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50 Years of ‘Net Gain’

2021 marks 50 years since the first awards celebrating the unique contribution of restored quarries to nature recovery.

It was back in 1971 that the UK’s Sand and Gravel Association (SAGA), one of the predecessor organisations that merged with others to form the MPA, held the first awards for restoration of quarries. Indeed the first quarry restoration plans were devised and implemented in the decades before the 1970s.

Yet today the mineral product sector’s best kept secret is still the unique and significant role that quarry restoration plays in long-term nature recovery and conservation. Maybe that’s because by the time a well-restored quarry scheme has come to fruition, most people have forgotten that the site once provided materials for the places where they live, work and play.

In fact, the chances are that your local nature reserve is the result of mineral extraction, as are many of the UK’s flagship conservation parks. In England alone there are over 2,000 quarries, covering 64,000 hectares (0.1% of the country's land area) all of which will be restored after quarrying.

Each restored site is an opportunity to create a better landscape, where rare and endangered species can thrive – from wetlands to heathland to woodland.

By 2020 MPA members had created over 83km2 of priority habitat supporting nature recovery with a further 110 km2 pledged in approved restoration plans, areas the size of Nottingham and Liverpool respectively.

And today more than 80 restored quarries make up the MPA’s ‘National Nature Park’.  This unique ability to create areas for nature to thrive takes on a whole new perspective with the introduction of the Government’s Environment Bill that will oblige all new developments to deliver an overall increase – a ‘net gain’ – in biodiversity.  No other industry comes close to achieving this – indeed, the mineral products sector was restoring land to support nature recovery decades before the term ‘net gain’ was coined. No surprise then that the MPA was the first trade association to publish a biodiversity strategy and then reviewed and updated it in 2019. The sector remains far ahead of the vast majority of industry by having a long lasting strategy.

The industry’s Restoration and Biodiversity awards feature specific accolades for biodiversity, celebrating and awarding outstanding work to conserve and enhance wildlife through site and land management and restoration. And the landscape-scale award in partnership with Natural England recognises schemes that due to their size are clearly contributing to the principles 'bigger, better and more joined up' set out by Professor Sir John Lawton in the review of England’s wildlife sites Making Space for Nature (2010).

Of course, although biodiversity features prominently in most schemes, restoration is also about making appropriate use of land with some sites being restored back to agricultural use, or for recreation, and in some cases for new development – including housing, commercial and leisure uses.

The outstanding successes of quarry restoration are made possible thanks to constructive partnerships that MPA members have built with local authorities, conservation organisations and others.

What others say

"We have many good examples across the country of really beneficial outcomes for nature that have resulted from mineral extraction. The MPA’s Biodiversity Awards have been really important in inspiring people to see some of the possibilities

at hand and setting out those examples of best practice. With a little bit of imagination and forethought, we can actually achieve a great deal for nature as well as extracting the resources we need for different kinds of developments."
Tony Juniper, Chair, Natural England

"Restored quarries are incredibly important for bird life, because they give us a kind of blank canvas to create new habitats for species which are really struggling. They form part of a joined- up network of habitat in the wider landscape so that species can be more resilient to the challenges they face. Partnership

is key and one of the things I love about quarry restoration, is that it’s nature organisations, planning authorities, quarrying companies and local communities all working together to create new habitats."
Beccy Speight, Chief Executive Officer, RSPB

"Let’s celebrate the partnership between The Wildlife Trusts and members of the Mineral Products Association over many years, which has been of huge benefit to wildlife. We need to not only put nature into recovery – but also the relationship between people and nature into recovery. My message to members of the MPA is that partnership working, including with Wildlife Trusts, will become increasingly important and if we can do that right we can achieve some really good outcomes for people and for the environment."
Craig Bennett, Chief Executive Officer, The Wildlife Trust