requires conversion work in mining shafts to be able to resume mine water extraction in due course to limit the rise in mine water.
Land used for mining activities above ground shall also be properly reclaimed with due regard to the public interest. Here, too, operational facilities and equipment must be dismantled, provided that they are not to be used later for any other purpose. If the result of risk assessment indicates a need for remediation, any necessary remediation or safeguarding measures are planned and then implemented. Waste rock piles must also be made usable again so that they do no longer pose a danger even after filling of further material has stopped to enable a duly planned subsequent use.
Any temporary storage or outside heaps created during mining operations are removed or recultivated. Once checks have been carried out to ensure that the soil is safe, waste that had accumulated in heaps since the start of mining is recultivated to form features such as landmarks and also to meet regional planning criteria.

Mining potash and salts

Potash and salts are natural resources mined in underground mines at depths of up to 1,500 metres. In contrast to above-ground extraction of natural resources in open-cast mining, apart from the areas required for processing plants the mining of potash and salts does not take up large areas of the surface that would then require extensive rehabilitation of the surface used. For areas used for heaps of residues in potash mining, compensatory and substitution measures are implemented (e. g. reforestation, species protection measures). The heaps are established, operated and shut down (including possible rehabilitation) in line with the relevant requirements under mining and environmental law and taking the relevant site conditions into account.

Drilling boreholes for crude oil and natural gas

Restoration and recultivation of operating sites after drilling and extraction

Once the drilling phase that lasts between two and five months depending on the depth has been completed, the operating site is reduced in size. As only the borehole seal and a few items of plant to separate, collect and transport the extracted crude oil/natural gas remain there, the production equipment is barely visible or audible any more during the entire period of usage.
The deposit is depleted after 20 to 30 years on average. The plant is then removed, and the whole borehole filled up and sealed. The production and processing plant as well as the operating site including the seal are completely removed and the area used recultivated. Aquifers therefore remain protected in the long term and the area can be used again.1


Quarrying can be authorised both under mining law and outside mining law (as described here (Approval of mining projects). The regulations in the Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG), Water Resources Act (WHG) and the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) are important for the extraction of natural resources which, as what are termed free-to-mine and privately-owned natural resources, do not come under mining law as defined by § 3 BBergG.

The provisions of these laws guarantee that the impact of the mining will be balanced out (see Managing human intervention in nature and landscape). This means the operating licence is granted on the basis of planning and rehabilitation considerations or, expressed in other terms, authorisation to operate will not be granted unless provision has been made for the needs of nature conservation.A balance is achieved in the approval process between the interests of the extractive sector and the environment, both in respect of regional planning criteria and also the plant. The groups that are to be consulted (citizens, elected representatives, sectoral authorities, environmental associations and chambers) are given various options to participate.
In general, the principle that the burden on the environment must be kept to the minimum and both land and soil must be carefully conserved applies to both the planning and the operation of plants that require a licence. Besides the plant operator has an obligation to compensate for significant unavoidable impacts to nature and the environment through compensatory and substitution measures. In addition to the condition of the surfaces, the measures to take for shaping the surface in an individual case and also during the extraction phase depend on the future use of the site.

The companies in the sector temporarily intervene in nature and the landscape because of economic imperatives. A wide variety of habitats is already created during the active extraction phase, which we hardly ever find in our cultural landscape.
Even after the end of extraction, these former extraction sites can still represent important refuges for rare animals and plants. Valuable biotopes may develop here after a short time.

For this reason, nature conservation concerns often dominate the subsequent use of quarrying areas. In general, the areas on which natural resources were extracted are upgraded through recultivation and renaturation and returned to society.

The companies encourage biodiversity as a result of cooperation with nature conservationists and targeted management measures. In 2004, the building materials industry affirmed its commitment at national level with a declaration together with the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), the industrial trade union for construction, agriculture and environment (IG BAU) and the industrial trade union for mining, chemicals and the energy trade (IG BCE). In addition to this, companies in the quarried natural resources industry are involved in the “Biodiversity in Good Company” corporate network; the German Building Materials Association – Quarried natural resources (bbs) is involved as the sector’s umbrella organisation in the corresponding “Enterprise biological diversity” association network.
The bbs, in cooperation with its members in the extractive sector, has established a nationwide biodiversity database to document the contributions that the quarried natural resources sector is making to protect and conserve biodiversity. Further data is continuously added to this database.

