Notification: I must point out that I have special permission to be on the Eversley quarry site of Fleet hill farm, Manor farm and the Hampshire part, Chandlers farm. These are not open areas for general access. Public rights of way are being incorporated into the sites to enable people to enjoy the new reserves.
Please bear this in mind. Although I refer them in my blog as reserves, they are still, technically, part of an operating quarry. So please keep to the existing public rights of way, and wait for the new ones to be adopted. Also it is will be even more important to stick to the public rights of way when they do become reserves so as not to disturb the wildlife.
Update: Apparently Cemex and RSPB have been working together to restore 1000 hectares of ex-gravel works to prime habitat. The aim was to achieve this by 2020. They actually managed the 1000th hectare in 2017.
Eversley was the first hectare to be restored under this partnership; actually the Moor Green lakes and surrounding area e.g. Horseshoe lake. This youtube video features scenes from Manor farm which regular readers will be familiar with. Here is an explanation on the RSPB's website, and here is one on the Cemex website about them being runner up in the MPA Quarries from Nature awards due to their work on the Eversley quarry restoration.
27th Jan 2018 - we get a mention in The Telegraph: 50 disused quarries turned into wildlife habitats to help Britain's endangered wildlife. "Eversley Quarry in Hampshire was the first to be completed following three years of work by wildlife and conservation experts." Ahhh, they missed phase 2, the subject of this blog.
This blog is about a proposed nature reserve on the Cemex gravel extraction works between Finchampstead and Eversley. There are three parts to the reserve.
1. Moor Green Lakes. This reserve already exists. It was restored by Cemex some years ago.
2. Manor Farm.
3. Fleet Hill Farm.
Initially, this blog concentrates on the restoration efforts Cemex engaged in prior to handing over the reserve to a conservation group for day to day management. Once this happens, I would then hope to chart the efforts required to turn the raw restoration into a fully operational nature reserve.
That being said, there is already a wealth of wildlife inhabiting the site, mostly as Cemex have ceased extracting gravel, and appears to be a mecca for bird watchers. We often encounter them as we walk around the footpath, humping their tripods, spotting scopes, cameras and binoculars or perhaps exchanging notes with each other on what they have spotted that day.
Although I live about three miles away from the proposed new reserve, I only learnt about it recently. I started to photograph the efforts Cemex are expanding in clearing the gravel works and, as is the nature of such endeavours, realised I had a photo journal before I knew it.
Extent of entire reserve
The plan below shows the extent of the reserve. It stretches for 2.2 miles along the Blackwater river.
Moor Green Farm is already a nature reserve, namely Moor Green Lakes nature reserve. For more details see here Moor Green Lakes Group or here RSPB entry. Perhaps you could join us on one of our work parties to aid in the conservation of this reserve.
Fleet Hill farm is supposed to be ready as a reserve by end of summer 2017. Apart from a few sub-phases, this appears to have been achieved.
Approximately 18 months later, Manor Farm will be incorporated into the reserve. A target date in a planning application I read suggested that restoration of Manor farm should be completed by 31st December 2018. Personally, as of 7th October 2018, I can't see this happening unless the scale of infill is altered drastically or a lot more resources are thrown at the restoration effort.
You may notice, dear reader, quite a few differences between the various plans and google earth images of the reserve displayed below. I am not sure why. I suspect that some of the differences are due to extraction of gravel. This is certainly true of the Fleet Hill farm portion of the reserve. Note: I have since discovered that the plans for the restoration were fairly fluid and subject to numerous alterations.
Update: I am keeping my speculations for historical reasons. Part of the 'fun' of keeping this blog is working out what Cemex and Inert are up to. Well, the later posts show that they are infilling Finch pond. They may also modify Cormorant and Manor farm lakes to look more like the plan.
Plan of proposed Manor Farm part of reserve and image from Google Earth
NOTE: I've finally got around to updating the google earth image with the expanded reference points. Hopefully, this will allow you to navigate my text a little better.
The plan below is the Manor Farm extension. Below that is a Google Earth image as of March 2017. Note the difference between the it and the plan. Particularly Finch Lake, which is now huge, and what I have been calling Cormorant Lake which is supposed to be joined to the bigger lake to its right. The Pump Station area, currently on dry land, would be in the middle of a lake, according to the Cemex plan.
