I'm translating a Russian text about the recultivation (рекультивация) of land formerly used for open-pit mining. The process of 'land recultivation' in Russia involves three general stages:

  1. Preparatory stage: a feasibility study, justification of investment, development of working documentation.

  2. Technological stage: engineering operations that involve large-scale movement of soil, removal of machinery and buildings, etc.

  3. Biological stage: seeding of trees and plants, soil improvement operations, irrigation & drainage work, etc.

It is said that the last two stages can last for "years or even decades".

Which English word should I pick? Recultivation, revegetation, reclamation, or rehabilitation?

Example sentences (I retained the original "recultivation" here):

All too often a coal mining company implementing a recultivation project in this region limits itself to the use of simplified technological solutions that fail to take into account the need to preserve biodiversity. The range of plants used at the biological stage of recultivation is limited to five tree species, which depletes the genetic resources of the region's ecosystems and exacerbates the existing invasive species problem.

P.S. The authors of the text do no imply that the land should be used for agriculture - to the contrary, their goal is to improve biodiversity.

P.P.S. Here is a newspaper article about this "recultivation" of open-pit mine land in Kuzbass: source (in Russian)

P.P.P.S. I've just discovered that the English-language title of the Russian national standard GOST R 57446-2017 that comes into force on 1 December 2017 translates the term as land reclamation. However, those who translate Russian documents into English are not always correct.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the word choice depends on the ultimate intended use of the land, e.g. recultivation would be appropriate only if it's intended to grow crops. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 14 '17 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf - growing crops is out of the question - their goal is biodiversity restoration. Maybe I should pick revegetation then. $\endgroup$ – CopperKettle Oct 14 '17 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say that rehabilitation would be the best choice for intending to improve biodiversity. Simple revegetation would be what's done by the coal companies in that quote. I think reclamation would be a generic term that includes all the others. But I'm commenting as just an ordinary English speaker, not a professional in the field. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 15 '17 at 5:46
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf reclamation is the term I see most often in English texts about this subject. However, I'm no native speaker, so can't really judge it. $\endgroup$ – RHA Oct 15 '17 at 6:42

Reclamation can be used in this context, but I think in this situation the most appropriate word would be "remediation", from the Latin word remediare which means "heal" or "cure". It is most often used in the sense of fixing environmental problems such as pollution or contaminants.


A Google search suggests this is a widely used term in the mining industry for the situation you describe. https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=remediation+mining

It does depend exactly which stages you're attempting to describe, though. From http://www.miningfacts.org/environment/what-happens-to-mine-sites-after-a-mine-is-closed/:

The terms reclamation, remediation, rehabilitation, and restoration are all used to describe mine closure activities that attempt to alter the biological and physical state of a site. [11] The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and are closely linked, but refer to distinct steps in the preparation of the site for another use: [11, 12]

Remediation: The cleanup of the contaminated area to safe levels by removing or isolating contaminants. At mine sites, remediation often consists of isolating contaminated material in pre-existing tailings storage facilities, capping tailings and waste rock piles with clean topsoil, and collecting and treating any contaminated mine water if necessary.

Reclamation: The physical stabilization of the terrain (dams, waste rock piles), landscaping, restoring topsoil, and the return of the land to a useful purpose.

Restoration: The process of rebuilding the ecosystem that existed at the mine site (where applicable) before it was disturbed. The science of mine reclamation has evolved from simple revegetation activities to a discipline which involves using native plants to mimic natural ecosystem development over an extended period of time. [13]

Rehabilitation: The establishment of a stable and self-sustaining ecosystem, but not necessarily the one that existed before mining began. In many cases, complete restoration may be impossible, but successful remediation, reclamation, and rehabilitation can result in the timely establishment of a functional ecosystem.

See also this publication by USGS: Finger, Church, and Guerard. Potential for Successful Ecological Remediation, Restoration, and Monitoring, Integrated Investigations of Environmental Effects of Historical Mining in the Animas River Watershed, San Juan County, Colorado, 2008; U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper .

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Based on the definitions you provided, I'd pick rehabilitation because the bulk of my document is concerned with restoring the steppe/meadow ecosystem at the spoil tip sites. $\endgroup$ – CopperKettle Oct 15 '17 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Can reclamation include rehabilitation? I'm getting tangled in all this. $\endgroup$ – CopperKettle Oct 15 '17 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ Reclamation is about the physical geography of the site, rehabilitation is about the ecosystem (I think). I'm not sure if rehabilitation and bio-/phyto-remediation overlap though! $\endgroup$ – arboviral Oct 16 '17 at 17:10

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