Diavik tundra vegetation

Land

Producing the materials the world needs requires access to land. And while some of our operations extend for many decades, we know we are temporary custodians of these lands. Therefore taking a long-term approach – planning and operating with the future in mind – is essential to running a safe, responsible and profitable business. Responsible stewardship of the land is also essential to the protection of biodiversity and the natural heritage of the environments where we live and work.

We have rehabilitation programmes in place, which are reviewed every year, and dedicated teams that look after the land throughout the life of the operation. Our engineers, environmental scientists and cultural heritage experts work with academic institutions, civil society organisations, Indigenous Peoples and other members of the community to make sure rehabilitation is done in ways that ensure a successful, self-sustaining outcome in line with the expectations of regulators and the host community.

Land as Culture

When we begin exploration, long before our operations start, we work with local communities, including Indigenous Peoples, to understand the physical, spiritual and cultural connection they have with the land. We conduct cultural heritage and environmental studies to understand the area and look for ways to avoid or reduce any impacts.

We strive to obtain the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples, as applicable in local jurisdictions, and also engage other affected communities. We were the first mining company in Australia to welcome native title to land and commit to forming agreements with Indigenous landowners. But we know we need to do better.

 

Working with Traditional Owners to Preserve Sacred Sites

Gove bauxite operations, Northern Territory, Australia

Our Gove Operations, in North East Arnhem land are located on Indigenous land. The Yolngu have lived in the region for more than 65,000 years and practise one of the longest living traditional cultures in the world. Our lease areas contain a wide range of cultural heritage features and values including significant sacred sites, such as the Banyan Tree (Dhanburama) and Dimbuka Rock (Dhimbukawuy). These sites have been preserved in place, co-existing safely alongside our operations.

Over the past decade, we have worked closely with the Yolngu People to help protect these and other sites at our Gove operations. This includes regular consultation and specific management plans detailing each site’s cultural values, how access is controlled, and the monitoring activities.

As Gove enters its last decade of operation, we continue to work closely with the Yolngu People to make sure we rehabilitate the land around these sacred sites in the right way and help preserve them for future generations.

 

2020 Performance

  • Year in Review
  • Year in Numbers

In 2020, our land footprint – total disturbed area – was 3,629 square kilometres. Wherever possible we conduct progressive rehabilitation, like at our bauxite and mineral sand mining operations. In 2020, we rehabilitated more than 16 square kilometres across agriculture, forestry, native and recreation areas.

At our operations, we strive to ensure that we rehabilitate land as soon as it becomes available. Our ecologists work in partnership with universities to develop the appropriate methodologies to meet our permitted rehabilitation requirements and the expectations of the local communities as soon as possible following mining. As part of the implementation of the mitigation hierarchy at some of our assets we protect areas of high biodiversity value through offsets.

Land footprint

Types of rehabilitation

Local people rebuilding the wetlands

Sharing Knowledge

We share our learnings with our operations globally, and with our industry partners. For example, we were founding members of the Proteus Partnership, a unique collaboration between the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and extractive industries. In 2020 we renewed this partnership to extend it for a further five years.

The partnership is focused on improving internationally accepted information and data on protected areas and biodiversity, to support decision-making on conservation and help partners like us ensure that impacts are mitigated effectively. This information includes private sector contributions and is available through the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) and the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT).

We also use these tools to understand more about protected areas within or adjacent to potential exploration projects, so we can understand risk and make decisions on how to proceed to ensure our future footprint does not negatively impact areas of biodiversity importance.

Working with the People who Know the Land Best

Resolution Copper project, Arizona, US

Archaeologists and scientists play an essential role in documenting and understanding the history within the areas that we plan to operate. Still, local people with the historical and cultural connections to the land know it best. Working side-by-side with Native American community members helps ensure we capture these perspectives as part of survey work that informs and improves our project.

The Resolution Copper project is a proposed underground copper mine in Arizona, in the western United States. The project area is located roughly 60 miles east of Phoenix, near the town of Superior. It has a long history of copper mining dating back to the 1870s. 