As described above we start our walk at the Moor Green Lake car park, located in the top right hand corner of the map. The details shown in this map are the proposed public right of ways, and possibly some further landscaping. As an example, currently there is a sizable lake at the point I call the Pump Station. This lake is not shown in the map.
There are large areas of this new reserve I have not photographed as we have tended to keep to the current public footpaths.
We cross the Longwater road at the culvert/entrance to the reserve to get enter Fleet Hill farm immediately opposite.
Plan of proposed Fleet Hill farm part of the reserve and image from Google Earth.
This is the Fleet Hill farm extension showing proposed structure and public right of ways. Below that is a Google Earth as of Sept 2017.
Stone Crusher lake is a small manky green lake. The plans below suggest that it will be filled in.
Swan lake is also a small manky green lake, which according to the plan will get bigger.
There is a large part of this extension that I have not really photographed as we have tended to stick to the footpaths. Most all the restoration had been completed by the time I started photographing the works.
Update 7th October 2018. I suspect that apart from a few small pieces of work (e.g. completion of bridle path) Fleet Hill farm is pretty much restored. One of the planning applications I read said that tree planting will occur in the year after restoration has been completed. As this happened earlier on in 2018, this would suggest that, apart from a few sub-phases, restoration is complete.
This post shows how the Fleet Hill Farm and Manor Farm parts of the Cemex Eversley gravel works has changed over the years since 1999. Credit has to go to the Google corporation for their Google Earth initiative and also for developing Googe Earth Pro. This free application allowed me to explore a history of the images Google have taken of our planet since 1999, and to also save images.
I would recommend you download Google Earth Pro. It allows to you to zoom in to see an incredible amount of detail.
As well as showing the evolution of the area, the images also demonstrate the evolution of the techniques Google used to photograph the landscape. If you look closely you will notice that Google had problems stitching some parts of the images together. They also either went through a number companies to do the fly over and photography or simply garnered images from different GIS companies over the years.
The images below have been reduced considerably in size from the Google Earth images. It would take ages for this blog to load across the network if I left them at full resolution.
Note. I've used Google Earth as was readily available and convenient to use. There are other GIS sources available, which may provide even higher resolution images or greater quality. You pays your money and takes your choice.
Several times in this blog I mention the complex geology of the area. I found a map, courtesy of my old College, that goes part way to showing this complexity. Greater detail can be found here Eocene sands and iron map a natty title that sort of rolls of the tongue.
I've taken the liberty of inserting a much reduced image in this blog. The vertical red line marks the Longwater road. If you zoom in you may just make out the words "Cemex works" to the left of it. This is actually on the Fleethill farm part of the works. To the immediate right of the red line is Manor farm. Count two large lakes to the right and you reach Moor Green lakes.
Quite a landmark are our works.
This is now pinned to the top of the posts.
I have largely ignored Chandlers farm over the years. Partly as most of the restoration will be (and has been) given over to sports facilities, and partly as it is still an operational quarry. I believe there are some 50,000 tonnes of stuff still to be extracted once the site buildings are demolished.
A small area of the site (the north west corner) is to be given over to a nature reserve, and I'm sure I read in one planning document that there was to be a community growing area. Another name for these could be allotments, perhaps. We need more allotments, especially considering the waiting list, and the need to do something to save this planet.
I present to you, courtesy of Google Earth Pro (a free app well worth getting hold of) the changing face of Chandlers farm - the original Eversley Quarry. Manor farm and Fleet Hill farm are subsequent extensions to this quarry.
I'm deeply suspicious of both the imagery and the dates attached to them. The earlier ones exhibit particular problems, typical of a fledgling service. Imagery has come from various sources, with varying degrees of quality, and they have been stitched together with varying degrees of accuracy.
I'd certainly take the imagery dates with a large pinch of salt. The year 'might' be correct, but the date is not always correct e.g. images dated 31st December or 1st January show deciduous trees in full leaf!!!
Consider the 'settlement ponds' in the top right hand corner of the site. These three rectangular ponds are, I believe, where water (pumped out of the various ponds and lakes) are passed through to allow sediment to settle out, before the water is put into the Blackwater. The photos for 1999/2000 show these ponds. The ponds are missing from the photos dated 2003, only to reappear in 2004.
