Gravel was extracted around Little Paxton between the 1940s and the early 1960s, resulting in a series of flooded pits. There were no plans to restore these for nature conservation, but later operators allowed natural regeneration to occur and by 1980 Paxton Pits had developed considerable wildlife interest, in particular for birds.

Case study date



78 ha




Aggregate Industries

Mineral Planning Authority

Cambridgeshire County Council

Mineral Type

Sand and gravel

Habitat(s) Created

Standing open water & pools, wet woodland and scrub

Restoration / Priority Habitats

Mosaic of wetland habitat including reedbed and 5 new lakes

Partnership Working

Aggregate Industries
Huntingdonshire District Council
Cambridgshire County Council
Friends of Paxton Pits
Natural England
BCN Wildlife Trust

Key Issues

Continued collaboration
priority species

Public Benefits

Community engagement


Gravel was extracted around Little Paxton between the 1940s and the early 1960s, resulting in a series of flooded pits. There were no plans to restore these for nature conservation, but later operators allowed natural regeneration to occur and by 1980 Paxton Pits had developed considerable wildlife interest, in particular for birds.

In 1988 part of Paxton Pits was declared as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR), managed by Huntingdonshire District Council through agreement with the gravel extraction companies. The reserve, about 50% of which was later purchased by Huntingdonshire District Council, is now an extremely popular local amenity. Facilities include a Visitors’ Centre run by the Council and volunteers from the reserve’s support group, The Friends of Paxton Pits (FPPNR), which also campaigns on the Reserve’s behalf.

Planning history

The gravel extraction between 1940 and the 1960s gave rise to the existing Paxton Pits Local Nature Reserve. A more recent application by Aggregate Industries for gravel extraction followed by restoration for nature conservation, offered an opportunity to substantially expand the reserve.

Since the proposed extraction would be a departure from the preferred areas in the Minerals Local Plan, the Mineral Planning Authority, Cambridgeshire County Council, required the application to demonstrate exceptional community benefits. They suggested that a plan that incorporated and extended Paxton Pits Nature Reserve would potentially unlock greater community benefits by maximising the opportunities available for increased biodiversity and public access.

Aggregate Industries responded to this by convening a working group of key stakeholders (including the County Council, the FPPNR, Natural England and the RSPB) to develop its proposals. After 18 months of detailed discussion and negotiation, the revised proposal was submitted.

The FPPNR, and numerous local residents, supported the scheme with 326 letters of support written to Cambridgeshire County Council. Thanks to this support and the potential public benefits that would result from the scheme, Cambridgeshire County Council granted the permission in March 2006 subject to a detailed section 106 agreement. Final approval for the scheme was announced in October 2007.

Habitat creation details

The extended Paxton Pits Nature Reserve will make an important contribution to an ‘Ouse Valley conservation corridor’ that is likely to feature in district and county plans. In particular, the inclusion of substantial areas of reedbed will significantly contribute to national and local Biodiversity Action Plan targets for this high priority habitat.

Two ecologists were consulted in planning the restoration, one from a consultancy and one from the RSPB. The restoration will comprise a mosaic of wetland habitats. Five new lakes will be added to the reserve – many with marshy margins graded at 1:15 for emergent vegetation and with indentations to increase edge habitat. Islands and low bunds will be created in waterbodies using overburden, and ‘fox-proofed’ at each junction with the lakeshores, to provide secure breeding sites for waders and other birds.

Reedbed will be created by landforming to give a mosaic of water depths including deep channels and pools alongside some seasonally dry areas. Species-rich wet grassland, important for plants, invertebrates, and a suite of bird species, including skylark, will also be created. Experience on the existing reserve has shown that management of arable land with hay cutting and/ or grazing improves the wildlife value over time, leading to species-rich grassland after about 10 years.

The restoration offers a rare opportunity to restore areas to wet woodland, and this was encouraged by the Cambridgeshire BAP target for creation of this habitat. Wet woodland will be created by landforming to divert two existing streams and create rivulets, combined with careful use of limited back-fill material. Natural regeneration will be augmented by planting some targeted species of local provenance.

Scrub, which supports an important assemblage of breeding passerines on the existing reserve, will be expanded. Limited landforming is proposed, to create sandy banks and wet flushes within blocks of scrub. The scrub community will then be left to develop largely through natural regeneration.

Release of land from the quarry into Paxton Pits Nature Reserve will be phased over the c.10-year lifetime of the proposed extraction, with restoration phased over the same period. Details of the restoration of the Pumphouse pit area include:

  • Large clay bund established in 2008.
  • Refinement and re-profiling of the bund to give 1:15 to 1:40 gradient slopes in February/March
  • Allowing greater feeding habitat for waders.
  • New island constructed from old roadway for breeding birds in February/March 2009. In
  • combination with the above giving sheltered lagoons.
  • Re-profiling of southern shore to a 1:15 gradient from 1:3 along with establishing a grassy
  • shoreline to enhance wildfowl feeding and grazing (February 2009).
  • Construction of two new sand martin faces for nesting.
  • Earthworks to provide the basis and access for new hides.
  • All the above works were carried out by Bardon Aggregates with the support and assistance of the FPPNR.

Costs of restoration and management

The Section 106 Agreement provides for long-term management. Aggregate Industries will contribute to ongoing management until at least 2021.Huntingdonshire District Council, as the managing agency, will lease the land at a low rent as is comes into the reserve and for a minimum of 80 years after completion of extraction. Funding ongoing maintenance after restoration has been completed will be Huntingdonshire District Council’s responsibility.


Monitoring on the reserve has been substantial right from the start of restoration projects. The breeding bird survey has been ongoing for well over a decade, giving a good idea of species using the site. To name but a few there have been sand martin, skylark, cuckoo, yellowhammer, grey partridge, lapwing, redshank and turtle dove. Along with this survey, over the same period, there has been a Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) count running. There have been several studies undertaken on the reserve in relation to nightingales and their habitat use, along with surveys of singing males.

There have been invertebrate surveys of the SSSI units, commissioned by Natural England. There has also been a survey of great crested newts, which has shown their presence with possible breeding on the reserve and adjacent quarry. Otters have been frequent visitor to the sites and may, potentially, be breeding.

In 2009 Bardon Aggregates won the Wildlife Trust Biodiversity Benchmark award for their work at Little Paxton Quarry.

Public benefits

Attracting over 100,000 visitors each year already and with The Friends support group now over 2,500 strong, Paxton Pits Nature Reserve is an established and important local amenity. It is also firmly on the tourist map for those seeking out countryside and wildlife for their enjoyment.

The reserve extension has seen the Reserve grow from 78 hectares (193 acres) to a massive 285 hectares (704 acres). An increased footpath network will bring the total in the Paxton Pits complex to 27km. A circular 8.4km cycleway passes through the Reserve for about 40% of its length, making the reserve even more accessible.

The reserve has become a hub for the natural history educational needs of the local community. From 2007 until March 2008 a teacher funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) was based on the reserve. This has now been developed by the FPPNR to provide a RSPB Wildlife Explorer and Wildlife Trust Wildlife Watch Group, which won the Watch Group of the Year award in January 2010. They have also been working towards developing a new educational resource on site with a classroom and pond. Bardon Aggregates have been assisting and have played a key role in the earth works to create the basis for this suite of facilities. An ALSF grant helped to provide a countryside classroom, a part time Education and Community Involvement officer and environmental education activities for people of all ages.

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