Europe and Central Asia
3 Mar 2015

Breathing New Life into a Quarry

Langford lowfields © RSPB
By Lisa Benedetti

Perhaps when you were a teenager you've snuck into an old quarry to take a quick dip to cool off on a hot summer day? Well, you may not have thought about it at the time, but on a continent where natural habitats are dwindling, old quarries can offer a new oasis for all types of plant and wildlife.

Across northwest Europe, quarries cover about 250,000 hectares; this is about the size of Luxembourg. They are good for the economy and business because the minerals that are extracted are essential to many industries. But what happens when a quarry reaches the end of its working life? Well, it's one of those great cases where with some tender love and care these abandoned places can be transformed into havens for people and nature. Places where people can escape the city and reconnect with nature, for a family picnic or for swimming. But even more amazing, they can become little oases for rare plant and animal species.

It's not too difficult to convince the quarry companies, as is shown by the successful RESTORE project, where partnerships with a variety of stakeholders and industry are seeing the restoration of old and active quarries. For example, at Ouse Fen, under the framework of the BirdLife-HeidelbergCement Partnership, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and mineral extraction company Hanson (a subsidiary of HeidelbergCement in the UK) are 10 years into a 30 year project. This initiative is seeing the progressive restoration of 700 hectares of a sand and gravel quarry into the largest reedbed in the UK, with the creation of new wildlife rich wetland and grassland habitats. At Ouse, you can already find marsh harriers, bearded tits, ducks, grebes and swans. Also, the elusive bittern has begun nesting in the area. Not bad considering this is one of the UK's rarest birds, a species that almost became extinct because of hunting and habitat loss.

RESTORE Project Co-ordinator, Bea Ayling, said “Bringing organisations together to share knowledge and expertise across national borders is really essential if we are to make the most of the opportunities for biodiversity restoration presented by the mineral extraction industry across North-west Europe.”

In a similar initiative, an ongoing partnership between RSPB and the French aggregate company LaFarge Tarmac has led to the restoration of 15 hectares of heathland at Sandy Heath, on Bedfordshire’s Greensand Ridge; where RSPB’s headquarters are located. Together, they are aiming to restore 30 hectares of heathland habitat over the next ten to twenty years.

RESTORE, which is funded through the EU’s INTERREG IVB programme, aims to promote an inspirational reference point and at the same time helping to establish best-practice models that can be followed by others across Europe and elsewhere. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.