I hadn't appreciated how much restoration had already taken place on Chandlers farm. Note the football pitches - rather poshly flood lit at night. I thought they had been there before the quarry. But no. They were one of the first parts of the quarry to be restored.
You will also notice the stop-start nature of the restoration. Not readily apparent from the large gaps in the imagery data, but quite normal as I have reported in this blog.
Still, it looks as if Hampshire county council is putting pressure on Cemex to get Chandlers farm completed, judging by the all out effort put in this year. Alternatively, it might be Inert flitting around the various sites, as we have seen over the past couple of years.
However, at least this is being done. Hopefully, the surrounding communities will benefit greatly, and hopefully a small fragment of this planet will be saved for wildlife and future generations.
Enough ramblings, on with the show.
The big news, as the headline says, is that this could be the end of our scrape. This has been a feature for years, appearing and disappearing as water levels drop and rise, added to by Inert with large quantities of sand last year, and very popular with the birds. Inert themselves have been infilling around the scrape, up to now, taking great care not to encroach on it.
This strategy appears to have changed, with Inert pushing a large amount of spoil onto the north end of the scrape. Does this signal its demise? Well, quite probably, as I have been hinting over the past couple of years. I've seen Inert do similar actions before. They go to great pains to build structures - normally mounds of spoil - before flattening them.
I did hope the scrape would survive (it may yet) as it has proved very popular with bird life.
Other news. Water levels have dropped dramatically due, I suspect, to the pump being turned on. I say suspect, as I believe I heard it chugging away, but didn't wander over to verify - I was a bit pushed for time. It's the only way I can see water levels dropping this fast. Anyway, the receding water meant that the land bridge was now quite exposed. I crossed it, and found it very firm underfoot.
Restoration appears to have slid to its normal sluggish pace. I might be unfair, but I have only seen a two or three lorries working on the site this past couple of weeks. Their numbers might have swelled during the considerable time I wasn't stomping around the south footpath. However, I doubt it, as progress has been markedly slow.
Saying that, Inert appear to have concentrated on dumping more spoil onto the land mass; mostly the eastern side, encroaching on the scrape in the process. There are signs (i.e. fresh tracks) that Inert briefly flirted with a quick wander around what was Finch pond.
Oh, I sank up to my knees in mud again. I was most surprised, as the ground was quite firm. I was trying to get around the west side of my mighty mound. I think I picked the one spot where the mud was very soft. To be honest, my only concerns were either getting absolutely filthy if I had to lie down to haul my wellies out of the mud or the ignominy of having to call out emergency services if I really got stuck - unlikely, but ya never know.
The only reason I had to take a detour around my mighty mound was because there is this 'channel' that snakes from the west side of my mound, across the land mass, to the land bridge by the ridge.
Thursday's stomp around the south footpath revealed considerable flooding on Manor farm due to storm Alex. The land bridge to Cormorant lake (north) was under water, as was the alternative route around the ridge.
Finch pond has reappeared, over quite an extent, but will soon disappear. Inert were at play, on Thursday, though restricted to the middle south and east of the land mass. There didn't seem to be many lorries around. About three or four, from what I could make out during my brief foray.
Saturday morning was bright, cold and frosty; a nice change from the deluges we've been experiencing. I was slightly disappointed to see that water levels, although still high, had fallen considerably since Thursday. This was perplexing to me, as the pump was not working on Thursday or Saturday or the week prior. I am puzzled as to how the water is draining from the site.
Despite the flooding, ground conditions were very good; firm to hard in, I believe, horse racing parlance. This is a far cry from before lockdown. A combination of freshly bulldozed spoil and plenty of rain led to lethally soft soil; the consistency of quicksand in some places. Large areas of Manor farm, including vehicle tracks, were off limits to me, such was the depth of gooey mud.
The soil had settled and compacted over the summer, enabling me to walk anywhere on Manor farm - apart from the flooded bits.
Having not been for two weeks, I was intrigued to see what progress had been made by Inert. They appear to have made reasonable inroads into filling Cormorant lake (north) before storm Alex hit last week. It was a little difficult to gauge accurately as the area being filled was underwater, apart from a small spit, projecting into Cormorant lake (north). This spit marks the edge of where the bulldozer had got to as it pushes spoil into the lake.
