Middleton Quarry is a small chalk extraction site near the village of Middleton-on-the-Wolds in East Yorkshire. Nature After Minerals advised on the restoration of the quarry to lowland calcareous (chalk) grassland through discussions with the Mineral Planning Authority and the Planning Consultant acting on behalf of the operator and landowner. Natural regeneration of areas of the quarry and sourcing green hay or wildflower seed from nearby Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves (both Sites of Special Scientific Interest) are key recommendations, as well as a less prescriptive approach to tree planting than the one proposed, and public access to the quarry once it had been restored. The suggested permissive access could not be taken forward due to safety concerns.
Potential best practice
Restoring to habitat to create stepping stone in the landscape
A planning application for the restoration of Middleton Quarry was brought forward the quarry owners and operators, Simpson Quarries Ltd. Permission to work the site had expired and as new owners of the quarry, they wished to regularise the planning situation to continue working the remaining mineral and secure restoration of the site using a combination of quarry wastes and imported Construction, Demolition and Excavation (C, D & E) wastes.
Opportunities identified by RESTORE
The pit is within the Yorkshire Wolds National Character Area. Unimproved, flower-rich calcareous grasslands characterised the Wolds but are now far less extensive and are fragmented in the landscape, covering only 1.3% of the area (1,073 ha)(Natural England NCA profile 27 Yorkshire Wolds (2012)).
Restoration opportunities are highlighted in the National Character Area profile – no. 27 Yorkshire Wolds. The Statement of Environmental Opportunity (SEO1) states that NCA should seek out
“opportunities for biodiversity enhancement from mineral extraction sites, for example by the creation of chalk grassland through suitable restoration schemes and managing disused chalk quarries... for their biodiversity value.”
Although small, there was clear potential for restoration of Middleton to add to the network of restored and disused chalk quarries in the Wolds. These include Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit and Rifle Butts Quarry, 7 km south-west of Middleton, both are managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT). Large tracts of the Wolds landscape are now under intensive arable cultivation (see figure 1). Hence, such sites are important stepping stones for species dispersal and protect vulnerable plant communities.
Why Brackagh Quarry fitted RESTORE objectives:
Chalk grassland, like all lowland calcareous grassland habitats occurs on shallow, well-drained, lime-rich soils formed through weathering of the chalk (limestone) parent rock. Chalk grasslands only occur in North West Europe, and in particular England is thought to contain about half the global resource(Kent Lowland calcareous grassland BAP report). They are extremely rare and fragmented and therefore are of international importance. In the UK, 95% of chalk grassland has been lost in the last 50 years, leaving just 38,687ha (Natural England report) in England.
We responded to the restoration and aftercare statement submitted to ERYC in January 2014 to discharge the condition.
The final restoration was to a conservation afteruse with the majority of faces buttressed using imported materials prior to final landforming using quarry fines.
Calcareous grassland would then be established across the greater part of the site, with exposed faces, areas of tree planting and ephemeral wetland introducing both geological and ecological interest.
Our response and suggestions
The proposed restoration scheme featured some good principles. The applicant submitted two plans of the site, detailing restoration during 0-5 years and 5-15 years, recognising longer-term interest.
How this best practice is transferable
Middleton Quarry provides the opportunity to draw up guiding principles for similar restorations. Drawing on the idea that natural regeneration can be appropriate under the right circumstances, these principles have been subsequently used in a planning application response for a chalk quarry in southern England:
- natural regeneration in the right place
- ensuring use of low fertility substrates (chalk scaplings)
- retaining interesting quarry features (faces) and microtopography.
We’ve also drafted an off-the-peg planning condition for restorations of this kind, should this ever be
The biggest challenge lies in the applicant or the planning authority adopting the measures suggested. On this occasion, the applicant was willing to consider some measures but there was no real onus or incentive to take forward the others, including public access.