During their exploitation phase, extractive sites offer austere and inhospitable landscapes, made of steep rocks, scree and dust. However, it is precisely these new environments, in constant upheaval, that certain animal and plant species need to develop: pioneer species!


Less than a year before the end of the Life in Quarries project, we decided to return to the basis of our project by devoting an article to a type of rare and / or endangered species targeted by the project: pioneer species, who take advantage of new environments – which have become rare in our modern landscapes – created by the extractive industry.

Let’s start at the end of the story

It is still early in the morning when a roe deer comes out of the thickets onto the gravel beach of the old quarry.

In front of him, the mine face, a gray cliff, plunges into the crystal clear waters with turquoise and emerald shades of the old settling basin, in which a few pike evolve. Under its hooves, the pebbles crunch and roll in the calm filled with the chirping of locusts and the roaring of dragonflies which dance on the surface of the permanent water body.

Behind him, higher up, on one of the ancient layers, a mother fox passes, a nestling in its mouth.

Photo Lucien Haquenne, carrière de la Vodelée, 2020.

If the old extractive sites can evolve back into gardens of Eden (combining permanent expanses of water, lush vegetation and biodiversity) these places were, however, in the past, quite the opposite of the rural picture that they present to the eyes of visitors, when they are open to the public (because even post-exploitation, an old quarry remains a dangerous site).

Gray, harsh and hostile environments that we must look at to understand how nature was able to take back its rights.


And we’re back at the beginning

Welcome to the Wild West !

Its saloons, sheriffs and convoys of settlers set out to conquer virgin spaces where everything remains to be done…  Without the will of these brave men and women capable of unusual adaptation, and of braving the harshness of the elements, the American West would have remained this vast set of uninhabited (except by Natives American but apparently they didn’t matter that much for the US government at the time) and infertile lands.

Yet, if we have a certain admiration for these Western epics and we have all heard of the Little House on the Prairie, do you know that some animals, like these courageous founders, are also true pioneers?


Indeed, in Belgium, the extractive activity through the exploitation of soils constantly creates and recreates new and pristine environments.

However, they are so many lands of opportunity for a whole series of animal and plant species: the pioneer species.

These species, with high biological value, are in fact capable of settling and thriving after one, or a series of major upheavals (s) in unstable environments, poor in organic matter and in climatic and edaphic conditions ( from the ground) very difficult. In reality, these extreme conditions take away the possibility of many other species living there and thus reduce the number of predators.

But these pioneers will also play the role of architect in spite of themselves, since their presence will allow other more demanding and less specialized species to gradually return to the site and its surroundings.

As in the past, the cowboys did it by developing the beginnings of cities so that the rest of the population could gradually settle there.

Thereby, by being the very first animals and plants to settle after a disturbance (or regular disturbances as is the case in active quarries), these pioneer species will make it possible to relaunch the process of ecological succession.

Who are they ?

Among the target species of the Life in Quarries project, the pioneers have pride of place!

Thus, many actions of a temporary nature, such as the creation of pioneer ponds and limestone lawns, the refreshing of loose cliffs, the installation of stony shelters or the installation of reptile plaques are dedicated to them.

There are the Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita) recognizable by the yellow line that crosses its back from its neck, the Midwife Toad (Alytes Obstetricians) whose magnificent vertical pupil is golden brown and of green or, again, the Charas sp. (Alguae characea), indicators of the purity of the water, which form small green carpets in the temporary shallow water points.

But also the Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) which lays its eggs in a simple depression created by the oversized tires of construction trucks, the smooth Coronella (Coronella Austriaca), a harmless snake which feeds on another pioneer species; the wall lizard (Podarcis muralis).

And, finally, many plants such as Eritrean knapweed (Centaurium erythraea), white stonecrop, yellowish-white gnaphale (Gnaphalium luteo-album), woolly Cirse (Cirsium eriophorum) and others, which benefit pioneering environments generated by extractive activity and the concept of dynamic management of biodiversity developed as part of the Life in Quarries project.

So many “brave” settlers who find in active quarries true sanctuaries whose sustainability is ensured by the actions of the partners of Life in Quarries and the motivation of the operators and workers of the extractive sites members of the project.