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Quarrying's new face - as a wildlife haven

Friday 18 March 2005

Our countryside commentator John Sheard reflects on the changing public face of quarrying, once anathema to many Yorkshire Dales newcomers, now provider of valuable habitat for wildlife

WHEN I first started reporting on national parks almost 50 years ago, the biggest rows were always about quarries or quarry wagons. The more snooty residents, even then mainly incomers wanted them banned. The locals, desperate for work, recognised them as necessary evils.

That view lasted for the next thirty years. As recently as the 1980s, a nationally famous entertainer who had settled in the Yorkshire Dales national park, and spoke out against some quarrying methods, received death threats.

Yet a new, more realistic attitude has grown up in the past couple of years and now it has been officially recognised. Believe it or not, a North Yorkshire quarry has just won a national award as a wildlife sanctuary!

Even more importantly, to my view, is that the award was made by an impeccable source, the British Trust for Ornithology, which, unlike some animal protection groups, makes its points from pure, well-researched science rather than headline-grabbing doom and gloom.

Quarrying gets a new face
Quarrying gets a new face

The BTO monitors industrial sites throughout the UK to count just how many species of wild birds they support. Their scientists believe - and bodies like English Nature agree - that a wide rang of birdlife is a key indicator of a healthy environment.

And this year, the trust's Business Birds Challenge award in the quarry class has gone to Ripon Quarry, owned by Hanson Aggregates, which is home to no fewer than 149 species.

This is of great interest to Dales folk because Hanson's also operate the Swinden quarry and the one at Ingleton, which is managed by Counc. Carl Lis, who just happens to be chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Committee.

Now park officials would deny this but twenty years ago, to have a quarryman even on the park committee, never mind as its chairman, would have been anathema to many members. A lot of those lived outside the park and seemed hell-bent on closing down quarrying completely.

They didn't like the noise, the dust, and - perhaps most of all - the quarry wagons that they alleged turned narrow country roads into racetracks. Well, the locals didn't like this either - but they had the nous to realise that jobs were like diamonds in such remote areas. They may not have liked it - but they lumped it for sound economic reasons.

Since then, many things have changed. Quarry wagons are now firmly sheeted to stop lumps of rock flying into other vehicles. Massive landscaping work has been done to disguise the landscape scars and much more freight has been switched to rail - there are enthusiasts who are hoping that the quarry line between Skipton and Grassington will reopen for passenger traffic.

Cynics will no doubt point out that the BTO Business Bird Challenge is sponsored by Hanson's and the group also won other awards in Kent, Cambridgeshire and Lancashire. Nudge nudge, wink wink, they will not doubt sneer.

But other awards went to Hanson competitors, water authorities and even the Sizewell B atomic power station in Norfolk, so no one cannot accuse the judges of not being even-handed. And I have to admit that I myself am one of the biggest cynics when it comes to international conglomerates trying to buy public favour by backing environmental causes.

But this change of attitude towards quarrying is an important development in places like the Yorkshire Dales, which - difficult to believe now - was once a hotbed of heavy industry. Who now realises that Grassington was once a booming mining town?

If we are to preserve the Dales as a place where ordinary people can still find work, quarrying - a centuries old industry - must be allowed to thrive, irksome as it may be to some of us trapped behind a quarry wagon on a winding road. That's a small sacrifice to make for preventing the area being turned into a living museum for second-home owners, long distance commuters and wealthy retirees.

Your views:

    Dear sir. I was employed in the quarrying industry for more than 20 years and have the opinion that if you use the best material you get the best quality for a certain requirement; ie building / construction and even medical drugs, to mention just a few from quarry products.

    If we go and close these places down and use inferior products from elsewhere then one day the realisation will set in and someone will have to go back for the best resourses, whether they are in a national park or not, to remedy the situation. Has anyone ever thought why the roads are in such poor condition; maybe it is because of heavy trucks or maybe it's because the powers that be have made some bad decisions and have used inferior materials just because the quarries were in the so called national park area so they had to be closed down, and because they were unsightly.

    QUESTION,, can anyone actually see kilnsey quarry without going to look for it.

    Mark Newhouse - Skipton, North Yorkshire

    I completely disagree with Mark Newhouse. Quarries are exceptionally bad for the environment and it does not matter whether you can see them or not, it's not an issue of aestheticity.

    I think accepting quarries as a necessary evil is completely ignoring the planet's plight and being completely selfish as a race.

    Obviously there are benefits for quarries but the disbenefits completely outweigh these and if you are good with words you can find a good side for almost everything. Hence I respectfully disagree.

    Maud Rowell - London

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