In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Origin of Dereliction 2. Derelict Land 3. Dereliction and its Dangers 4. Value of Reclaimed Land 5. Effects.
Origin of Dereliction:
Dereliction, like accelerated soil erosion, deforestation, overfishing and air and water pollution, results from the ruthless exploitation of natural resources without consideration for the future. In particular, most dereliction is the result of thoughtless and uncontrolled mineral extraction and processing.
Derelict land is theoretically land which has been abandoned as useless or as too badly damaged to repay a private person to improve it. But much land which does not fall into these categories, such as land still used for tipping by mining companies , subsided land, contaminated land, and in many cases working mines and quarries, all share similar characteristics. They are ugly, denuded of vegetation, laced with stagnant pools of water, or covered with mine tailings or slag.
How has Derelict Land Come into Being?
Almost every country suffers from dereliction. Although it is associated mainly with industrial countries in Europe and North America, it is found also in the developing countries. For example, tin mining is a major industry in Malaysia and as a result thousands of hectares of alluvial land have been worked, leaving piles of tailings, dangerous pools and a sort of ‘moonscape’ with little vegetation.
In Sierra Leone, large areas of land have been despoiled by illicit diamond miners, and pitted with the holes dug by small-scale operators, so that the land is useless both for large-scale mineral extraction and for agriculture.
Dereliction arises because mining operators are unwilling to spend money on rehabilitation which will give them no direct financial return. In many of the industrial countries of the West, nineteenth century exploitation is a more important source of dereliction than present-day mineral working.
Everyone accepts that while a mineral is being worked there are bound to be pits and mines and piles of waste materials, but nowadays it is usual to enforce at least the minimum in rehabilitation: pits must be filled in where possible, tip-heaps flattened or contoured into more natural shapes, and vegetation replanted. But such legislation was not in force in the past and derelict land has been inherited.
In many underdeveloped countries, the financial advantages of exports, employment opportunities and economic development make governments anxious to exploit mineral resources, but rehabilitation legislation is often not strict enough, or is not strictly enforced.
Some people may argue that the damage caused by mining and similar activities is inevitable and a consequence of the modern way of life, based as it is on a wide range of natural resources, especially minerals. But this is a short-sighted view, for the harm and waste caused by dereliction often outweigh the monetary gains of a few companies who avoid their responsibilities.
How can Dereliction and its Dangers be Combated?
Existing mining companies should be forced to rehabilitate the land after it becomes uneconomic to extract the mineral. Many local and national governments impose such restrictions, but they are often not stringent enough. Companies often evade such legislation by retaining the land in case it ever proves profitable to re-open the mine. Time-limits on mineral exploitation could overcome such evasion.
Another way of controlling the extent of dereliction is to force companies to tip their wastes only in large, supervised tips, rather than in a multiplicity of small tips. In the long term this reduces the area made derelict and also allows reclamation to be carried out more easily and economically because it is concentrated in a single area.
If the land has been completely abandoned, or has been derelict for many years and nothing has been done, local or national government agencies should be encouraged to reclaim the land. Unfortunately, local authorities, which are usually responsible for such work, rarely have sufficient financial resources. This problem is usually overcome by grants from the central government, but these are often available only for certain types of dereliction and may be limited in amount.
Value of Reclaimed Land:
In spite of all the difficulties, reclamation of derelict land is both possible and desirable. It can provide additional land for agriculture, for industry, for building or for other commercial purposes, e.g. old mining pools are often used for fish-farming in Malaysia. Alternatively, the reclaimed land can be used to add to the amenities of an area.
Areas where there is much dereliction are often short of parks, sports fields and other facilities for outdoor recreation. Where pits are flooded with water they are ideal for water sports, and old pits can be stocked with fish for angling, or used for boating or sailing. Lakes can also form the centre of parks and gardens as at Taiping Lake Gardens in Malaysia, where a very attractive park has been created on old mining land.
The use of derelict land for the provision of amenities often has no direct monetary value, as does commercial re-use for agriculture or building. But where reclamation, or the provision of sports facilities is expensive, entrance charges can be levied; one new park incorporating lakes and swimming pools, on reclaimed land in the Ruhr, Germany, collected between M$ 10,000 and M$30,000 a day in entrance fees during the first summer that it was opened.
