How nature has revitalised this disused quarry in Yorkshire

Nature has been allowed to shape a disused quarry over 30 years with little human intervention and Brian Morland is thrilled at the results.

I have been involved with the restoration of this Quarry site for 30 years now. It is not a designated nature reserve, but the planning consent was for the core area to be restored for wildlife.

What we have done is allowed the site to develop naturally over the years and record the wildlife as it arrived. It has been a truly fascinating experience.

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There are now nine lakes of various sizes and depths. The only major planting was the establishment of a reedbed with Phragmites and the ubiquitous tree planting.

Great White Egret are regular visitors to the sandbar at a site near Ripon. Picture: Brian MorlandGreat White Egret are regular visitors to the sandbar at a site near Ripon. Picture: Brian Morland
Great White Egret are regular visitors to the sandbar at a site near Ripon. Picture: Brian Morland

Once the actual quarrying ceased on the east bank of the river Ure, gravel extraction was transferred to the west bank where the actual Quarry plant and offices are located.

One of the operational problems was that until enough material had been quarried from the ground, there was nowhere to pump the water used to wash the gravel from the substrate.

This water, that contained silt and sand in suspension, was piped under the River Ure and along the old haul road, to be fed into the final and by far the largest lake on the east bank.

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At first this turbid discharge into a gin clear lake was an eyesore. The lake in this area of discharge is over 10 metres deep. Very slowly over the last six years, a large sandbar has developed out into the large lake.

One of the Ruddy Shelduck attracted to the sandbar in July last year.One of the Ruddy Shelduck attracted to the sandbar in July last year.
One of the Ruddy Shelduck attracted to the sandbar in July last year.

The sand nearest the open water is like quicksand, but does support birds. Any person trying to walk towards the open water would quickly be in serious trouble.

Every time the silt is pumped from the Quarry it finds a different route across the sandbar. It is a bit like the Kent Estuary at Arnside in Cumbria, where the course of the river Kent changes with every big tide.

What I considered to be an eyesore, has now developed into a habitat that is attracting more species of bird than any other habitat on the site. The sandbar has become a magnet for attracting migrating waders to drop in and rest for a while.

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At times, there can be too many birds and it becomes a bit of a mess. Two to three thousand geese in moult can create quite a quantity of poo and a smell.

The bill of the Spoonbill is really extraordinary.The bill of the Spoonbill is really extraordinary.
The bill of the Spoonbill is really extraordinary.

Where the sand fringes the open water, it attracts tens of thousands of tiny roach and perch. Towards dusk in summer larger fish move in to feed on the fry. This is a mecca for Grey Heron, Little Egret and in recent years, Great White Egret.

In mid to late summer, virtually all the sand is covered with resting birds. Greylag geese, Canada geese and several species of Gull are the most numerous.

During the autumn and winter, the sandbar becomes the roosting site for up to 500 Lapwing and 300 Curlew. Passage waders include Greenshank, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling and Black-tailed Godwit. Common Sandpiper and Redshank actually breed on

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the site on the east bank of the large lake. Avocets regularly use the sand margins for feeding and also breed on the site. Where the sand meets the banking of the lake, there is a rabbit warren. Shelduck open up the burrows and nest underground.

One of the Ruddy Shelduck attracted to the sandbar in July last year.One of the Ruddy Shelduck attracted to the sandbar in July last year.
One of the Ruddy Shelduck attracted to the sandbar in July last year.

The sandbar attracts several rare species. In July last year, I was present when seven Ruddy Shelduck flew on to the lake. Four climbed out of the water to preen and then roosted there for several hours. Three roosted on the lake, alongside the sand. In the evening, I witnessed them fly off in an easterly direction.

In mid-May this year, two Spoonbills flew in and immediately began feeding in the lake margins alongside the sandbar. This was totally unexpected and an exciting experience.

Getting close enough to photograph them without disturbing and alarming some of the wary species that were present, like a roosting Cormorant, was difficult. I ended up in a Hawthorn bush, overlooking the sandbar, using the fork in a branch as a camera rest.

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The huge bill of a Spoonbill looks cumbersome, but I watched them catching tiny fish with great dexterity. The frontage of the sandbar where it borders the lake, is perhaps 100 metres long.

The Spoonbills walked up and down this area twice. They both walked up the flow of silt, towards where it was gushing out of the pipe. They then waded out into the lake, where they bathed and preened their feathers.

After roosting for an hour, they then departed to an unknown destination.

The discharge to the sandbar will be cut off later this year. It will be interesting to observe this habitat developing further as it matures.

*The site is a quarry on private land near Ripon

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