Regulars of this blog might have noticed a change in its name. The Finchampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan have given it a name: Longwater Road Nature Reserve.
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.
I'm beginning to sound like a stuck record, as once again I express my mysticism as to the restoration process.
Inert continue to both infill and upfill Cormorant lake (north), completing the land bridge they started last week, and creating a new one through the middle of the former gravel causeway. Land levels have been raised by approximately 8' to 10' (2.4m to 3m) as the upfill continues to reach the height of the lower north embankment.
This, I believe, sets the land level some 8' to 12' higher than the original land levels to the north of the site. Very perplexing indeed.
It looks as if Cormorant lake (north) will disappear, as per plans. However, according to those same plans, there is supposed to be a lake just to the south of Cormorant lake (north). Inert will have to dig this lake out, if the plans are unmodified from the ones I have.
Clearing of vegetation from the lower embankment of the north embankment has made it very easy for me to walk along it. I used to have to fight my way through tall, dense bracken. Not amusing after rain or a heavy dew.
I noticed some recent fox dens in the upper north embankment. Shame I didn't put any trail cams out. I hope the cubs survived this year, unlike the previous time I put trail cams out.
I did clamber to the top of the north embankment. Still quite tricky due to both the very steep sides of the banking, and the dense bracken. The view of the site/reserve was more magnificent than in previous years, as the line of Birch trees had been cleared. On the other hand, the view was less satisfying due to Cormorant lake (south) being completely filled in, and half of Cormorant lake (north) being filled in.
Well, I'm all agog at to what the latest installment of the restoration will be next week. Rainfall has, by and large, held off. There were a couple of sneak showers not predicted by either the BBC or Met office, but it has been very dry. However, the land has not dried out completely. Parts were still very soft for humans, therefore quite boggy for lorries. Other parts were firm, but not rock hard.
I may take a stroll, next week, down to the south vehicle track and the mighty mound next to the pump station, just to see if anything has been happening. However, I may not, as the main thrust of operations appear to be concentrated on Cormorant lake (north).
And finally. Lapwings have started congregating on what was Finch pond. Not is such large numbers as in former years. It is a bit early for them to do so. However, much of the low, scrubby vegetation they so like has gone due to the upfill of the past couple of months.
A busy weekend, means this update was delayed.
The headline says it all. Boy did it rain, and rain, and rain. Just for good measure, it rained some more (lots more) over night. All this rain on top of what had already fallen.
The going on the site was soft to boggy for a human to walk on. I had to exercise a lot of caution whilst walking over the up fill built over the past few weeks. Some places I would place my foot gingerly on the ground, ready to step back sharply if it sank in too far. I didn't have to retrace my steps, but I did take a couple of tiny detours. The area would be lethal for lorries, I reckon. They would cut deep ruts pretty quickly. I didn't even bother walking along the south vehicle track, this week; surmising it would be water logged.
Unsurprisingly, Inert have switched their theatre of operation - though this switch might have been intentional i.e. they have finished with the current phase of up fill around the northern half of what was Finch pond.
Inert have spent the past week or so working on raising the land levels on the west shore of Cormorant lake (north). I say week or two, as I forgot to visit Cormorant lake (north) last week, to see how tree felling was progressing. Whether the up fill took place over a week or two weeks, I can say that Inert et al have put a tremendous amount of work in raising land levels.
I am, as ever, perplexed as to why this work was done. Without access to plans, I can only assume that this area is supposed to be raised, though it is odd as the land would be a fair bit higher than the ground and fields to the north of the site. Very curious, indeed.
Inert have also started to build a tongue of land into the shallow ponds to the west of the copse. I have some old plans which show this area having several small ponds, through which flows the Colebrook stream. However, plans for the site have, I am reliably informed, changed several times over the decades. Only time will tell what happens.
I guess, the land bridges have come into their own, in allowing tipper and grab loader lorries safe and fast access to the site. The amount of mud, squished up the sides of the bridges, is testament as to how wet the area has become, due to the heavy rains.
It should be interesting what happens this week. Progress seems to be rattling along, nicely. The weather is set to remain fine.
Note: I have to keep reiterating that Inert do a lot more than I report in this blog. I only have a small snapshot, of a small part of the total site. I haven't peeked at Chandlers farm, and haven't been on Fleet Hill farm in ages. I should make a recce - especially to see if a kissing gate has been reinstated on a footpath (leading to Finchanpstead Village) on Fleet Hill farm, to stop the arrogant horse riders from riding along narrow footpaths.
Well. What a week that was! Loads of loonies, clogging up roads and petrol stations, panic buying, due to mass hysteria whipped up by the media. My partner and I actually managed to fuel up, on Wednesday, after walking 4 miles to see if either BP or Tesco in Wokingham had petrol.
I was down to 1/8 of a tank, whilst my partner's fuel needle was in the red. She is a teacher, and so needs petrol to get to work.
