Rotem Amfert has decided to rehabilitate the landscape during actual phosphate mining, under the watchful eye of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority; to be sure, the company is also being forced by regulation.
By Zafrir Rinat | Mar.27, 2013

The large area known as Hatzeva B is located close to a phosphate factory in the primordial landscape of the central Negev’s Tzin Valley. Until a year ago, phosphate mining had left gashes up to dozens of meters deep here. Now, though, landscape rehabilitation work has returned to site to its original look.

Recent rehabilitation has done much to ameliorate the scarring and desolation left behind in various parts of the country by mining, infrastructure installation and road-building. The restoration work itself creates its own set of dilemmas: How should the land be restored? And what does restoration mean after the landscape has been changed to such a great extent?

In the case of the Tzin Valley phosphate mines, operated by Rotem Amfert Negev, some 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres) were mined over the last four decades. According to the company, various bureaucratic tie-ups – for which the state is also responsible – have meant delays in full rehabilitation of the landscape, and some areas have not been restored at all.

However, in recent years Rotem Amfert has decided to rehabilitate the landscape during the actual mining, under the watchful eye of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Hatzeva B is one of its first sites.

“When we mine, we pile up heaps of earth on which natural vegetation has developed,” says Rotem Amfert’s Uri Yasur. “When part of the mine has been fully exploited, we restore the landscape, mainly to preserve flood beds to allow the vegetation to come back and prevent soil erosion.”

Rehabilitation is based largely on the experience at Ramon Crater, where thousands of dunams have been restored with the involvement of nature protection authorities from the planning stage onward. An authority ranger oversees the work and is authorized to call a halt if it does not conform to agreed-on plans.

Rotem Amfert is not doing the rehabilitation purely out of a commitment to nature. It does so because it is a condition to receive new mining permits. Yasur concedes that it’s in the firm’s economic interest to carry out the rehabilitation. Doing so while mining is underway is also a money saver.

It also wants to prove to the planning authority and the public that the company is acting responsibly toward the environment, so it will be allowed to continue mining.

In the case of Hatzeva B, its rehabilitation will not mean much for the public at present because the army is using it as a firing zone and it is therefore off-limits to visitors. However, Rotem Amfert decided to leave one of the mining pits open because it shows the amazing geological layering for which the region is famous.

Meanwhile, in Modiin

Meanwhile, far from the Negev in the central city of Modi’in, Israel Railways was facing a different challenge during landscape rehabilitation. It is now six years since infrastructure work started on the first part of the fast rail track from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And though the area in question is only about 300 dunams (75 acres), it covers a strip seven kilometers long.

This case is not specifically about landscape rehabilitation, but rather efforts to encourage the regrowth of the amazing variety of natural vegetation in the area.

The strip has become a field laboratory for the restoration of natural flora, with Israel Railways being assisted by ecologists and agronomists, under the supervision of architect Aliza Kutner.

“Even before the work was carried out, a plant survey was done to learn what the characteristic species of the area were,” Kutner says. Rehabilitation includes various phases of follow-up and study, she says, part of which involved identifying invasive species that had taken over the area and had to be removed.

After a number of rounds of seeding and planting, including hundreds of bulbs of cyclamens, asphodels and lilies, over the past few weeks the area looks like a typical flourishing spring scene in the region. “Today we find more than 300 species of wild plants here,” says ecologist Ron Frumkin, who is working on the project.

“The infrastructure had to be built, but now it can be said that, thanks to the restoration of the natural vegetation, it can be used as a kind of ecological corridor for plants and animals,” he says, his words underscored by a number of golden jackals not far from where he was speaking.