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Jo Treweek: Lydian shows exclusive approach to biodiversity

Jo Treweek is a professional ecologist with an extensive experience in biodiversity conservation projects. She is a Member of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, Chartered Environmentalist and holds a BA and PhD degrees from Oxford University. Along with many other projects in the UK and elsewhere in the world Jo Treweek has also worked on the biodiversity management program of the Amulsar project. Recent Audit report has reported no other “new ecological factors” but a rare species of a butterfly and a plant found at Amulsar. Mediamax had an opportunity to speak with Jo Treweek on these issues. 

You have been working on the Amulsar biodiversity management issues for several years. The State Environmental Inspection Audit of Armenia has published the Audit results at Amulsar, where they state that new ecological issues have been revealed, namely, a butterfly and plant have been found at Amulsar. From your experience, is this a valid reason to announce new ecological issues?

The observation of Apollo butterfly on Amulsar Mountain is most definitely not new. A small area of habitat for the butterfly (i.e. the area its caterpillars use to feed and develop) was found in a location, where mine infrastructure had been planned in an earlier design, and this is clearly indicated in publicly available reports, especially the ESIA baseline report. The infrastructure was relocated, thereby completely avoiding impacts on this habitat. This is the reason why individual adult butterflies may still be seen on Amulsar: in fact, I see this as a positive sign that we avoided the habitat successfully and that it is still supporting the species despite mine construction, as we predicted in our reports. 

As any ecologist would know, the main habitat for the species is in more forested areas and it is not recorded to breed or feed at the altitude, where the specialist found it on Amulsar Mountain on the one day of their visit. Finding one individual adult butterfly does not indicate presence of habitat for the species, as it could easily have blown there on the wind, most likely from the habitat we recorded. The important thing is to maintain the habitat and the population, which is exactly what Lydian has done. 

Presence of some other bird species is also mentioned, but all of these had been carefully surveyed and considered in the biodiversity studies for the mine and none have habitat directly affected by it.

Lydian conducted the most comprehensive baseline surveys for plants ever done for a mine in Armenia.  Targeted searches for all plants included in the Armenia’s Red Book were done by the relevant national specialists, including Acantholimon caryophyllaceum Boiss., reportedly found during the inspection. National and international specialists were unable to confirm its presence anywhere within the mine footprint during several years of survey, and nobody has confirmed its presence in the area around Gndevaz (where it was last seen) for 70 years now.  The specimen taken was not in good condition and it may never be possible to confirm its identity, but this is anyway irrelevant as the area where it was found is not going to be mined.

These are definitely not new findings or observations. It seems nobody reads the survey reports.

For many years activists in Armenia were saying that the water basin will be contaminated in the region because of Amulsar. However, it looks like the Audit has only revealed a butterfly and a plant issue as a main issue. Although water is not your area of expertise, but do you believe it is well protected in Amulsar project? And is the butterfly and plant issue that big?

As you say, I am not a specialist in water, but my understanding is that a super-precautionary approach has been taken and it is definitely in line with the latest international standards and codes. Modern mines that are well designed and constructed perform very well these days. I believe most of the emissions will be contained and only released when treated. Certainly, it is essential to maintain good water quality in streams, rivers and groundwater and to make sure that water supplies to communities are protected. 

Of course, rare butterflies and plants are a big issue for any ecologist, but it is conservation of their habitat and populations that is important. From the point of view of aquatic ecology, species are already in trouble from hydro power development and water pollution, again nothing to do with the mine and much could be done in the area for example to improve dams by including fish passes or not putting municipal waste dumps by streams.

You were involved in many projects both as a consultant as well as an external auditor for institutions like IFC and EBRD. How well managed is the biodiversity in Amulsar?

Amulsar’s approach has been checked and reviewed several times by different institutions, independent auditors and international specialists, all of whom have commended Lydian’s efforts to achieve good outcomes for biodiversity despite the obvious impacts that mining will have. It is important to say that these good outcomes depended critically on work that has currently had to be put on hold. This includes essential research on Potentilla porphyrantha and techniques for restoring it to areas that have been mined, and also research on how the species is pollinated by insects in the wild. This work was due to take place this summer and there will not be another opportunity to do it now, as the PhD student scheduled to carry it out will have finished his studies. 

Good outcomes also depended on improving protection and conservation management for threatened and Red Book species using habitat in state reserves with no funds available for staffing and management. Lydian has shown its strong commitment by allocating millions of dollars to biodiversity management, more than is typically done, even for much larger projects. This included a proposal to help establish a new National Park, which would have benefitted Armenian wildlife and local communities for many years to come. It is disappointing to see this initiative also put on hold.

You are a professional environmentalist, but you work with mining projects. Do you believe responsible mining is possible? Why do you work with mining projects, while being an environmentalist? Does that help make mining better? 

I am a professional ecologist and my mission is to improve outcomes for biodiversity from development. I work with businesses to encourage them to act responsibly by reviewing where they operate and how they operate and by building biodiversity considerations in to their projects from the beginning. In the case of Amulsar, this has resulted in avoidance of important areas for wildlife, research on how to restore populations of rare species and investment of substantial sums in conservation action.  Knowledge of rare Armenian species has improved considerably as a result and the important work of research institutions in the country has been supported. I think that if mining is done it should be done responsibly. 

I suppose my personal decision was to try and change mining from within, as it’s naive to think there won’t be any mining. It’s a question of how it’s done.  I really hoped that we will be able to use Lydian’s approach to biodiversity management as a leading example for other projects, helping to improve standards around the world.