Quarry developers vow to boost biodiversity

An aerial image of Westdown Quarry. It is a large dug out space surrounded by green fields and thick woodland
Westdown Quarry adjoins the ancient Asham Woods in the Mendips - a site of special scientific interest [Heidelberg Materials UK]

A major quarrying company has vowed to “boost biodiversity” through 44 acres of new wildlife habitat as it prepares to reopen a key quarry.

The re-opening of Westdown Quarry, located near the A361 between Frome and Shepton Mallet, was approved by Somerset Council on 6 June.

Local residents have raised concerns over the impact the quarry would have on local wildlife populations, the water table, and nearby protected woodland.

Developers, Heidelberg Materials, have pledged to "protect neighbouring woodlands and restore nature around the site".

Westdown Quarry as seen from inside the quarry. It is a large open barren space with jagged rocks and twigs sticking out of the ground
Heidelberg Materials originally put forward plans to "quarry void" near Asham Wood, but these proposals were later withdrawn [Daniel Mumby]

The limestone quarry, which has been dormant since the 1980s, adjoins with the ancient Asham Woods in the Mendips – a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special area of Conservation (SSSI).

Campaigners said the "cumulative effects on local people and the environment would be huge".

But Tristan Mabbitt, the company’s land, planning and development manager, said that quarrying operations will be "limited to within the existing boundary" of Westdown Quarry.

'Diverse landscape'

“Our proposals include extensive mitigation measures to reduce any potential impacts on the environment," he said.

"While ensuring that the adjacent Asham Wood and special area of conservation to the north-west of the site remains protected.

“Our progressive approach means that the quarry benches will be restored and planted with a combination of calcareous grassland, trees and scrubs as the quarry is deepened.

“In addition, a wide range of new habitats will be created during restoration, forming a diverse landscape, reflective of the area’s natural character," he added.

Mr Mabbitt said that steps to boost biodiversity include enhancing hedgerows and woodlands on the edge of the site.

A large group of protestors standing in front of an old castle building. They are all holding cardboard signs or banners that read 'stop Westdown Quarry' and 'Westdown expansion NO!"
Campaigners have raised concerns over noise and light pollution, water levels, and biodiversity [Liz Snook]

However, Michael Oatley, who lives in Nunney, argued that reopening the quarry could have “concerning” implications for the entire Mendip Hills water table.

Speaking in early-June, he said: “Already many of the springs have dried up in surrounding farmland.

“The water in the Nunney Brook and other local streams is completely controlled by the quarries with the water from their holding ponds.

“What happens to these springs when the quarries go below the water table and aquifers?”

Mr Mabbitt responded by assuring local residents that the proposals include a range of measures to protect nearby water sources, including a "stringent monitoring" plan.

He added it will also allow the nearby Whatley Quarry to focus its depleting reserves on supplying national demand, as Westdown will be able to cover local demand.

“There’s now a lot of work to be done, with enabling works likely to take between 12 and 18 months ahead of the resumption of extraction," Mr Mabbitt added.

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