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Worked-out quarries returned to nature


The Quarry Products Association restoration awards highlight the strides operators have made to cut the industry's impact on the environment.

Paul Thompson reports

THE AGGREGATE and mineral extraction industry is roundly criticised for the negative impact it can have on the environment and local communities.

Heavily taxed and bearing a huge legislative demand, the industry has been slow to recognise the burden it lays on the countryside and the general public.

Recently the sector has started to get its act together and this week the Quarry Products Association unveiled seven quarrying sites that point the way for operators interested in turning a worked-out rock pit into a valuable community asset.

Graham Water, Oxfordshire Smiths Bletchington - Restoration Award

Graham Water is a 5 ha lake that nestles at the heart of the currently active sand and gravel work ings of the Gill Mill Quarry Complex in Oxfordsh ire. The lake is a former pit that was worked and restored through the first half of the 1990s, yielding some 420,000 tonnes of sand and gravel.

The lake has evolved over the past 10 years into a peaceful place providing sanctuary for waterfowl and diverse habitats for invertebrates and wetland plants.

With its central island, the lake provides over 1.2 km of variable shoreline with a mix of gently sloping margins, shallows with seasonal scrapes and grassy banks. Extensive tree and shrub planting has endeavoured to replicate the structure of the original valley landscape.

From seasonal grazing land reported at the time of the planning application to be of 'little conservation interest. . .' an independent study has reported that the lake now supports an exceptionally rich community of invertebrates, wetland plants, waterfowl and songbirds. The lake is designated for fishing and eventually will be managed by Smiths sister company Linear Fisheries for syndicated or day-ticket carp angling.

Almington Quarry, Staffordshire Hanson Aggregates - Restoration Award

The 84 ha Almington Quarry in Staffordshire was worked for sand and gravel between 1956 and 2000.

Restoration of the site to mixed agriculture was carried out in phases, and works were completed in 2002. As such this was a long-running operation in the locality that provided valuable local employment and a much-needed natural resource.

The site is now fully integrated back into the landscape, both at an aesthetic and a practical level n See page 41 and is being farmed once again by the original landowners. The objective of the restoration was to restore the land to agricultural use for the purpose of grazing cattle and sheep and to integrate the land into the local landscape to create a seamless transit ion between the two. This has been achieved and the inclusion of important features characteristic of the area has reversed the degradation of the character of the site.

Of the 84 ha covered by the quarry, 73 ha are restored to pasture; 6.8 ha are woodland and scrub;

3.1 ha are ponds and wetland; 0.8 ha are hedgerows; and 0.3 ha are ungrazed field margins.

Prior to and during mineral working the landscape on which the site stands was regarded as one under threat from increasingly intensive agricultural pract ices, leading to a 'destruction of the fabric of the landscape' according to conservation organisation English Nature.

The landscape to the south of the quarry is classified differently, as it has retained much of the 'fabric' that creates landscape character, and is regarded as of high sensitivity to the impacts of land use change. Hanson claims the restoration of Almington has improved the land and created a buffer zone between the two landscape types.

Conningbrook, Kent Brett Aggregates - Chairman's Trophy for Community Involvement

The Julie Rose International Athletics Stadium at Ashford in Kent is one of the best athletics facilities in the UK and could become a key training facility in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics.

Set in part of Brett Aggregates' Conningbrook sand and gravel quarry, the idea for the state-of-the-art stadium was developed following the death of promising local middle -distance runner Julie Rose in a plane crash in the United States.

Locals rallied behind a campaign to provide other young athletes with the standard of sporting facilities that had not been available to her.

Backed by the enterprising and ambitious Ashford Borough Council, campaigners won £1.76 million of vital funding from the National Lottery Sports Fund.

Brett Aggregates through restoration of its quarry, provided a large part of the land on which the stadium has been built. Its sister company, Brett Construction, then built the stadium and supplied specialist materials for the running surface.

The facilities at the Julie Rose International Athletics Stadium also encompass a large area of restored and landscaped lake created by quarrying and has been used for water-based events such as the Ashford Triathlon.

This partnership project is recognised as a key contributor to the long-term aspirations of the Borough of Ashford and demonstrates the potential that exists for the quarrying industry to contribute to sustainable development. The natural materials from Conningbrook Quarry, and the direct and indirect employment it has generated , have played impor tant role in sustaining the economy of the area.

Cadeby Quarry, South Yorkshire Lafarge Aggregates - Restoration Award

The Don Valley between Rotherham and Doncaster has a long association with mineral extraction including coal mining at Denaby Main and the quarrying of magnesian limestone.

Cadeby Quarry sits on the nor thern valley side of the River Don between the settlements of Conisbrough and Sprotbrough. The Quarry pre-dates 1948 and was acquired by Steetley (now par t of Lafarge Aggregates Limited) in that year. At that time, the site produced crushed and screened stone for use in the civil engineering markets, stone dusts for use in the coal mining, glass making and agricultural industries, and also burnt lime produced by eight vertical kilns.

The burning operations ceased in 1974 with the removal of the kilns in 1977. The quarry today produces a range of civil engineering-grade stones.

Lafarge Aggregates' extensive land-holding at Cadeby can be divided into three parts and an extension to the quarry workings was granted in 1988 by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, subject to an Section 52 Legal Agreement. The agreed and approved scheme of restoration includes for the creation of conservation grassland (to extend the range of the small areas of semi-natural grassland present within the site), woodland and scrub (to link into Pot Ridings Wood, part of the Sprotbrough Gorge SSSI) and high-grade agricultural land (to maintain the resource of high-quality soils). The quar ry faces at Cadeby are designated as SSSI on geological grounds because of the unusual reef formations exposed: any reef formation exposed at the final position of the face is to be retained.

