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.
Well folks, no site visit last week on Wednesday or Saturday due to lockdown. I'm not even sure if Inert are continuing with restoration. Doesn't make sense to. Partly due to it being non-essential work and partly due work being halted due to the imminent breeding season.
As part of my exercise routine, I am permitted to walk along the Blackwater, seeing as the area is local to me. I may pay a visit on Wednesday as I need the exercise and well being of nature.
However I may, seeing as I signed up to be both a Community response and NHS transport volunteer, and may go on duty. As it is we are buying food for an 82 year old neighbour who has had heart surgery recently and must self isolate. Therefore she and the community take priority.
See you on the other side, people.
Before we kick off this week's somewhat tedious report, a bit of good news and bad news on my attempts at art.
Good new: Aquadango has been short listed for the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition. My painting, along with roughly 100 other art works, was selected from over 1,200 entries. Category winners will be chosen from the short listed pieces, and all can exhibit at the Mall galleries, London.
Bad news: Exhibition dates run from 27th to 31st May, 2020. Oops. Unlikely due to a naughty little virus.
Back to the blog. Inert still have a single track road, which requires lorries to reverse some 100m to drop their loads. Only six lorries queuing up to cross the bailey bridge on Wednesday.
I suppose I should have paid a site visit on Saturday to see where all the soil is being pushed. Our bulldozer driver is making a mighty pile of soil, but I never see him push the stuff very far north i.e. towards Cormorant lake (south). It must be going somewhere. I might visit next weekend.
The single track road is pretty lethal. I would have thought the ground would have dried out by now. It is very slippery, with some enormous potholes. Lorries have to drive very slowly and carefully along the track - increasing the time for queuing lorries and the time it is taking to complete restoration.
I have a photo of a lorry negotiating a pothole. I have no idea why it isn't filled in with a large lump of concrete or lots of 100mm ballast. There is enough of it lying around. It would make the lorry drivers' lives easier.
Oh, a couple or three weeks ago, I posted photographs of the east most gate across the footpath by the bailey bridge. It showed the gate somewhat dented after being hit by a lorry. Due in main to walkers unable to close the gates properly. It isn't difficult, but you would be amazed at the number of times I've found the gates either left open or not closed properly.
Last week the west gate across the footpath had taken a severe knock from a lorry, and the gate post (a fairly major block of wood) had been broken, though not so much that the gate couldn't function as a gate. This week, my Wednesday stomp revealed the gate on its side, with the post completely sheared off.
It was inevitable, but simply down to stupid walkers unable to grasp the mechanics of closing a gate.
There was a digger working on the south vehicle track, next to where the bulldozer was operating. No idea what it was doing, except one of the random pieces of work Inert get up to; which do not seem to serve any real purpose except waste time.
Oh, the pump still isn't running but water levels are low in the lakes. I need to pop over to find out why. I do not think Cormorant lake (south) has been joined with Manor lake, with water somehow flowing out of the latter into the Blackwater. Simply due to Manor lake being higher than Cormorant lake.
This could well be my mantra for the coming weeks or months; given that Inert/Cemex do not cry off for the breeding season.
My Wednesday visit revealed only four lorries sat in a traffic jam, as they waited patiently to cross the bailey bridge. At least the process is costing Cemex less, as they don't shell out for lorries drivers to sit idle for up to 50 minutes at a time, waiting for one lorry to reverse 100m down a single track road to drop its cargo.
As a result of this silliness and lack of project management, restoration progress is glacial and costing Cemex an unnecessary fortune. I wish I had that amount of money to fritter away. In my experience, this is how management works - they don't, except when it comes to pay and bonus time, when suddenly they make themselves out to be heroes, bringing in projects on time and to budget.
I didn't pay a visit on Saturday: no point as so little had been accomplished, plus it was raining yet again. Sheesh, I think it has rain every day since last October.
The pump wasn't working, which is quite surprising. Water levels in Cormorant lake (south), from what I could see, were very low. Quite perplexing, given the amount of rain we continue to have.
This must be costing Cemex a fortune: up to 10 lorry drivers, plus a digger operator, twiddling their thumbs doing nothing (except burning diesel) as the former wait in a traffic jam.
Inert have removed the two way vehicle track alongside the Blackwater footpath and the track alongside the lake. Instead they have replaced them with a single carriageway. Thus, only one lorry at time can use it.
Up to 10 lorries will queue on the south side of the bailey bridge, waiting for one lorry to reverse some 100 yards west to the bulldozer, drop its load, drive back and cross the bailey bridge. It's madness. Three lorries can achieve the same throughput at a fraction of the price.
Two years ago there was both a two way vehicle track running along side the Blackwater footpath, with the option of a circular route along the lake. I saw as many as 20 lorries in operation at once, and restoration progress was rapid.
Now, only one lorry at a time uses the track, with restoration rates plummeting to glacial pace, schedules pushed back and costs to Inert/Cemex rocketing.
I am further baffled by why Inert are piling up spoil along the vehicle track. I though the idea was to fill in Cormorant lake. The bulldozer diver also doubled up as a digger operator, but he was scraping soil back from the infill area and piling it up alongside the vehicle track?!?!?!?
My Wednesday stomp revealed a digger working on what was Finch pond. Again, I am taken with Inert flitting about the site, seemingly engaged on random tasks; this time building yet more piles of soil. It wasn't as if there was any landscaping going on i.e. the digger digging out the new, tiny Finch pond. Instead, our heavy earth mover was bringing in yet more stuff (not a lot, due to the traffic jam) for the digger to pile up.
Anyway, I did visit the site on Saturday, in light rain. This stuff is incessant. The amount of mud, again of quicksand consistency, is a sight to behold. I was unable to proceed along the vehicle track where the bulldozer was working this week. There was a sea of deep, thin porridge like mud that was inching its way up my wellies as I walked eastward - and that was before I reached the really churned up stuff where the bulldozer had been working.