However, as I waited in the queue (which only lasted 10 minutes) it was obvious that people were ignoring government advice to buy petrol normally. Drivers, on seeing the BP station had fuel, were slowing down, some even moving to the right turn lane, before deciding to drive on. They were only taking the opportunity to top up!!! That's panic buying.
I like the idiots who queued for 3 hours in an attempt to get into a petrol station that was closed! No one thought to walk up to the station to see if it was open. Or the other lunatic drivers, who followed a tanker for tens of miles, only to discover it was carrying mortar!!! It was a bog standard, double depth cement carrier!!!!
Anyway, enough of the crass stupidity of sections of the British public. What have Inert been up to this week? Have they been affected by the loony panic buyers? Well, it seems not.
Much to my astonishment, Inert did what I predicted they would do. Their up fill progress has reached the Longwater road entrance. I was so gob smacked that they didn't flit off to another part of the site.
The up fill is looking all lovely and flat, and appears contoured to accommodate some ponds. This is hard to determine, as restoration plans keep changing.
I think Inert have been using big, yellow heavy earth movers to transport spoil. Tyre tracks seem to indicate this. They have also been using the south vehicle track, rather than trundling over the land mass and latest up fill.
Unfortunately, their timing couldn't have been worse. The heavens have opened up, over the past week, with lots of torrential rain. While the site as a whole has firm footing, there is one section of the south vehicle track which, over the years, I have found to be extremely boggy, and constantly water logged. I have had to take detours around one particular depression (which always has water in it) on many an occasion.
Well, the vehicles have really churned up this particular, small area, resulting in ruts up to 3' or 90cm deep. I suspect lorries took a slight detour, around this area, when the rutting got too bad, but even this detour started to get deeply rutted.
I am quite baffled as to why this area was not reinforced with the tons of hardcore (bricks, concrete slabs, etc) that is lying around the site. Much like they did with the land bridges.
Worse still, it absolutely bucketed it down, yesterday. Virtually all day, and well into the night. Although the Met office predict a dry couple of weeks to follow, there are saying more torrential rain on Tuesday morning.
Thus, I am unsure as to how much progress, if any, Inert will make over the next week. Sigh, they were going so well.
I feel that Inert were able to hire a whole load of tipper and grab loader lorries, this past week. The upfill of what was Finch pond appears to have accelerated, making a huge jump further south. At this rate, they will be past the Longwater road entrance by the end of next week.
Dare I say, in fear of being proven wrong yet again, that Inert will complete the upfill by the end of October? Nah, don't be silly. Inert will simply flit to another part of the site.
Contractors have started felling trees around the eastern section of the north embankment. I did wonder what would happen to these trees i.e. would they be bulldozed flat. They are mostly Birch, and quite mature. I reckon they germinated not long after Cemex created the embankments; by scraping top soil off the area to get at the underlying gravel.
There were numerous extensions to the quarrying operations e.g. Fleet Hill farm. This allowed these trees to grow over two if not three decades.
It's a shame the trees have gone, they do give a wonderful backdrop to the area, especially their vivid colours in autumn. They are also very good for the environment and wildlife. However, they did have to go.
I will also mourn the lose of the north embankment. It's height gave a wonderful view of the site, and put the whole area into a different perspective. It was also brilliant for Bird in Flight viewing and photography. Birds will, generally, fly east-west parallel along the length of Moor Green Lakes, Manor farm and Fleet Hill farm; often at the same height as the north embankment.
It is supposed to rain over the next week. As usual, the BBC and Met Office weather reports differ as the the amount and frequency of rainfall in this area. They often get it wrong. What rain we may or may not get should not affect ground conditions to any great extent. It has been so dry of late, the ground is rock hard. The only slight snag with rain is that it makes the surface of the chalk land bridges a little bit slippery. No problems for a lorry or human, come to that.
The main issue for lorries is the south vehicle track. As I've mention numerous times, this gets pounded by lorry wheels, producing a fine silt which flows into ruts (up to three feet deep) forming pools of mud the consistency of quicksand. I should know, having sunk up to my knees in the stuff or having to make big detours to avoid these quicksand pools.
Will the rate of progress continue or will it stall, as has happened so often? Tune in, next week, for the latest, mildly thrilling, installment of this saga.
As the headline says, Inert have made a fair amount of progress in upfilling what was Finch pond. They are upfilling in strips, running east-west. The strips are some 100m long; possibly longer. I reckon they have managed at least a further strip of at least 30m.
Assuming the upfill depth is about 60cm (2 feet in old money), then this equates to approximately 3000 cubic metres of spoil; or roughly 3000 tons. If each lorry carries 18 tons of stuff, then we had approximately 166 lorry movements last week: 33 per day or roughly 4 an hour.
