Learning from others
The environmental problem
The Hunter Lakes Scheme is based on an international model, that of the lakes districts in Lusatia and The Ruhr. For many years, Lusatia was a major industrial area, part of Germany’s huge mining sector supplying coal to many parts of the globe. As the mines grew they swallowed entire towns; the treasure that lay beneath the surface was far too valuable to leave undisturbed.
As the sociopolitical climate of East Germany shifted, so too did the availability of mining work and the once prosperous region soon showed signs of decay. After years of intensive open-cut coal and lignite mining had ravaged the natural environment, the people of Lusatia in the former East Germany were left to grapple with the massive scars left in the landscape. These enormous pits tarnished the natural beauty of the area, and over time they would inevitably fill with water, becoming contaminated and further damaging the environment.
Established by the German government, the Lausitz and Middle Germany Mining Administrative Company (LMBV) was tasked with rehabilitating a region of Lusatia that has been heavily impacted by coal mining. The end result is the Lusatian Lakes District, a series of artificial lakes that has revitalised both the physical landscape and the local economy. Across the other side of Germany, a similar project was undertaken to create The Ruhr Lakes District.
Visitors to the Lusatian Lakes District today would be unaware that a relatively short time ago, the area was a barren and desolate wasteland. An entire ecosystem has emerged, with now-adolescent forests teeming with bird and animal life. Bike tracks, hiking trails and even art installations decorate the lakes, with canals allowing watercraft users to explore the vast network via water.
After the former mine sites were appropriately treated and prepared, the mine pits were flooded over an extended period and the water quality carefully managed throughout the process. The region now enjoys a secure and unpolluted source of water, and the Lusatian lakes feed the Spree River, an important source of water for Berlin.
There are 26 Lusatian Lakes across a 50 mile area
What has been done
The end result is nothing short of spectacular: a network of interconnected lakes and forests, teeming with plant and animal life, and visited by well over half a million tourists each year. A dynamic and exciting area, residents delighted in watching nature move back in as the flora and fauna reclaimed what had been taken from them. The area now supports species including the otter, white stork and white-tailed eagle, as well as the Spree River system.
What can we learn
The Lusatian Lakes District provides us with a valuable model to follow in our local context. There are many shared challenges between the German projects and The Hunter Lakes Scheme; fortunately, the path has been forged ahead of us and the technology now exists to ensure optimal outcomes across all scheme elements.