Needingworth Quarry in Cambridgeshire is one of the largest sand and gravel extraction sites in the UK. It covers an area of approximately 975 hectares and lies three miles east of St Ives, adjacent to the Great Ouse river.
Extraction began in 1995 and will span more than 30 years, during which time 28 million tonnes of sand and gravel will be removed. The restoration will be phased to create Britain’s biggest reedbed (460 hectares), along with open meres, wet scrub and grassland, within a 700 hectare nature reserve. The quarry employs 19 people directly and supports a number of others including contractors and drivers.
The large washlands of the Ouse and Nene rivers attract internationally important numbers of wildfowl species including Bewick's swan and widgeon and are designated under the RAMSAR convention. Smaller fragments, containing typical fenland wildlife, such as reed buntings and dragonflies, remain in every ditch and drain with reeds being the living sign of wetland past.
Restoring fens from low level mineral workings provides a great opportunity for long-term wetland creation. Habitats such as reedbeds and seasonally flooded grassland are being created at Needingworth. The restoration is being undertaken in close co-operation with the RSPB and has been planned using a modular system, with each module separated by clay-rich bunds. Each module is between 20 and 40 hectares, which represents around two years’ worth of excavation. Landforming and reed planting takes place as the modules are completed.