Inert were more or less forced to work on the middle part of Cormorant lake (south) or, as I call it, the land mass. Again, it was fairly difficult to gauge progress. I guess steady, is the operative word.
I made the mistake of starting my stomp by walking along the west embankment. I got stung rotten by stinging nettles. They got me through my summer wear hiking trousers. I used the embankment as I thought the ground from Longwater road to the ridge would be soft and muddy (i.e. sink up to your knees type mud) as it was prior to lockdown. Not so. The ground was quite firm, even round the margins of the emergent Finch pond.
There was masses of wildlife on site. Loads of Egyptian geese, Lapwing and Canada geese; who loved the large expanses of water. They seemed to prefer the emergent Finch pond, which is a reversal of what I have observed in previous years. I can only put it down to Finch pond now having lots of little islands poking out of it.
There were the usual plethora of small brown birds.
Somewhat busy mid-week, hence no stomp on Tues, Wed or Thurs. Far too wet over the weekend with slow moving storm Alex dropping a load on the UK.
However, whilst you are here why not register for the Covid-19 vaccine. I did, way back in June.
After succumbing to being bashed and dinged by lorries, the old gate was removed some months ago. I spied a shiny new replacement gate, this Saturday, which wasn't there on Wednesday. I didn't walk up to it on Saturday, but it looked from where I was standing (on Manor farm) that it didn't fit.
The real surprise, and excitement, in one sense, was that Inert have started to infill Cormorant lake (north). This was always a funny little lake, hidden from view, bordered by high embankments and a gravel/shingle causeway/spit. Birds tended to be slightly ambivalent about it, partly, I suspect, due to the water levels going up and down so often. When high, it forms a proper lake/pond. When low, there are mud/sand banks, which are too exposed to predators to nest on, plus they get flooded quite often.
I'm sad to see Cormorant lake (north) being filled in. Whilst I didn't visit it often, the whole area has become sort of a friend to me over the years. Now they are disappearing.
Another surprise was that inert have built a bridge/crossing across the drainage ditch between Finch pond and Cormorant lake (south). This gives lorries easy access to Cormorant lake (north). About time to. I never understood why Inert have never done this before now. Previously, lorries would have an enormous detour, going west from the bailey bridge, swinging around north past the Longwater road entrance, then heading east by hugging the north embankment, before heading south around the ridge. It's about 3/4 of a mile. With the bridge/crossing in place, that distance is halved.
Inert had completed their flattening of the spoil they dumped between the pump and scrape before lockdown. They were, therefore, not working on Saturday morning. This meant I could stomp across the site unmolested. However, I delayed my visit until after 7:40 just to make sure digger and lorry were not there; but also this meant I started my walk from near the bailey, after walking around the south footpath and then hopping over the wire fence next to the transformer.
I was able to walk over to the scrape, on Saturday. I haven't really been able to walk on large areas of what was Finch pond or get any where near the scrape since about the new year. It has simply been too wet and the infill too boggy to walk on. I did manage to do the odd foray, by sticking to bulldozer tracks, to get within about 30m of the scrape. But to not venture close to the edge of any infill. However, all is dry and firm now, and I had no problem getting to the scrape.
Our pump was not chugging away. It hasn't done so for a couple of weeks now. Water levels are, thus, beginning to creep up.
The infill/upfill of the north and west shores of Cormorant lake (south) continue apace.Though strangely, I only saw two lorries at work on Wednesday. There was the heavy earth mover and a tipper truck. I might have arrived on a quiet day. The amount of work seems to suggest this.
Wild fowl are, to some degree, avoiding what is left of Cormorant lake. Understandable, given that it is now a lot smaller, and there is a lot of disruption. On the other hand, what was Finch pond is a buzz with birds and, presumably, small mammals - there are certain at least eight Roe deer. There are large numbers of Gold Finches, Pied Wagtails and Skylarks, and other small brown birds I cannot recognise. Most all birds appear to have had a very successful breeding season.
I arrived relatively late on Manor farm, about 7:20 am. After a brief pause to photograph two Red Kites swooping on some kill near the sewage works, stomped round to the ridge. Whilst photographing the latest progress on the Land mass, I spotted a heavy earth mover driving onto Manor farm, at 7.40 am. A couple of minutes later, a digger clanked and squealed over the bailey bridge to join the heavy earth mover.