In 2018, we partnered with the US Forest Service (USFS) to establish a Tribal Monitor programme to work alongside archaeologists and scientists to identify and record tribal perspectives on all aspects of the lands. The first of its kind with the USFS, the programme invites members of each tribe with historical ties to the planned areas of operation to train and work as part of specialised teams to identify and record important Native American sites and artefacts. Tribal Monitors provide a unique perspective and traditional ecological knowledge alongside archaeological insights.

The programme also provides another way for tribes to participate in the project's development, along with jobs, education and natural resource stewardship opportunities for tribal members. Today, the programme employs around 30 members from seven Native American tribes to help conduct the ongoing environmental and cultural heritage activities associated with the project.

In June 2020, the State Historic Preservation Office and Arizona Preservation Foundation named the programme as an honouree for the Governor's Archaeology Advisory Commission Awards in Public Archaeology. The programme was recognised for its significant contribution to the protection, preservation, and education of Arizona's non-renewable archaeological resources.

In recognition of the value of the Tribal Monitor work, the Tribes consulting on Resolution Copper have selected its continuation for inclusion in long term mitigations and measures for the project. We hope the Tribal Monitor programme continues to grow and sets a new standard for collaboration between companies, tribes, and government agencies. 

Rehabilitating the Land after Mining

Argyle diamond mine, Kimberley, Western Australia

Our Argyle mine ceased production in November 2020, after generating more than 865 million carats of rough diamonds in 37 years. As we move into closing and rehabilitating the mine, we continue to work closely with the Miriuwung and Gidja People, the Traditional Owners, to respectfully return the land.

We are working with 14 Indigenous seed pickers, including Traditional Owners, and local enterprise Gelganyem to collect native seeds to restore the land in the mining lease. Each day the group collect up to ten kilograms of seed from up to 19 different species. The seeds are then processed, cleaned and stored for sale at the Gelganyem processing facility in Kununurra, around 200km away from the Argyle mine site.

Although still in its early days, Gelganyem plans to grow the business to help meet the increasing demand in Australia for restoration seeds and provide more opportunities for Indigenous employment and training, as well as for future generations to connect to Country.

Rehabilitation at Richards Bay Minerals

Reclaiming Rock Waste to Make Way for Plants

Kennecott copper operation, Salt Lake City, US

For nearly 120 years, Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine has been operating in Utah, US, on the edge of the state’s largest city – Salt Lake City. Many of the valley’s one million residents have a view of the operation’s waste rock dumps.

The current mine plan takes the existing operation to 2038, with growth studies currently underway that could extend the life of the mine further. However, rather than wait for closure, Kennecott’s reclamation programme has been successfully ongoing over many years, including beginning to revegetate and restore the waste rock dumps.

In 2020, we signed a three-year partnership with Brigham Young University’s Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences, focused primarily on innovative waste rock dump reclamation research. The work is being conducted by graduate and undergraduate students and supervised by Brigham Young University professors. The partnership will:

  • Explore ways to improve the view of waste rock dumps visible from the Salt Lake Valley
  • Improve direct seeding success and plant diversity on waste rock dumps
  • Develop techniques for seeding waste rock dumps without adding growth medium
  • Assess site suitability and reclamation potential
  • Increase plant diversity and decrease weed invasion on mine tailings

This partnership offers a unique opportunity to integrate current environmental work with an eye to the future and to advance preparation for closure. It is a key part of our commitment to our neighbouring communities and stakeholders to explore innovative science and research to address the issue of reclamation of the waste dumps and land impacted by mining activity.

  • Weipa seed collection programme
    Planting the Future
    When you're rehabilitating land, you work with the people who know it best.
  • Tailings at Gove
    Managing Tailings
    At Rio Tinto we contribute to a more sustainable world through providing the materials essential for human progress in a responsible way. Part of that is how we manage the waste from mining operations.
  • Nelisa Dladla, Richards Bay Minerals
    Richards Bay Minerals Restoration: A Living Lab
    Nelisa leads the ecology and rehabilitation team at our Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) mine, which sits along the beautiful northern coast of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.