This seems very low to me, as I reckon each lorry can manage two to four trips an hour. I may have either underestimated how much upfill there has been or how much each lorry can carry or how long the lorries work for and whether the restoration of Manor farm takes all Inert's efforts.
In my defense, I have noticed occasions, when I have done a mid week visit, when the bulldozer is inactive for long periods i.e. 20 to 20 minutes.
Any way, at current rate of progress, and assuming that all of what was Finch pond will be up lifted (bar the new ponds) then I reckon between 6 to 8 weeks to complete this task.
Now, I have been lazy of late, and not wandered all over the site to see what Inert are up to. Silly, as I do know they flit around. However, even from the ridge, I can see that the mighty mound next to the pump station is getting smaller. I can only assume that the spoil being dumped on what was Finch pond comes, in part, from this mound.
I can't even tell if the pump is pumping, as I didn't wander over to what is left of Cormorant lake (south).
The ground conditions are currently very hard. Some rain is forecast for tomorrow, but this shouldn't affect ground solidity much. Next week, however, sees a potential for lots of rain showers, which might make conditions a little soft. This will slow restoration down, sigh. The only mitigating circumstance is that the ground is now so dry, any rain will simply soak away. We'll see.
Drainage ditch for Cormorant lake (north). Upfill continues; will it be same level as Longwater road? 10th September 2021
Yes, it is a Friday. I've actually been visiting the site after 16:00 on Friday's, as that is approximately when Inert knocks off. Fair dues, they start very early, and it is normal in the construction and manufacturing industry.
I'll have to return to weekend morning visits as autumn approaches and the clock go back.
Inert have finally got around to providing Cormorant lake (north) with a drainage ditch. Its waters can now drain into what is left of Cormorant lake (south), and then wend its way to the pump. Only the pump is currently off, as all action is concentrated way over near Longwater road. I did mention, in an earlier blog post, that the upfill of this area should not have joined up with the east ridge and 'grasslands'. Cormorant lake (north) needed a drainage ditch.
Oh, technically, water is draining the wrong way from Cormorant lake (north). It should head west, not east. This will, no doubt, be rectified, once the upfill of what was Finch pond is complete.
As for this upfill, as I call it. Inert have now taken the strip closest to the north embankment all the way across to the western embankment, then turned a corner to head south for a bit. They have then embarked on a second strip, over doubling the width of the first strip.
I will repeat that I am quite surprised at how much upfill is being carried out; some 18 to 24 inches (48 to 60cm). I thought this whole area was more or less complete.
Judging by the depth of upfill, I think it will take what was Finch pond up to the same level as the Longwater road. I did mention in a blog posting a long time ago, that I thought this whole area had to be lifted by this amount to avoid flooding. I did have to pick my way carefully along side the western embankment, avoiding deeper water by sticking to ridges pushed up by bulldozers. Even the, the water was wellington deep!
Will Inert complete the upfill of what was Finch pond by the end of October, given that the plan is to upfill the whole area? Possibly. I say October, as Inert still have Cormorant lake (south) to complete by the end of this year, as well as forming several new ponds and lakes.
At least the weather is holding reasonably dry - apart from a downpour yesterday, and a bit today.
You gotta admire the restoration process for continuing to throw up surprises.
I thought the Finch pond infill was largely complete, with the land largely at finish height. All that needed be done was a little bit of tinkering: bits of minor landscaping, perhaps digging out the odd pond , establishing stream courses, capping with top soil from the embankments, putting in fencing and trees, perhaps the car park. Sort of like fitting out the insides of a new build house, once it was weather sealed.
Oh no. Inert have continued their major upfill (as I call it) exercise. This week working alongside the north embankment (west).
I'm prepared to accept there would have been a small amount of settlement of the area after the initial infill, but surely not 45cm-60cm. This is the amount the area is being raised by, and this is without the capping of top soil from both the flattening of the embankments and whatever else is brought in.
I don't know. As a scientific/engineering type, I tend to start at one end and work my way to the other, with the odd bit of tarting up once the basic framework is completed. This restoration has Inert flitting all over the site, seemingly doing odd bits of 'non-work'. But then again, what do I know about restoring an ex-quarry.
Oh, lorries are having to reverse some 50m-75m again to drop their loads. This time as the upfill is a wide-ish strip along side the north embankment. Odd that, seeing as the going on what was Finch pond is now firm, and previously lorries would happily drive around the perimeter of this area. Reversing slows the operation down, with many lorries waiting their turn.
I'm very curious how the area will finally look, as it bears a passing resemblance to plans I have seen.
Wildlife have taken to the new, deeper Cormorant lake (north) and the possible new Finch pond. Only as Cormorant lake (south) has largely disappear, and what is left is well below ground level - thus making predator spotting a tad difficult.
Sorry about the photos. It was very, very overcast when I got to the site at 7:00am this morning.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.