Helping Anglo American’s Minas Rio mine protect biodiversity

As a member of the Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Business & Biodiversity team, I am responsible for helping our corporate partners manage their biodiversity impacts. You may ask: what does that mean you actually do? What difference does this make in company practices and for wildlife on the ground?

A recent trip to Anglo American’s Minas Rio iron ore mine in Brazil explains it all. I see it as a microcosm of FFI’s role in our corporate partnerships.

The Minas Rio mine

I visited the Minas Rio iron ore mine, accompanied by Cynthia Machado, FFI’s Technical Director in Brazil and Shelley Currin, Anglo American’s Biodiversity Specialist, to better understand the site’s biodiversity and provide advice to the site where we saw limitations in biodiversity management.

We call these visits Biodiversity Action Plan Peer Reviews. The aim is to ensure that all sites we visit achieve very high standards in identifying and managing their biodiversity risks and opportunities.

Minas Rio’s mine site is situated in the state of Minas Gerais which is noted for its mountainous scenery, cave systems and rich biodiversity hotspots.

The Minas Rio site sits in an area of transition between cerrado and Atlantic forest, both rich in wildlife. It contains a wonderful array of Vellozia species (a South American bulb family), and bromeliads and orchids. We didn’t see the Vellozia in flower but it when it does the area is awash with purple and white.

We also visited Minas Rio’s plant nursery where they are trialling Vellozia germination and transplanting for those plants that have to be removed from the mine site area.

Going beyond compliance

We learned that Minas Rio is going beyond the already strict legal compliance for biodiversity protection.

For example, the Minas Rio team are contributing to a conservation project being led by the NGO Biodiversitas to improve the quality of a wildlife corridor and put it under protection. They have also designated part of the mountain range within their concession as a conservation area as requested by the local community.

Minas Rio is also building an environmental and cultural reference centre that will contain all the data acquired from research projects in the region, such as information on natural resources and records of oral memory from local communities highlighting unique cultural traditions.

Taking the lead

Though we were impressed with the mine’s efforts so far, we saw that more should be done to ensure the mine meets best practice on biodiversity management. Though the recommendations below are focused on Minas Rio at its current stage, they outline what every mine should be doing.

This is where FFI really brings value to the partnership. We are not afraid to challenge Anglo American, or any of our corporate partners, to take the lead and go beyond the status quo.

1) Business case

It is vital that Minas Rio articulate a clear business case to rationalise the resource use for biodiversity management against the identified biodiversity risks and opportunities.

2) Biodiversity policy

Operations should develop a site-specific biodiversity policy that communicates the commitments that are made to achieving best practice biodiversity management.

3) Concrete targets and monitoring

Minas Rio staff have also been asked to demonstrate that the targets and indicators being used to track performance are actually achieving conservation gains on the ground.

4) Ecosystem services

It is important to identify the site’s dependencies and impacts (positive and negative) on ecosystem services. We encourage operations to do so by using the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Ecosystem Services Review toolkit.

During our visit, we carried out a workshop with the Minas Rio staff to help them understand and apply this tool to their site.

5) Biodiversity Action Plan

The Minas Rio team should develop a biodiversity strategy and a Biodiversity Action Plan to take into account operational risks and opportunities, beyond meeting regulatory requirements.

To help staff on the first step of this process, we conducted a workshop on biodiversity risk and opportunity assessment. Five staff attended and the feedback was positive.

Looking forward

During our feedback presentation it was clear to us that Minas Rio’s senior management were taking the issues around biodiversity seriously.  Minas Rio’s Chief Operating Officer and Sustainable Development Director both attended and commented that they were pleased with the result of our visit and that they recognised the need to start looking beyond the current phase of the mine with regards to biodiversity impacts.

Anglo American has committed to integrating biodiversity into its business, and this includes ensuring mines address their biodiversity risks in a comprehensive way.

I will continue to work with Minas Rio mine to help them act on FFI’s recommendations to secure the future of important habitat types such as the cerrado and Atlantic forest. I will be sure to blog on our progress.