A step into our past

A step into our past

Posted 12th Dec 2017

The rocks that make up Scotland started out on the continent of Gondwana, down near the Antarctic Circle, while England and Wales were submerged beneath a shallow sea studded with volcanic islands

Between them and now, the land beneath us has travelled halfway around the world, through periods of busy volcanic activity which piled up great depths of ash and lava, sunk beneath warm and tropical seas which are rich in coral reefs, before being colonised by swamps and rain forests and drifting further north to be swamped by river sediments and mud flats.

Glaciers have come and gone, returning and then retreating, covering the land in one kilometre thick ice before carving out much of the landscape we recognise today.

Throughout our countryside, you can see the evidence of our dramatic history, in rocky cliffs, boulder-strewn hillsides, caverns and gorges and a whole gamut of quarries. One consequence of quarrying is the chance to peek into the Earth's ancient history, with exposure of rocks million years old can reveal fossilised species like brachipods, gastropods and ammonites as well as fossilised shark teeth, shells and wood.

Left to regenerate naturally, nature is steadily reclaiming these places from their industrial pasts.

Many Wildlife Trusts have taken on management of disused quarries as a way of caring for special and unusual places and their wildlife.

How to do it

You'll be able to find all manner of things in our disused wild quarries and rocky places - this includes creative sculpture trails, fossils, colonies of bats that roost in shadowy caves, reptiles, wildflowers, insects and birds. Buried amongst the rocks, you will be able to look for traces of bygone industry, with the remains of a quarrymen's hut, 'dressed' stone and old tramways once used for transporting hundreds of tonnes of rocks. Winter is a good time - you'll see more geology with less vegetation.

If you're unable to visit any of the special places listed below, simply explore the wild places around you.

Special spots

Avon: Brown's Folly is a fascinating reserve, combining natural beauty with the remains of Bath stone quarries. The reserve's huge amount of exposed rock, quarries and mines all echo the 300 years of mining activity that once flourished. This includes the stone that was used for the facade of Buckingham Palace.

The disused quarries offer excellent conditions for roosting bats, such as the greater horseshoe. There are many species of wildflower which include the pyramidal orchid, harebell and wild thyme, which also benefit from exposed rock, giving home to many invertebrates such as the green hairstreak butterfly. Rare breeds of sheep help to preserve the the reserves geological features here by grazing on encroaching vegetation and shrub.

Anglesey, Cors Goch

Avon, Goblin Combe

Bedfordshire, Totternhoe 

Birmingham, Moorcroft Wood 

Birmingham, Portway Hill

Buckinghamshire, College Lake

Cornwall, St Erth Pits

Cornwall, Tresayes 

Cumbria, Clint’s Quarry

Derbyshire, Miller’s Dale Quarry 

Devon, Meeth Quarry

Dorset, King Barrow Quarries 

Dorset, Tout Quarries 

Durham, Bishop Middleham Quarry 

Durham, Blackhall Rocks 

Durham, Trimdon Grange Quarry 

Essex, The Naze

Gloucestershire, Cutsdean Quarry

Gloucestershire, Spion Kop Quarry

Gloucestershire, Stenders Quarry 

Hertfordshire, Ashwell Quarry and Quarry Springs

Lancashire, Cross Hill Quarry

Leicestershire, Browns Hill Quarry

Leicestershire, Tilton Railway Quarry

Lothian, Petershill

Northumberland, Hadrian’s Wall and Whin Sill Corridor

Northumberland, East Crindledykes Quarry

Oxfordshire, Dry Sandford Pit

Powys, Llanymynech Rocks

Somerset, Ubley Warren

Surrey, Brockham Limeworks

Worcestershire, Crews Hill Wood

Wrexham, Marford Quarry

Yorkshire, Wharram Quarry

Image courtesy of © Avon Wildlife Trust - text and information courtesy of the Wildlife Trusts

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