After 26 years quarrying seven and-a-half million tonnes of sand and gravel from a large area, winning permission to extend this operation in Oxfordshire all the way to 2040 was always going to be a challenge.
But the family business of Smiths and Sons Bletchington has achieved it with a planned restoration that includes 61 hectares of reed beds and 66 hectares of other largely priority habitats. Amongst priority species it will attract bittern, barn owl, water vole, bats and otter. The restored Gill Mill quarry site near Witney will also facilitate a massive increase in public access to the beautiful countryside.
And the plans even include lakeside “eco lodges” to help fund the long-term biodiversity. They will in turn be powered by a renewable energy plant fed with biomass from the reedbeds and woodland.
The principle of continuing the quarry into the long term initially met with local scepticism from the community in an area that has many older sites. Smiths ultimately won support on the strength of its track record of restoration at sites like this one within the current quarried area. It also listened, worked closely with the RSPB and other local conservation partners, and adjusted its plans accordingly.
Even so, concerns over bird strike at Britain’s biggest operational military airfield at nearby Brize Norton could have been a potential deal breaker. That was overcome by adjustments to the planned habitats to discourage species likely to cause a hazard and by committing to a long term bird management plan.
Once complete, the restoration at Gill Mill will deliver one of the largest connected priority wildlife habitats in Southern England. Smiths planning and estates manager Martin Layer is excited by the prospect.