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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Striking A Balance

An unlikely environmental hero is helping strike a balance between the needs of local people, wildlife and his employer at a Nottinghamshire quarry. Mike Walter reports

Former accountant Andrew Hindmarsh proudly watches a pair of swans grace the waters of a nature reserve near Nottingham and calmly swim alongside a passing barge filled with aggregates. For Mr Hindmarsh, estates supervisor of RMC Aggregates' nearby Attenborough Quarry, the sight fully justifies the efforts being made to help industry and nature exist in perfect harmony.

For three years he has worked hard to allow wildlife, wildfowl and members of the local community to make best use of parts of the restored quarry now occupied by the Attenborough Nature Reserve. Rare species of birds are being attracted to newly created natural habitats and conditions are now favourable for the return of otters to the site. Local walkers and runners are making the most of improved access around the site, which now features an upgraded footpath and a nature trail provided with guidance and funding from the Countryside Agency and Broxtowe Borough Council.

The challenge now for Mr Hindmarsh, and joint site managers the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and English Nature, is to maintain the condition of the nature reserve and oversee the introduction of additional measures to further enhance the 240ha Site of Special Scientific Interest.

‘In this country there are increasing pressures on how land is used and as such there is a growing need to protect and enhance the few natural habitats we have. Our work here at Attenborough Nature Reserve is to help create the right circumstances for wildlife to flourish in balance with the needs of local people,’ he says.

Major projects to improve the site will include the creation of additional natural habitats for wildlife and are also likely to include the construction of a visitor centre. Such schemes form part of a new five-year management plan for Attenborough Nature Reserve, which is being managed by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and funded by the RMC Environmental Fund. The first grant is worth £209,000 for the next three years.

One of the first ways the money is being spent is on re-profiling stockpiles of overburden to allow the restoration of water meadows and pasture. A sizable proportion of the overburden is being used to create purpose-built shallows within a sheltered part of a nearby lake. These shallows will be planted with reeds in an effort to attract overwintering bitterns to the reserve. Mr Hindmarsh says that similar reed beds created at the site last year as part of the Attenborough Reed Bed Project proved very successful in this regard.

‘The new habitats will form a core location for birds, invertebrates and fish to breed and feed. As much as 95% of wetland environments have disappeared from this area of the UK because of river-straightening projects and drainage schemes. Suitable nesting sites have become fewer and further between,’ he says, adding that the sight of wildlife on top of the water is a good sign that there is a full range of life beneath the surface as well.

Effective management of a nature reserve as large as Attenborough calls for a close eye to be kept on plant life, to prevent vegetation from growing out of hand or unsuitable plants for crowding and succeeding existing foliage. Efforts are being made to prevent alien or unsuitable species of plant life from becoming established at the site. ‘We suffer from the fact that it is still legal in this country to sell invasive water plants used in garden ponds. Some people think that they are helping the reserve by throwing their excess crassula weed or similar into the lakes here. In fact, plants such as this, or the Himalayan balsom which migrates into the reserve from seeds washed down by the river Trent, overwhelm natural species.’

Away from issues concerning flora, construction of a visitor centre at the nature reserve is a project very close to Mr Hindmarsh’s heart. A site this large and used by the general public should have a visitor centre,’ he says. ‘There are 30 schools within two miles of the site and I would like to see classroom facilities provided for school children and students to allow them to learn more about the environment.’

Attenborough Nature Reserve welcomes hundreds of local visitors every week including horse riders, joggers and dog-walkers. Mr Hindmarsh has worked hard to make sure that as many different members of the community as possible can visit and enjoy the site and has made sure that a good number of footpaths at the reserve are suitable for wheelchair users. A circular route within the site, forming part of a national network of disabled routes known as the Millennium Miles, has recently been approved for use by disabled access body The Fieldfare Trust.

Many large towns are a short drive from the nature reserve and many local people take full advantage of the site in their spare time. Most people come to enjoy the scenery or take in the fresh air, but the activities of some people has caused Mr Hindmarsh problems. ‘Our joint commitment to the local community with Broxtowe Borough Council in making the site more open has unfortunately made it a target for abuse. The site is very remote so it has become popular with fly-tippers and we had 30 burnt-out cars left here last year,’ he says.

Mr Hindmarsh decided to take matters into his own hands. He wrote a number of poetic messages to would-be criminals warning them of the high police presence in the area and posted them on the main entrance to the reserve on Barton Lane. One such notice reads: ‘Beeston’s cops eat Shredded Wheat, Barton Lane is on their beat’. He says that while the messages may be lighthearted, they do have a positive effect in reducing crime in the area.

Attenborough Nature Reserve encompasses half a dozen exhausted quarry pits which have been left to fill with water and become colonized with wildlife. Sand and gravel has been extracted from the site for over 70 years and as reserves became depleted in one area, work began further afield.

Barges are used to transport the sand and gravel from the quarry face to the processing plant, which is now some 6km distant. ‘Transporting aggregates by water helps to save on lorry movements which congest local roads,’ says Mr Hindmarsh.

‘Some people with an interest in the environment say that quarry pits should not be dug in the first place, but I disagree. Mineral extraction certainly does change the look of the countryside, but without sand and gravel society would not function properly, if at all. It is a vital resource, and had the site not been used for mineral extraction, it could now be an industrial estate with little positive impact for the environment.

‘I feel very lucky to be involved in such a worthwhile project to maintain the balance of wildlife interests and public involvement at the nature reserve, and look forward to attracting more people and more nature to the site.’

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