Langford Lowfields is adjacent to the River Trent approximately 5km north of Newark. It is one of four active sand, gravel and sandstone quarries currently operated by Tarmac in Nottinghamshire.

Case study date



175ha, with further extension




Tarmac Ltd

Mineral Planning Authority

Nottinghamshire County Council

Mineral Type

Sand and gravel

Habitat(s) Created

Predominantly reedbeds, with areas of complementary wet woodland, open water, species-rich grassland and scrub

Restoration / Priority Habitats

Phased extraction & restoration
80 ha reedbed
Potential for wet woodland

Partnership Working

Tarmac Ltd
Trinity College, Cambridge

Key Issues


Public Benefits

Public access & recreation
Long-term monitoring


Langford Lowfields is adjacent to the River Trent approximately 5km north of Newark. It is one of four active sand, gravel and sandstone quarries currently operated by Tarmac in Nottinghamshire.

Since opening in 1989, the quarry has produced between 400,000 and 500,000 tonnes of high-quality alluvial sand and gravel per annum. The original quarry footprint covered 175ha, with a new extension containing 1.3 million tonnes of mineral opened to the south in 2016. A future extension to the west has been approved and extensions to the north are planned. These will in turn extend the size of the RSPB reserve, providing a large area for the establishment of more reedbed and associated wetland habitats.

Planning History

Langford Quarry was granted planning permission by Nottinghamshire County Council in 1988 for the extraction of 11 million tonnes of sand and gravel, it began operations in 1989. This planning permission required Tarmac to enter into an agreement with the RSPB, ensuring the future management of the site as a nature reserve. A significant portion of the original land holding is owned by Trinity College - Cambridge and RSPB, Tarmac and Trinity College entered into a tri-partite agreement that will see ownership of the restored land passing to the RSPB.

As well as requiring restoration management, the planning permission also requires a detailed programme of archaeological investigation before extraction of sand and gravel. An initial evaluation suggested that there was likely to be significant archaeological features in the final phases of the extraction, and a major archaeological dig took place in 2010 (see Public Benefits below for results of the dig). More recently, in 2015, a smaller dig took place on the site of a former Saxon settlement.

Reedbed Establishment

Reed was initially planted as 30cm tall plugs at a density of 4 plugs/m2 in Phase 1 of the restoration during 2002-2003. This first phase proved very successful, with a dense and functioning reedbed establishing. Planting density has since been increased with c.20 plugs/ m2 now being planted. Plug planting is a popular method of establishing reed but has certain disadvantages: each seedling must be hand planted, water levels must be maintained at around 5cm to prevent drowning and the reed must be protected from grazing by coots and geese. The latter issue is usually solved by planting the reed in blocks and fencing each block (welded mesh panels are currently being used at Langford Lowfields). Planting is done in the late spring or summer. Assuming sufficient water is available competing vegetation is virtually eliminated by the control of water levels. Seedlings are grown in the poly-tunnel at Langford, with two batches, each of 12500 seedlings, produced annually. Buying plugs is relatively expensive at 30p/plug and planting is very labour intensive especially combined with the cost of fencing.

Reed was kick-started in the Phase 2 area following its restoration using turfs taken from Phase 1. An excavator bucket full of reed and rhizomes was dug up, loaded onto a tracked dumper, moved and then roughly planted. These turfs have a high success rate, with reed spreading from the initial turfs through rhizomes and runners. Turfs can be planted 10m apart and in much dryer conditions than plugs require. They are more resistant to detrimental wave action but do still need to be fenced to protect them from grazing. Competition from other vegetation is eliminated when water levels are raised. Careful transportation means the rhizomes are undamaged by this turfing method and provide strong growth of new reed once planted. At Langford, this method transplanted 700 turfs over two weeks, using two excavators and three tracked dumpers. The total cost was £15,000.

Unfortunately Phase 1 had to be re-landscaped in 2011-2012 (see Lessons Learned section below) and reed establishment on the newly formed Phase 1 was initiated using an innovative method involving planting rhizomes in shallow trenches along the spines of each island. The rhizomes were taken from established reed areas by an excavator, moved in dumper trucks, which then tipped the rhizomes into pre-prepared trenches one bucket-width wide. A layer of soil was then used to gently cover the rhizomes, whilst making sure the heights of the island tops were not affected. This method proved to be quicker, easier and gave improved establishment results at half the price of the turfing method. It has since been used to establish reed in the Phase 3 area, with 550m of trench being dug and planted up over a 7 day period using one excavator and one swivel-tip dumper.

Managing water levels to provide optimum conditions for reed establishment.

Established wet reedbed requires a minimum spring depth of water of 50-70cm. This depth should vary across the site as allowed for by the topographical undulations within the landforming. Seedlings, when planted and often in the first year post-planting, require shallower water levels with a depth of 5-10cm above ground level recommended. Water levels at Langford are controlled via a number of drop-board sluices, a new tilting weir and a large outfall sluice which connects the reserve to the river.

Long-term management and monitoring.

The reserve staff team consists of a Site Manager, a Warden, a Reserve Administrator and a growing team of volunteers.

A programme of research, survey and monitoring detailed in the Management Plan has been devised to enable the success of the habitat creation to be assessed. This programme includes:

  • Annual monitoring of breeding birds, with species specific surveys carried out as required, including for bitterns and water rails.
  • Monthly WeBS counts.
  • Electro-fishing every 5 years to assess fish biomass.
  • Monitoring of BAP priority species.
  • Monitoring of the water levels and quality.
  • Annual fixed-point drone photography.
  • Reed condition.
  • Macrophyte (aquatic plant) establishment.

