Weatherhill Quarry is a 116h silica sand quarry situated within the North Pennines SAC / SPA. Following the cessation of extraction works, the operator is obliged to submit a reclamation scheme for the site. Given the sensitive location of the site, Nature After Minerals was asked to provide advice for a restoration scheme that maximises biodiversity, while also extending the internationally-important habitats in the surrounding designated land.
To be confirmed
Potential best practice
Upland moorland creation, buffering Natura2000 sites, natural regeneration, retention of rough landform
Weatherhill Quarry is a disused silica sand quarry located near the village of Stanhope, due west of Durham in north-east England, which has been worked since the 1940s. Nature After Minerals worked with the landowners, Natural England and Durham County Council, to identify the best way to manage the quarry’s post-extraction activities.
Opportunities identified by RESTORE
Weatherhill Quarry is within the internationally-designated Pennine Moors Special Protected Area (SPA) for birds, and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its upland heaths and mires (Annex 1 priority habitats). The site offers a significant opportunity to create habitats that complement and enhance the adjacent nationally and internationally-important habitats on Stanhope Moor. The site also has the potential to support some red list priority species, including ring ouzel, black grouse, snipe and the globally near threatened curlew (qualifying feature of SPA).
This potential is also highlighted within the National Character Area profile – no.10 North Pennines - within which the site is located. The Statement of Environmental Opportunity (SEO1) states that the NCA should continue to:
“Protect, manage and enhance the moorlands and moorland fringes of the North Pennines, with their internationally important habitats and wildlife, their sense of wildness and remoteness, and the contribution they make to climate mitigation, water quality and availability and water flow”
Why Weatherhill Quarry fitted RESTORE objectives:
Weatherhil quarry is of a significant size (>100ha) and has the potential to buffer and extend the priority habitat types in the surrounding North Pennines SPA/SAC. It also has potential to support a several birds (ring ouzel, black grouse, snipe and curlew) and rare and notable invertebrate species which have undergone significant population declines.
NAM drew up a Restoration and Aftercare Scheme Statement for the Landowner.
As part of the conditions of the 2003 Review of Old Mineral Permissions (ROMP), the applicant is required to submit a full reclamation scheme
to the mineral planning authority within 30 months of extraction work discontinuing. No scheme has yet to be confirmed.
Our response and suggestions
The restoration of Weatherhill quarry has the potential to deliver high quality upland moorland, featuring a mosaic of habitat and habitat features, including heathland, acid grassland, scrub, shrub, damp flushes, rocky outcrops and exposures.
NAM is confident that a ‘light touch’ restoration is appropriate at Weatherhill. Leaving the existing landform largely intact and allowing areas of the site to naturally regenerate (supplemented by other heathland establishment techniques where appropriate) will enable the site to develop into high quality habitat, increasing its value to wildlife and potentially providing cost savings.
Our response to the operator and mineral planning authority included a number of recommendations that we felt would enhance the restoration and aftercare, as detailed below:
How this best practice is transferable
This is an example of how mineral sites can buffer and extend Natura2000 habitats to benefit endangered or notable species of varying taxa. This is a similar approach to that at Schuddebeurze – another RESTORE project site where abandoned quarries are being restored by VLM a Belgian agency.
In the UK a number of quarries have planning permission for extraction which pre-dates designation as a Natura2000 site, a situation likely to also occur across north-west Europe. Natura2000 is considered by some developers as a constraint; restoration here demonstrates how important restored quarry sites can be in extending the priority habitat of these designated sites but that the restoration needs careful consideration in consultation with the appropriate statutory agency and environmental specialists.
Through our engagement with this site, we have had the opportunity to demonstrate how important mineral restoration sites are in buffering existing Natura2000 sites and extending the habitats for which they are designated. The extraction activities at the site have resulted in some interesting landforms which create a variety of different microhabitat for the benefit of a large suite of species. Such landforms often get ‘smoothed’ out during restoration works, with the false impression that neat is best. This site demonstrates that, should health and safety allow, these more undulating features provide far more valuable features for wildlife.