Black with yellow spots and nocturnal: The pond-dwelling great crested newt is among Europe’s endangered species. By recultivating an area of the Orchard Farm clay mining site near Iwade in Kent in the South East of England, Wienerberger is creating a new habitat for this special amphibian. In doing so, the company is helping to conserve biodiversity in the region.
Renaturing for biodiversity
Since 2016, up to 38,000 tons of clay have been extracted every year for the production of bricks. Step by step, the site is being returned to its natural state. “When extracting raw materials, we live up to our environmental responsibility and are fully aware of the need to handle natural resources with care. Projects like this one turn a clay quarry into a habitat for a great variety of species”, says Andreas Kurka, Head of Laboratories & Raw Materials in the Wienerberger Building Solutions Business Unit. He keeps an eye on roughly 200 clay quarries and coordinates their subsequent use with the colleagues on site.
When extracting raw materials, we live up to our environmental responsibility and are fully aware of the need to handle natural resources with care. Projects like this one turn a clay quarry into a habitat for a great variety of species.
Once clay mining is discontinued, the entire Orchard Farm site, which comprises grassland, woodland and bushes, will again be used for fruit growing. Ponds have been created, the area covered by hedges will be twice as large as before, and woodpiles and near-natural structures will provide shelter for animals. The entire terrain will thus be ecologically upgraded and provide new habitats for endangered animals – breeding birds, reptiles, amphibians and bats – as well as rare plant species.
Raw materials for Smeed Dean bricks
The original motivation for the project was to secure the supply of raw materials for the Smeed Dean production facility. This brick plant in nearby Sittingbourne has been producing the characteristic Smeed Dean bricks, which adorn many traditional houses in London and the south of England, since 1845. The bricks owe their yellow color to the special local raw material. Another typical feature is the use of historical town ash as an admixture in brick production, a recycling tradition that dates back to Victorian times. This helps to save raw materials and, at the same time, accounts for the product’s special and unique characteristic appearance.
If we hadn’t been able to open up an interim new source of raw materials, this would have meant the disappearance of a valuable piece of cultural heritage.
When Smeed Deans previous clay extraction site East of Sittingbourne was about to be depleted, the search for alternatives began. “If we hadn’t been able to open up an interim new source of raw materials, Smeed Dean may have had to cease production or change the type of bricks produced. This would have meant the disappearance of a valuable piece of cultural heritage”, says John Renshaw, Group Technical Manager at Wienerberger in Great Britain. Paradise Farm at Hartlip, about five kilometers away, was identified as a quarry with long-term potential. Until quarrying operations can be started there, Orchard Farm will still be used as an interim site.
Biodiversity: Stringent ecological requirements
Quarryplan, the local project developer responsible for ecological planning and implementation, was supported by Thomson Ecology and Ecosurv Partners. Preliminary studies revealed the potential presence of a large number of endangered animal species. The Planning Permission was therefore subject to stringent ecological requirements regarding the post-use restoration and conservation of the site as well as habitat management.
Protected plants and animals
The biodiversity project on the Orchard Farm site helps to protect numerous endangered animal species. These include amphibians, such as the great crested newt and reptiles such as the green lizard, the grass snake and the slow worm. Breeding birds and bats, too, have found a new home there.
Moreover, numerous plants favoring moist soil thrive there, such as water mint, water forget-me-not, water crowfoot and the common waterstar wort. The European speedwell, a plant belonging to the plantain family, and the fennel-like pondweed also grow on the site.
The site is about 750 meters east to west and about 450 meters at its widest point north to south. For renaturing, it was divided into four sectors. Every year, clay is extracted for a few weeks in the summer. To extract the clay, hydraulic excavators remove the top soil and place it adjacent to the excavation area, they then remove the clay layer to a depth of up to two meters. The clay thus extracted is stored on the site for later removal. Immediately after extraction, the respective site is progressively restored with the soil which was placed to one side.
Project implementation was in the hands of a four-member core team at Wienerberger, together with colleagues from the local Plant. Alongside the ecological requirements, the needs of neighboring residents also had to be taken into account. “It was important for us to implement the project in harmony with all stakeholders. Our primary goal was to minimize the impact of H.G.Vs transporting the clay by reducing the number of movements and to keep noise and dust pollution to the lowest possible level, by the introduction of ‘White Noise’ reserving sensors and the use of dust suppression equipment during dry weather periods. Noise impact to local residents from the site was greatly reduced by the installation of Straw Bale walls,” notes Rick Fleet, who was in charge of operational project implementation in his capacity as Raw Materials Manager for Wienerberger.
It was important for us to implement the project in harmony with all stakeholders. Among other things, our primary goal was to minimize the impact of H.G.Vs transporting the clay and to keep noise and dust pollution to the lowest possible level.
Wienerberger’s commitment does not end with the end of clay mining. After depletion of the clay reserve, the site will be managed and monitored for another five years, during which ecological parameters, such as vegetation growth and biodiversity, will be analyzed on a regular basis.