1 Bundesverband Erdgas, Erdöl und Geoenergie e.V. (BVEG) (German association for natural gas, petroleum and geothermal energy) (2021): Verantwortung fördern. Für uns ein Muss. (Promoting responsibility. A must for us.) URL: https://www.bveg.de/umwelt-sicherheit/gutes-foerdern/verantwortung-foerdern/(Accessed on 4th October 2023); BVEG (2023): Umsetzung vor Ort. Erfahren Sie mehr über unser Engagement für Umwelt- und Klimaschutz vor Ort. (Implementation on site. Find out more about our local commitment to environmental and climate protection) URL: https://www.bveg.de/umwelt-sicherheit/gutes-foerdern/umsetzung-vor-ort/ (Accessed on 4th October 2023)


In Federal States in which legislation does not include an excavation law and the State-level Nature Conservation Law does not apply to the extraction of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations, this type of natural resource extraction falls within the scope of the relevant state building regulations.

Legal limitations also exist: State building regulations apply to the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.), for example, in quarries with an area of up to 10 hectares (ha) in which no blasting is carried out. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable.
In Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, the above-ground excavation of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations is determined at state level by the existing excavation laws (AbgrG). For the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.) in quarries where blasting does not occur, the AbgrG applies to sites with an area of up to 10 ha. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable. In the other Federal States, this type of natural resources extraction is regulated by the respective state building regulations or by the state-level nature conservation laws.

In general, the AbgrG applies to those raw materials the excavation of which is not directly subject to mining law or the mining authorities. These raw materials include (in particular) gravel, sand, clay, loam, limestone, dolomite and other rocks, bog mud and clays. However, the jurisdiction between AbgrG and mining law can vary from case to case in the case of certain raw materials, such as quartz gravels. The requested authority must always verify its own jurisdiction in each case. The AbgrG also encompasses surface area usage and the subsequent rehabilitation of the area.
The German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) is the most important and practice-relevant law in the field of environmental law. It constitutes the basis for the approval of industrial and commercial installations. In the natural resources extraction industry, quarrying companies must have approval to extract stones and earth. Every quarrying area of 10 hectares or more must undergo a full approval procedure, including public participation and UVP (environmental impact assessment). A more simplified approval procedure is used for quarrying areas of less than 10 hectares.

The sphere of responsibility for the legal immission control approval procedure is fully specified in the Immission Control Acts of the Federal States. The Federal States are tasked with the administrative enforcement of the approval procedure. Each individual state’s Environment Ministry – the highest local immission protection authority – usually bears the responsibility for this procedure. Subordinate authorities include regional councils, district authorities and lower-level administrative authorities. Administrative jurisdiction generally lies with the lower-level administrative authorities.
The GDP measures the value of goods and services produced domestically (creation of value) within a given period (quarter, year). The Federal Office of Statistics calculates the GDP as follows: production value minus intermediate consumption = the gross value added; plus taxes on products and minus subsidies = GDP
The gross value added is calculated by deducting intermediate consumption from the production values, so it only includes the value added created during the production process. The gross value added is valued at manufacturing prices, i.e. without the taxes due (product taxes), but including the product subsidies received.

During the transition from gross value added (at manufacturing prices) to GDP, the net taxes (product taxes less product subsidies) are added globally to arrive at an assessment of the GDP at market prices’. Source: Destatis
The planning approval procedure under mining law is used for the approval procedure of a general operating plan for projects which require an environmental impact assessment (§§ 52(2a), in conjunction with 57 a of the BBergG).
There are different definitions and methodological approaches at the international as well as at the national level as to what subsidies are and how they are calculated. According to the definition of the German government’s subsidy report, this report considers federal subsidies for private companies and economic sectors (ie grants as cash payments and tax breaks as special tax exemptions) which are relevant to the budget. Subsidies at the federal level can be viewed via the subsidy reports of the federal states (see Appendix 5 of the German government subsidy report).
In compliance with § 68(1), Water Resources Act (WHG), the excavation of landowners’ natural resources such as gravel, sand, marl, clay, loam, peat and stone in wet extraction operations requires a planning approval procedure. The reason for this is that groundwater is exposed in wet extraction, resulting in above-ground water. The planning approval procedure is implemented by lower-level water authorities.

The procedural steps of the planning approval procedure are governed by the general provisions of §§ 72 to 78 of the Administrative Procedures Act (VerwVfG). Within the meaning of § 68(3), nos. 1 and 2 of the WHG, the plan may only be established or approved if an impairment of the common good is not to be expected and other requirements of the WHG as well as other public-law provisions are fulfilled.