Results from a ten-year research project have shown that landfill sites can be restored and turned into woodland, parkland or farmland. It could mean an end to the common practice of closed sites simply being covered with a compacted clay cap to seal up the waste they contain.
There are about 2,500 closed and operational landfill sites in England and Wales and the study by Forest Research into the establishment of woodland on closed sites shows they can be restored safely by planting certain trees. Certain other strict safeguards also have to be applied. Establishing trees and woodland on landfill had formerly created problems for local authorities and site operators and until recently Government guidelines actively discouraged planting as it was feared tree roots might not grow deep enough or, if they did, could pierce the site ‘cap’ and release landfill gases.
The Forestry Commission was asked in 1993 to establish and monitor a number of experimental sites engineered to control pollution with the use of the compacted caps but also a thick layer of soil. The Forest Research report has found that good tree growth has been achieved and the establishment of vegetation has been a vital part of restoration of the sites. The Department of Communities and Local Government says it means woodland planting can now be recommended if safeguards such as ensuring the underlying mineral cap is constructed to required standards are met. Trees found to be suited for a landfill environment are poplar, alder, cherry, whitebeam, oak, ash and Corsican pine.
Planning Minister, Iain Wright said, “Many people find landfill sites a local eyesore and the government is committed to reducing landfill use. This new research shows that with the proper safeguards in place we can reduce the impact of old sites by planting them and environmentally reviving them as attractive woodland or parkland.”