Time for me to get off Manor farm. Sigh. I may well have to move my stomp to Sunday. Arriving earlier will not work as dawn it getting later and later. This situation is likely not to last too much longer. I noticed that the job of the digger and heavy earth mover is to make inroads into all the spoil dumped around the pump station during autumn of 2019 and winter/spring of 2020.
I don't really understand why the bulldozers can't shove all this spoil into Cormorant lake (south). It's seems a bit of a long winded exercise to load up the heavy earth mover and have it trundle around Cormorant lake (south) to drop the spoil, only for the bulldozer to shove it into said lake.
Also, the south vehicle track can best be described as a single track road with passing places. One of the pinch points being the heavy earth mover, blocking the track whilst it is being loaded with spoil by the heavy earth mover. Hopefully the single track road will become properly two way once all the piles of spoil near the pump station is cleared away.
I had an unusual mid-week stomp, in that it was Tuesday rather than my normal Wednesday. There didn't seem to be as many tipper trucks trundling around as the previous week. This could be an illusion, as it takes time to load them up with spoil when they are on Chandlers farm. However, it was very gratifying to see four lorries on the land mass, with two passing each other on vehicle tracks. This should speed up progress no end, plus save Cemex shed loads of money.
I can't see Inert accepting a fix priced contract for this restoration. Especially as lengthy delays, measured in years, seem quite the norm. It makes government projects seem models of efficiency by comparison.
Our on-off pump was chugging away on Tuesday, but by the looks of things it was off by Saturday. I couldn't get near it on Saturday, due to the digger and earth mover, whist the wind was blowing in the wrong direction for me to hear it from the south footpath. The alternative outflow from the settlement ponds, which was flowing on Tuesday, had dried up by Saturday.
Oh, I spotted at least eight Roe deer on Manor farm, on Saturday. Six females were in one herd. Most unusual.
Our bulldozer returns and the pump has been turned on.
There has been a huge amount of progress this past week. I haven't seen so much progress in many, many months. Restoration pace before lockdown was glacial, mainly due the use of single track roads, necessitating lorries queuing just south of the bailey bridge, with jams up to 15 lorries long!
Now, with two way traffic and more than one lorry at a time on the land mass, restoration is romping a long. A word of caution: I have seen this before. A massive flurry of activity for two or four weeks, involving 10, 20 or more lorries, then back to glacial progress for months. In fairness to Inert/Cemex, there are a finite number of tipper trucks and grab loaders available for hire, and other companies need them as well.
My Thursday stomp (I couldn't make my usual Wednesday) revealed much activity going and our bulldozer driver's return. Now, it is possible that he has been here previously, and that my two mid-week visits coincided with his day off, but it is nice to see him as it means progress will be much faster.
I also heard the pump working away, but strangely there was no water gushing from the usual outlets. However, one stream, entering the Blackwater, was in full spate, which might suggest the water is being diverted. The other explanation is that the pump has only just been turned on, and the settlement ponds are still being filled, and have not reached a sufficient depth to overflow into the usual discharge channels.
Either way, water levels were considerably lower in both Cormorant lakes and the drainage channel between Cormorant lake (south) and what is left of Finch pond. In fact, the latter's low water levels allowed me to cross the drainage channel near the ridge, rather than take a long detour around Finch pond.
Inert have continued to build up and consolidate the ground on the north shore of Cormorant lake (south) they have been raising since returning. They have also moved their operation westward to the strange track across the land mass I commented on last week. The ground level has been raised by about 2' (60cm).
I can't work out if this raised area (getting on to the size of a football pitch) is now at its final height. There are now survey markers to tell me. Standing on the lovely, 'smooth', level surface and looking south to the land next to the Blackwater, it sort of looks as if it is the final height.
However, another word of caution. I have seen Inert do this - what I call dump, level, gouge. To wit, they dump a whole load of spoil in big heaps, then level the ground, then gouge out the level ground - pushing the stuff into a lake, before repeating the process.
On the other hand, if Inert keep their work rate up then I feel the infill of Cormorant lake could be finished in November, if not sooner. A lot of the infill near the south footpath (basically from the pump station to the copse) needs to be gouged out to make the new, long Manor lake. What is gouged out can be used either to infill the north east corner of Cormorant lake or help build up its level.