The quarry is being restored in a number of phases with the first located in the south-western part of the workings. It comprises a former overburden store that has been graded and landformed to link into existing ground around the periphery of the workings. It supports areas that were intentionally left as exposed overburden both to maintain bare open habitat and to allow natural colonisation to occur. Other areas were seeded down, using seed harvested from grassland elsewhere in south Yorkshire, to create limestone grassland and is now well established supporting a wide range of f lora, including several species of orchids.

Phase 2 comprises part of the quarry f loor that has been progressively restored over a number of years.

Since 1995 small areas have been restored using quarry waste, overburden and interburden over the quarry and direct placement of soils. Initially the reinstated areas set to grassland, but as the area has been increased in size, the grassland has been converted to arable cropping. An area to the north of the agricultural areas against the quarry face has been restored with the creation of a batter or scree slope formed of overburden and has been lef t for natural colonisation and succession to occur.

There is also a small wetland area that has developed naturally: the area will be managed to maintain the wetland species, which have included cotton-grass and marsh orchid, and the quarry face also provides nesting habitat for peregrine falcons.

The Restoration & Aftercare Management Scheme for Cadeby is a complex mix of the needs to maintain high-quality agr icultu ral soils, create natu re conservation areas that extend and reinforce existing habitats, managing existing biological resources and to retain and manage geological interests at the site.

The Restorat ion Scheme is so st ructu red that detailed plans for each phase of working/restoration are required prior to entry into that phase. This arrangement is an acknowledgement of the long timescales involved in working the site and ensures that experience gleaned from earlier stages helps shape the proposals for future phases. It also allows changes in perception - for example the rise in importance of biodiversity issues in the restoration of mineral workings - to be taken into account.

Powburn Quarry, Northumberland Cemex UK Materials - Restoration Award with Special Merit

Powburn Quarry is a sand and gravel centre near to the village of Powburn, Nor thumberland. It sits just outside the Northumberland National Park and the environmentally important river Breamish flows alongside the site operations.

Planning permissions required the company to restore the site to two lakes, one for nature conservation and one for fishing.

Although materials are no longer extracted at Powburn, the processing plant is still in operation, processing material from a feeder quarry nearby and already most of the excavation site restoration works has been completed.

The fishing lake is fully stocked and work to restore the nature conservation lake is about 75 per cent complete.

The final phase of the restoration to the conservation lake will take place when the processing plant is shut down.

Attenborough Quarry and Nature Reserve, Nottinghamshire Cemex UK Materials - Winner Cooper Heyman Cup

Located close to the major population centres of the East Midlands, the Attenborough Quarry and Nature Reserve has been the site of mineral extraction since 1929 and remains a working quarry today.

Nevertheless the reserve has made huge strides forward in advancing its amenity value while at the same time enhancing the habitat.

Plagued by problems including litter, anti-social behaviour and deteriorating amenity, the major stakeholders recognised that a programme of concerted action and development was needed.

Led by these principal stakeholders, Cemex, the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and Broxtowe Borough Council, the clear up programme included litter clearance, access improvements and advances in habitat provision. Footpaths, car parks and approaches to the reserve were improved and access for disabled visitors was enhanced during the footpath work.

An energy efficient and eco-friendly visitor centre, opened in 2005, provides a wide range of facilit ies for visitors including educational programmes for school children and students.

New reed beds have been replanted and some areas of open water have been remodelled to create shallows and the establishment of new wetland and pasture, and the scheme represents progress in both amenity and ecological terms in an area close to major population centres.

Ripon Quarry, North Yorkshire Hanson Aggregates - Restoration Award with Special Merit

Sitting 6 km to the east of North Stainley, north Yorkshire, Ripon quarry has been working sand and gravel since World War II. The earliest workings on the 90.5 ha site involved river dredging and transportation by barge followed by land-based extraction and haulage by road. Prior to working the site, the land was principally in agricultural use with two small areas of mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland.

This part of Yorkshire is remote but this is the key to the sites importance for wildlife.

A trout lake on the site is included in an overall long-term management agreement that aims to develop reedbed and associated wetland areas, develop wet grassland areas and enhance older woodland areas.

These restoration works are ongoing as are agricultural restoration works not included in the conservation management plan.

The site adjoins Ripon Park's Site of Special Scientific Interest, which comprises a range of habitats associated with the River Ure and adjacent land. Nearby there is also a Site of Natu re Conservat ion Interest known as the 'Jetty', which comprises semi-natural woodland.

The trout lake has been restored using natural colonisation with some intervention. This has resulted in a site that is ecologically diverse with many species recorded of national importance. Species include otter, water vole, native crayfish, great crested newt and thistle broomrape and more than 200 species of birds including marsh harrier, red kite and bittern have been recorded over the years and the site has been featured in films on nature conservation including the spawning site for river lampreys at the quarry's ford crossing point on the River Ure. These fish are believed to have been in existence since before the dinosaurs and are one of the world's most primitive species. The action of quarry dump trucks using the ford crossing helps maintain the clean gravel spawning habitat which lamprey prefer and is, as a consequence, believed to be one of the best spawning grounds on the river system.