Aggregate Industries, operator of Blackhill Quarry near Exeter, has been awarded runner up and highly commended for its restoration of the sand and gravel quarry at the Mineral Product Association’s Biodiversity Awards 2017 in the Landscape Scale Category, sponsored by Natural England. These awards celebrate the best examples of quarry restoration and wildlife conservation in the UK. 

Grazing Ponies

As a responsible operator, Aggregate Industries has a duty to restore quarries once extraction has finished. At Blackhill Quarry, Aggregate Industries has gone over and above the original planning requirements, producing a restoration scheme that optimises biodiversity in keeping with the wider area. At the site, which is surrounded on three sides by the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SSSI, SAC, SPA, approximately 35 hectares of the site has now been restored to lowland heathland and open water habitats in an effort to encourage increased biodiversity on the site.

The focus of the heathland restoration on site has revolved around spreading indigenous topsoil and allowing natural regeneration, along with spreading heathland litter harvested from the surrounding habitats. In places gorse and other undesirable scrub species have become frequent, so there has been an intensive programme of scrub clearance. Grazing by Exmoor and Dartmoor ponies has provided challenges in an operational quarry, but has been an element of the habitat creation and management.

The result of the restoration has seen a dramatic transformation at the site and species recorded on site include nightjar, dartford warbler, small red damselfly and the silver studded blue butterfly. Also, the common lizard and adder are regularly recorded, and great crested newts were found for the first time in 2017, thanks to breeding ponds that were created by extracting minerals. 

Aggregate Industries has been supported by the RSPB in managing its restored land at Blackhill Quarry. As well as providing the company with expert knowledge, the RSPB has also organised for volunteers from the local area to carry out practical tasks. This has provided Aggregate Industries with a good opportunity to engage with local people about the wildlife benefits of quarry restoration, as well as discuss the wider issues of quarry operation and development in the area.

The judges who visited the site commented: "The high quality of the restored habitat and evidence on-site of the return of key heathland plants and invertebrates was very impressive. The right decisions have been taken from the outset to develop habitat with a range of niches to host a rich species community. The project represents an important addition to the local habitat network and to the ecological resilience of the landscape as a whole.”
Simon Wiltshire, Biodiversity and Restoration Advisor at Aggregate Industries, comments: 
“Blackhill Quarry sits within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so it’s our responsibility to restore the quarry so it reflects the wider landscape. 

“We’re delighted that our efforts have been recognised by the Mineral Product Association’s Biodiversity Awards 2017, as this is a fantastic achievement and a testament to the hard work we have undertaken, with support from our partners. 

“Heathland restoration is an ongoing operation, and the next phase of restoration is well underway. We hope that by continuing our management, supported by our partners, the diversity and abundance of species on the site, as well as overall habitat quality, will continue to improve in the existing areas.

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