The north and east embankments and ridge can then be bulldozed, partly to infill Cormorant lake (north) and partly to provide a final layer of top soil. Unless we get really foul, wet weather, I can't really see any reason why the basic infill and landscaping of Manor farm cannot be completed before next April.
Now on to my Saturday stomp. I got to Manor farm at about 7:15am, walked along the west and north embankments to photograph progress from the ridge. Then I traipsed down the ridge, making my way across the drainage ditch (without any drama i.e. sinking up to my knees in mud), and photographed the huge amount of build up that has happened.
At about 7:35am I heard clanking of heavy plant coming from Chandlers farm. I wasn't unduly worried as this has happened many times over the past three years. But then a movement, coming from the direction of the bailey bridge, caught my eye. It looked like the mesh barriers had been opened. I stopped and watched, as I might have been mistaken, but sure enough the heavy earth mover made its way onto Manor farm, but stopped.
My plan had been to wander over to the pump, but the arrival of heavy plant stymied that idea. At 7:40 am I decided needed to get off Manor farm so as not to interfere with Inert's work. It's is going to bugger up my Saturday stomp if Inert keep this working up. I may have to switch to Sunday. Surely they wouldn't work on a Sunday.
Anyway, I turned and walked westward towards the Longwater road. Curious as to what Inert were up to, I dropped down behind a raised area of ground and watched what was going on for a while. A digger appeared, and both drivers had a conflab. I made my way around the copse, crossed over to the south footpath (I wasn't going to walk all the way back to the Longwater road), and then headed east along the footpath to see what Inert were doing.
The chaps were taking spoil from the heaps piled up near the pump station, and moving it onto the land mass. Finally! It took Inert ages and ages to pile the stuff up originally, due to the single track road.
I've just realised, I have not provided an update to the (badly drawn) progress map since September last year. Here is my attempt at trying to show how much infill has taken place since I started this blog. The red lines represent what I think has been done since last September.
I'm not sure when precisely Inert and Cemex returned to their restoration of Manor farm. Their usual breeding season hiatus (normally end of march to mid-July) was slightly extended by the ridiculous full national covid-19 lockdown. Seriously, face masks and social distancing would have been sufficient to bring transmission rate down.
Anyway, enough of the deficiencies of bumbling Boris and his bunch of bungling buffoons. I suspect that Inert returned sometime in July. I did pop around the south footpath on the 31st May, and noticed no activity what so ever, on both Chandlers farm and Manor farm. Though some large mesh barriers were set up across the bailey bridge and Manor farm track.
I didn't do a Wednesday stomp. Instead we did a 9 mile hike with some friends on Tuesday, taking in MGL, Manor farm and Fleet Hill farm en route, which is when I noticed that Inert were back.
Inert have been concentrating on completing the infill of Cormorant lake (south). They have covered an impressive amount of the north west shore with an impressive amount of spoil, some 1 metre deep. This is all the more impressive seeing as once agin the lorries are queuing along the vehicle track. I only saw some three lorries queuing on Tuesday. A far cry from the 10 lorry jam I have witnessed. But I am still puzzled as to why, given all the space they have, Inert still insist on single track road, which causes lorries to queue.
Lorry drivers are being paid an awful lot of money to sit their, twiddling their thumbs.
The pump was not working, and subsequently water levels were very high. Basically where they should be. I was quite surprised that work was progressing with water levels being so high, but did notice that the spoil wasn't actually being pushed into Cormorant lake (south). Perhaps this is why Inert were happy to have water levels so high.
Also, I didn't see our bulldozer trundling around. There was a single digger working away. Perhaps this is a one off, and our bulldozer driver will be back.
Oh, Inert have cut a nice deep drainage channel between what is left of Finch pond and Cormorant lake (south), so draining a lot of the former pond.
The west and north embankments and ridge appear to have had their annual trim. All that nasty tall nettles and thistles have been cut down, making it easier for me to trek along.
Well, that's it for this week. I really thought that Cemex would use covid-19 as an excuse to suspend restoration work. Apparently not, it would seem. Fingers crossed, we could see work completed on Cormorant lake by next spring.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.