Soil Handling

Soil is carefully stripped from the site and kept in two distinct stores. Overburden/subsoil is stored as close to the point of origin as possible and is then used in the restoration work. A proportion of the topsoil is transported to the periphery of the site where it is stored in bunds. Vegetation is allowed to grow on the bunds, thereby retaining soil structure, reducing compaction and maintaining soil fertility. This soil has the potential for use in the conversion of sections of the site to arable land if the need arises, (although this site would then be a low-level agricultural restoration, requiring constant pumping to maintain drainage). Recent planning requirements state that all storage mounds remaining in place for more than 6 weeks must be sown with a seed mix of benefit to farmland birds.

Habitat Design

Many restoration plans are too ambitious in terms of the number of different habitats that they try to cram into a small area. This results in pockets of habitat which are too small, and consequently fail to deliver for those species dependent on that habitat. At Langford, the primary focus of the restoration is reedbed and it is designed around the following principles:

  • Landforming of subsoil according to a design established by Tarmac in collaboration with RSPB Ecologists and the RSPB Site Manager. This landforming results in a varied topography with a mixture of channels, deeper pool areas, shallow gradients and scalloped edges. These bold features create extensive reed edge (target is 400m/ha) and a variety of underwater features suitable for fish.
  • Creation and establishment of blocks of reed for nesting bitterns that are ideally larger than 2ha in area and greater than 100m wide. Fish penetration into a wet reedbed is generally no more than 30m from open water and so bittern feeding areas can consist of much smaller blocks of reed.
  • Open water is an important part of a reedbed and will equate to around 30-50% of the total area. Because reed will grow in water up to approx 1.5m in depth, to retain open water pools and channels should ideally be landscaped to approx 2m deep, thereby preventing reed encroachment. Water deeper than this however, prevents sunlight penetration and is generally poor for aquatic plants, a key component of any reedbed as they provide excellent fish habitat.
Aerial shot of wetland creation, RSPB Langford Lowfields Nature Reserve, Nottingham, October


There are three key reedbed-specialist priority bird species which we are keen to get breeding at Langford:

  1. Bitterns: these overwintered for the first time in 2009/10 and have done so every winter since then, with three birds on site during the winter of 2014/2015. A booming male was heard on site during 2011 and 2012, with suspicious grunting heard in 2015 and then strong booming heard on site annually since. Two bitterns were booming simultaneously during the 2019 breeding season and it is hoped it will not be long before breeding occurs on site.
  2. Marsh harriers: a pair successfully bred in 2010, (in Phase 1 prior to the redesign work). This was the first recorded instance of marsh harriers breeding in Nottinghamshire and with continued development and establishment of the site, we await the next breeding pair.
  3. Bearded tits: these reed-loving birds bred for the first time in Nottinghamshire at Langford in 2016, with two pairs recorded in 2017.

Additionally, we had a county record number of avocets (34) during the 2019 breeding season and a range of rare and unusual birds are recorded annually. 61 species of bird were recorded as breeding or holding territory in 2018 and otters are now being seen albeit, infrequently during daylight hours.

Lessons Learned

Phase 1 of the restoration had developed into a fully functioning reedbed. However, the contractors involved made an error in calculating the original land forming heights, with levels being out by 1.3m. This resulted in the reedbed being too low, so that when water levels were eventually raised to their final maximum, the reed would have been drowned. These problems are sometimes encountered on large complicated projects and to rectify the problem, during 2011 and 2012, 300000 tonnes of subsoil was positioned on top of the existing reeds, raising the bed level. This was an unfortunate position to be in but is far from disastrous. In the long run, the submerged dead reed has provided a valuable habitat for fish and adds to the variety of the submerged topography.

Public Benefits

The archaeological dig carried out in 2010 discovered indications of a large Roman settlement, including pottery, grave sites and several wells, as well as clear signs of paleochannels of the River Trent floodplain. These finds help place the reserve into a historical context and in the future may form part of the reserve’s visitor experience. The Phase 1 portion of the site opened to the public in April 2014, with two circular trails, with one including a floating bridge and a boardwalk. Once the reedbed is established these two features will provide a truly immersive reedbed experience. The trails undulate as they circle the site to provide different views over and into the reedbed. As the site expands and new sections are opened, the buffer zone between the public and the active quarry will be maintained, and the restoration design ensures wildlife will always have quiet, undisturbed areas in which to feed and breed.

Langford Lowfields

The Wider Landscape

The Trent Valley is one of the major sand and gravel producing areas in the country, and Langford Lowfields is located at a strategic midway point along the valley. There is clear potential to develop a series of wetlands along the entire catchment, from Staffordshire and Birmingham to the Humberhead levels in north Nottinghamshire and Humberside. In 2014 & 2015, the Nature After Minerals team worked with the Mineral Planning Authorities, Operators, Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB, the MPA and other key stakeholders to run a series of workshops to unlock this potential. The output of these workshops was the Bigger and Better in the Trent & Tame vision for the whole landscape, showing the scale of opportunity and securing buy-in for these ideas in the Mineral Local Plans across six counties, including an holistic approach to bigger, better and more joined up habitats. Following on from this, the Newark to South Clifton Concept Plan was developed in more detail for a small cluster of sites, including Langford Lowfields, promoting a strategic, coordinated and landscape-scale approach to the biodiversity-led restoration of these four sites, and showing how it would benefit both wildlife and people.

The information set out within this advisory sheet in no way constitutes legal or regulatory advice and is based on circumstances and facts as they existed at the time Nature After Minerals compiled this document. Should there be a change in circumstances or facts, then this may adversely affect any  recommendations, opinions or findings contained within this document