At that rate, the reclamation costs will be offset in a few years and day-to-day running will be profitable. The growing need for recreational facilities will make people more willing to pay entrance charges, and this may make it more worthwhile to reclaim land for this purpose. Another way in which reclaimed land can show good returns is by attracting local or foreign tourists.
In some cases, however, it is difficult to discover whether the present-day value of the mineral or the long-term tourist value is greater. An example is Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur. These caves have a distinctive flora and fauna, and some attractive calcite formations and many tourists visit them, but they are threatened by encroaching quarries. In the long-term their great tourist potential may be lost as a result of mineral exploitation, but this quarrying is important to the economy.
In the past, natural beauty was not accorded as high a value as it is today. The ruining of the landscape was accepted as the inevitable result of material progress. But today, the rapid spread of towns and other man-made landscapes has made people far more aware of what has been lost as a result of careless exploitation.
Growing public concern will lead to stricter legislation on mining and other activities which affect the landscape, and should also result in greater pressure to reclaim existing derelict land. Reclamation is the main problem in Europe and North America, but underdeveloped countries still have time to prevent widespread dereliction from even occurring by imposing and strictly enforcing legislation on rehabilitation.
Effects of Dereliction in Mining:
1. Waste of Agricultural Land:
Mines or their associated tip-heaps may occupy land otherwise suitable for farming. While returns from mining may be greater while the mine is in operation, once the mineral reserves have been removed the land should be reclaimed to allow agriculture to recommence. This would allow the land to again be profitably used and not simply wasted.
2. Waste of Industrial Land:
Where derelict land is in or near towns it could be profitably used for factories or housing, if reclaimed. In fact, the derelict land often forces the town to expand in other directions—sometimes at the expense of agricultural land-and the ugliness of a town dominated by tip-heaps and dereliction is a deterrent to modern development.
Any new factory set up in the area would find it difficult to obtain workers, especially skilled or managerial staff, who would not wish to live in such unpleasant surroundings. One of the reasons for the decline of old industrial areas in Europe is that new industries cannot be attracted to these districts, which have been despoiled in the past.
People who live in areas where there is much derelict land have no pride in their towns, homes or gardens, and lose all sense of natural beauty. Those people whose reactions are not ‘deadened’ and indifferent tend to migrate away from such unpleasant areas. This, however, leads to urban sprawl in other regions and the general spread of man-made landscapes at the expense of natural landscapes.
4. Health and Accident Hazards:
Depending on the type of mining carried out, mineral exploitation can create a variety of hazards. Land over underground mines may subside, causing houses to collapse or creating hummocky ground unsuitable for any use and often full of pools of water. Shafts that are not filled in may lead to accidents and old quarries and open-cast pits may also be dangerous.
Open-cast mines which are afterwards flooded with water such as alluvial tin mines and gravel pits are often very deep and therefore dangerous. Accidents, especially to children, are very common in such areas. Tip-heaps, too, cause special hazards.
The worst disaster of recent years was the Aberfan disaster, when an unexpected tip-heap avalanche buried 116 children in the school of a South Wales mining village. Tip- heaps of smouldering slag are also dangerous, and tips of waste materials may contain large amounts of toxic materials which could be harmful to health.
5. Permanent Damage to the Landscape:
Minerals often occur in mountainous areas or other areas of great natural beauty, and if the mines are not properly rehabilitated much beautiful scenery may be spoiled. Heaps of rejected slate from slate quarries have ruined the landscape in many valleys of North Wales for example; parts of Cornwall are marred by heaps of white tailings from the china-clay pits, limestone outcrops, which often display spectacular landforms, are almost everywhere exploited for cement and are cut into by large quarries.
In Malaysia, for example, the limestone hills form some of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery in the country, but in almost every limestone area the hills are being literally removed by quarrying. These quarries are still working, but when they stop the hills will have been irreparably damaged. The destruction of natural beauty not only affects the aesthetic appeal of landscape but also damages its tourist potential.