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Threatened wildlife gets boost from quarries

THE Nature After Minerals project run by the RSPB and Natural England, with support from the Minerals Products Association, and which aims to help recreate high-quality habitats for people and wildlife on former quarry sites, has proved such a success that a new phase is now being launched with a small team of experts being employed to help turn spent quarries over to nature.

Research has shown that the majority of minerals sites can be used to create wildlife rich habitats, such as woodland, reed beds and heathland, and that if all environmentally suitable quarries in England were returned to nature in this way, nine out of 11 of the Government’s targets for biodiversity could be met by this means alone, creating thousands of hectares of space for wildlife.

‘Quarries can have a major impact on the landscape, but once they have reached the end of their life they have a fantastic potential to deliver habitats for threatened wildlife,’ said RSPB conservation director Mark Avery.

‘There are some wonderful nature reserves up and down the country which have been created in former quarries with wetlands for otters and wading birds, woodland for nightingales and woodpeckers, heathland for natterjack toads and grayling butterflies, and much more besides.

‘We will now have a small team of officers on the ground working with operators, planners, landowners and the local communities to ensure restoration plans for former quarries become reality, and I am confident they will make a real difference.

‘Many important areas of wildlife habitat have disappeared over the years but this project has proven that with passion, dedication and hard work, we can restore these areas to our countryside for the benefit of both threatened species and generations of nature lovers to come.’

The Nature After Minerals project was recently relaunched at the RSPB’s Middleton Lakes reserve, in Staffordshire. The 160ha reserve is a former gravel quarry that has been converted to lakes, reed beds, woodlands and meadows, and is now home to over-wintering wildfowl, including pochards, tufted ducks and smews, as well as otters, water voles and dragonflies. A second launch event will take place in Dorset later this month.

These events are an opportunity for the Nature After Minerals partnership to call on local councils to do more to help minerals sites become nature reserves. According to Dr Avery, some county councils, such as Surrey, are thinking very proactively in this area and making real headway, but the same cannot be said everywhere.

‘Turning a gravel quarry into an area of lakes, reed beds and meadows is a major planning exercise which can take years and get mired in bureaucracy,’ he said. ‘Councils are often not doing enough to help get these plans through quickly and smoothly and as a result we may be missing vital opportunities to provide habitats for wildlife.’


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