Environmental Protection

UK: New Research Gives Landfill Sites a Green Future

Restoring landfill sites by turning them into greenspace, such as woodland, parkland, or farmland is now possible, new research shows.

Local councils typically close landfills with a compacted clay cap to seal up the waste. England and Wales have about 2,500 closed and operational landfill sites.

The results of a 10-year research project into the establishment of woodland on landfill show that it is possible to restore these areas as long as strict safeguards are adhered to. The government is committed to reducing the United Kingdom's reliance on landfill to reduce their environmental impact. The Landfill Directive has promoted more sustainable solutions and brought in important regulations that include abolishing the disposal of liquid, clinical, and other hazardous waste.

Establishing trees and woodland on landfill has previously presented real challenges, and until recently, government guidelines actively discouraged it because of fears that the tree roots might not grow deep enough and if they did, they might pierce the "cap" letting out landfill gases.

In 1993, the government asked the Forestry Commission to establish and monitor a number of experimental sites, which were specially engineered to control pollution with a thick layer of soil for the tree roots.

The recently released report found that good tree growth is possible on these landfill sites and that the establishment of vegetation is a vital part of their restoration.

Woodland planting can now be recommended as long as, among other things, the underlying mineral cap is constructed to standards required by government guidance. Poplar, alder, cherry, whitebeam, oak, ash and Corsican pine are well suited to the landfill environment.

Planning Minister, Iain Wright said:
"Restoring landfill sites in this way can provide local communities with more attractive green spaces, help tackle climate change, regenerate important brownfield land, and provide new places for wildlife to live," said Planning Minister Iain Wright.

"Waste management and dealing with waste disposal sites such as landfills once they have reached their capacity, are significant environmental challenges, and restoring them to woodland is an attractive option in many cases," said Professor Andy Moffat from Forest Research, the Forestry Commission's scientific and research agency.

"There is still further research to do particularly on long-term performance of trees on landfill sites and the specifications of soil caps, but as a result of this research we believe that with careful planning and management, many landfill areas can be successfully restored as woodland."

The report is available free from www.forestresearch.gov.uk.

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