Great crested newts were identified in temporary ponds on the site during a routine ecological survey. The newts probably entered the quarry on their annual breeding migration, probably from the wildlife-rich areas of Wicklesham Farm just a quarter of a mile away.
They have since colonised some of the settling ponds Grundon created by pumping water from one area of the quarry to another. In line with statutory guidelines, Grundon has taken the necessary steps to protect the newt habitats from quarrying and restoration activities.
The ponds are only used by the newts for breeding – they have to go off into the quarry for feeding.
The ponds have for the most part now dried up, but monitoring continues. Any remaining newt habitats will continue to be protected.
Are there rare plants in the quarry?
No. It’s unlikely there have ever been any rare plants on the site. The only plant that has grown successfully in the quarry in living memory is ragwort – a pernicious and poisonous weed that propagates its seed by wind and must be statutorily controlled.
Continuous quarrying activity does not really provide the right conditions for plants to become established. The topsoil originally taken off the surface of the site has been carefully stored in mounds for 30 years, so any plant seeds it may have contained have long since died.
Placing the covering of subsoil and topsoil – a statutory requirement of the restoration to agriculture – will entirely cover the quarry floor. In the short term, this will create a lifeless medium, into which plants– mainly grasses – will be introduced. But at the point the restoration plan is complete, there will be very little ecology of any kind, apart from around the perimeter of the site.
This is in direct contrast to the surrounding farmland, however. Wicklesham Farm has a number of diverse habitats, including ancient woodland, in which rare orchids have been found. A survey of the farm was carried out about 20 years ago by an Oxon-based charity that did indeed discover rare arable plants, although none near the quarry.
The farm benefits from a rich biodiversity that probably stretches back centuries. As a consequence, farming practices have been adapted, with considerable resource expended in recent years to maintain and enhance the native species that now thrive. Anyone who has been to the farm, perhaps on one of our open farm days, will no doubt have seen some of the work we’re doing to make the most of the farm’s high ecological value.
Will the quarry make good farmland?
No, and it never has been particularly productive. You can lay down the basic infrastructure of a field, but it takes decades for the soil to find its heart – the natural fissures, microbes, earthworms and other biota that makes it a living and productive environment to grow food.
Could the quarry be a nature reserve?
This is unlikely to be a viable plan for the whole site. The majority of the restored quarry will start from a very low ecological baseline once restored. So flora and fauna would have to be imported and successfully established, and it's difficult to know what species would naturally thrive in which specific areas.
Such a plan may also require a change in the planning consent, which stipulates the site should be restored to low-lying agriculture.
It may therefore bring better results to focus environmental enhancement to the outer perimeter of the restored quarry, adjacent to the walls. These constitute the site’s unique geological feature and will remain untouched during the site restoration. Working with Natural England and other stakeholders and with available resource channelled to specific areas, a wildlife haven that complements the quarry's protected status could be developed.