I had to back track west, then gingerly clamber a low embankment to get to the south footpath, before proceeding east to the transformer, where upon I could get back onto the site. Though I stayed off the vehicle track, it was too muddy. I simply took a couple of photos, before getting back to the south footpath and heading back home.
Oh, the pump didn't appear to be on. Which is curious, as water levels were quite low in the lake. I need to work out why.
Inert have returned tentatively to Manor farm, after their short hiatus. I get the feeling that they have been middling around the site for a week or so. Lots of subtle signs.
Inert's return to Manor farm does not herald an associated amount of activity. My Wednesday stomp revealed roughly one or perhaps two tipper trucks, with the bulldozer driver having a leisurely time of it all.
Rather oddly, at one point I noticed the heavy earth mover trundle up to the bulldozer, and the drivers have a brief chat. Whereupon the heavy earth mover does a U turn and heads back to Chandlers farm.
One reason for the somewhat sedate pace is that the tipper trucks have to reverse some 100 or so metres from the Bailey bridge to the bulldozer, which was stationed near my mighty mound i.e. not too far from the copse. This means only one tipper truck can operate at a time. Very curious.
Previously, there was a vehicle track that ran along the old shore line of Cormorant lake. Lorries could trundle westward down this track. Drop their load without any reversing. The return leg would simply involve driving forward, turning south and describing wide semi circle to join up with the south vehicle track and trundle back to the bailey bridge.
Actually, it would be better if they went west along the south vehicle track. Turn right to join the vehicle track along Cormorant lake, head east a bit, drop their load and continue on to the pump. When they turn right at the pump, they would be facing the bailey bridge and could see if there were any lorries heading towards it from Chandlers farm.
May be I'm thinking too simplistically. Oh the pump did not appear to be working. Water levels were high, and I did not visit the site on Saturday partly as Inert didn't appear to be doing very much but mainly as it was bucketing down - no surprises there. I think it was Strom Jorge or perhaps a mini precursor.
There will be no Manor farm visit tomorrow. Inert were absent on Wednesday, working on Chandlers farm instead.
I hopped over to Fleet Hill farm to check out suspected flooding and to determine what contractors I spied a few weeks back were up to. Well...I was not disappointed with this visit, having not stomped around the site since last summer, when I photographed Dragonflies.
Flooding. Two years ago, I posted photos of 'gullies' cut into the banks of one of the lakes which bordered the Blackwater. At the time I postulated that these were cut by run off from the Blackwater. My supposition was proven correct. There was water still pouring over the strip of land separating one lake from the Blackwater, down through the gullies, over two days after storm Dennis passed over us, and nine days after storm Ciara. The flow from the Blackwater over the banks into the lake must have been quite impressive at the height of the storm. It ran for about 50m to 75m.
I'm not sure where all this flood water is going, but all the lakes were very full. In fact one, next to the Longwater road, had burst its banks. One outcome of all this high water levels, is that many of the crossing points I use to get from the southern most ponds to the middle part of Fleet Hill farm were full of water, at least three feet deep. I only had my wellies on.
The Blackwater appears to have only burst its banks on one lake, towards the west of the site. However, the water, reasonably deep, was flowing over what will be a bridle path which follows the Blackwater.
Before we move on to fencing. I noticed that the kissing gates on the north part of the site, which was across a footpath leading to Finchampstead village, has been removed. This is rather odd. It was designed to keep horses off the footpath and to prevent motorcyclists entering the reserve. The thing was only fitted two years ago. I wonder if the miniscule number of horse riders had complained about the kissing gate. Never mind that their horses churn up the footpath to make it almost impassable for walkers, and the fact they are not allowed on footpaths.
On to the fencing. The contractors have put in a whole load of fencing which delineate the public rights of way through Fleet Hill farm. I have a feeling the fencing is incomplete, especially as there are a number of paths missing e.g. the bridle path that follows the north side of the Blackwater. In fact, one of the paths which the fencing marks out leads into a field adjoining the Blackwater. Only there is no way out of the field as it has been fenced by horse owners who, I believe, have leased some of the site back from Cemex.
As the headline says, I did not visit Manor farm today. Partly as storm Dennis has been flexing his muscles (currently strong winds and slight drizzle) but mainly as Inert haven't done anything this week.
My Wednesday stomp revealed a deserted Manor farm, with all vehicles operating on Chandlers farm. Inert have done this before, and returned to Manor farm after a short hiatus.
However, bad news on the restoration front. Cemex have applied for a two/three year extension to the process: two years to extract more gravel from Chandlers farm( about 50,000 tonnes, according to an old planning application I saw on the Hampshire County Council website) and a further year to finish infill and landscaping.
What is glaring odd about this extension is that extracting gravel from Chandlers farm does not preclude restoring and landscaping Manor farm, and finishing Fleet Hill farm to spec. Indeed, I believe there is enough stuff piled up on Manor farm around Cormorant lake (south) to finish the infill of said lake, before joining it to the current Manor lake to form one large lake - as per plans.
Finch pond should really be finished off this year. There isn't much left to do; a bit more stuff to drop and the pond to be dug out proper. Then the north and west embankments and ridge can be flattened and landscaped to form a base for the northern part of the circular bridle path.
One gets the feeling that Cemex are dragging their feet on this restoration. Which I find a bit peculiar, seeing as I would expect them to want to get shot of this responsibility as soon as possible. Let's face it, the expertise of Cemex is extracting stuff not putting it back and landscaping. However, some highly paid manager, with massive stock options and pension, is making these decisions - so what do I know.
Oh, the pump was not working. Expect water levels to shoot up again.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.