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.
A bit lax of me folks, but there appeared to be zero work done on Manor farm. Lots of banging and crashing on Chandlers farm.
I visited the area twice, last week, on Wednesday and Thursday, quite late in the morning for me. All was quite on Manor farm. Actually, I lurked around Colebrook lake, on Moor Green Lakes, snapping birds with my new (second hand) Canon 80D. I wanted to take advantage of that rare commodity - bright sun light.
My partner walked along the south footpath to Manor farm, whilst I photographed. She reported no work being done, and the gates over the bailey bridge were closed to works traffic. Sigh, it looks like Inert have shut down for the breeding season on Manor farm. Shame.
Anyway, if you get yourself down to Moor Green lakes, you could see scenes such as these
Mighty mound appears near pump station. Still wet. Not much done on land mass this week? 20th February 2021
Yet more rain. I swear I'm growing fungus in my feet.
I did a mid-week visit, early on Thursday morning. No sign of anything working on Manor farm. Indeed, the gates across the bailey bridge were firmly closed to vehicular traffic!
I am not sure if Inert worked on the land mass this week. It didn't really look so. I did spy a mighty new mound of spoil between the bailey bridge and pump. Intriguingly, I also spotted more spoil had been added to the already huge spoil that has existed on Chandlers farm since I started this blog.
While Inert may been missing from Manor farm this week, there were lots of banging and crashing on Chandlers farm. I can't see this activity from the south footpath, but it does indicate that Inert are cracking on.
Whether they return to Manor farm this coming week, remains to be seen. I hope they do not stop work until August because of the breeding season. Nothing is going to breed on the mess that is the land mass and infill.
I did not make it to the pump station on Saturday. You see, after visiting the north end of the land mass, I decided to eschew the vehicle track and strike out south east across the flattened infill. The area has had time to settle, and I hoped it would be firm.
Well, in racing parlance, the going was firm to very soft, so long as I kept moving. Unfortunately, just when I got to a slightly more boggy bit, I stopped to photograph a Grey Heron passing overhead, and I began to sink into the mud. Trying to reverse my direction of travel only made matters worse.
I thought, should I spend five minutes, trying to remain upright whilst extracting myself or should I crawl out? I decided to crawl out. I took my hat off, put my camera in it, put the two on the mud, then proceeded to crawl out. It is amazing how little you sink in the mud - barely made a mark on the stuff. Took me all of 30 seconds to crawl to firmer ground. I must have looked ridiculous, but I didn't care as it was effortless.
Only now my hands were muddy. I should have put my gloves on. Anyway, I wiped as much of the mud off as possible, grabbed my camera and set off. The remaining mud on my hands dried very quickly, and transferred itself to my camera and lens. Arrgh! I had to beat a hasty retreat back home to clean the equipment. Sigh.
You may notice a marked improvement in the quality of my photos. I traded in my Tamron 16-300mm lens for a Sigma 18-300mm lens. There was nothing wrong with the Tamron lens. It is just that the zoom ring on the Sigma and Tamron rotate in the opposite direction. I have a Sigma 150-600mm lens and was frustrated in having to remember which direction to twist the zoom ring.
The 18-300mm Sigma gives me sufficient range for wide angle and zoom shots of Manor farm. Thus I needn't use the Panasonic bridge camera - though it did give me an effective 1200mm zoom.
Anyway, enough boring stuff. On with the restoration. I popped by Manor farm on a bitterly cold Wednesday morning, and was quite surprised to see lorries on the land mass. There were at least two tipper lorries and one grab loader, plus a large, red tractor. No idea what that was doing.
I guess the frozen ground was solid enough for lorries to drive on the south vehicle path and reverse onto the land mass.
I did not pay a site visit on the weekend. Partly as it was still bitterly cold, and partly as I was a little lazy - not expecting Inert to do much over the remainder of the week. Famous last words.
I'm not sure what is going to happen when march comes along. There will probably be a lot of pressure from certain members of Moor Green Lakes group for restoration to cease for the breeding season. But honestly. There is so much disruption on Cormorant lakes north and south, I do not think anything will settle down for breeding. Far better to continue the infill of Cormorant lakes north and south, and leave Finch pond for any breeding - especially of the ground nesting birds. There is no cover for them on Cormorant lake infill due to the continued activity.
There is a precedence for this strategy. A couple of years ago, infill continued with Finch pond, leaving Cormorant lakes north and south for breeding.
I paid a site visit on Wednesday, fairly early on in the morning, but I declined Saturday's stomp.
I believe it has rained every day, in some manner, for about a month. There was certainly no let up this past week. Wednesday was raining when I paid a site visit. Large ponds every where on Manor farm and the footpaths. Strangely, the Blackwater was not particularly high.
It's hard to tell if any major work has occurred on Manor farm. The land mass looked a little flatter in some areas, but it might have been my imagination. I found our bulldozer driver working away near the pump station. He was pushing liquid mud (for the most part) from the south vehicle track northward onto what will be Manor lake.
There were no signs of lorry traffic (i.e. tracks) across the bailey bridge. All I could see were one set of bulldozer tracks. This might be due to me arriving quite early, about 8:15am.
As I left the site, and got to the sewage works, I noticed that the bulldozer driver had worked his way westward, and was now pushing mud onto the land mass, somewhere near my mighty mound. I thought, initially, that work had now shifted to the pump station as the land mass was simply too wet and boggy. Seeing the bulldozer neat my mighty mound could suggest I was in error.
Anyway, there is, allegedly, a let up in the rain for about a week. It might be replaced by snow for a while, though nothing fell last night, despite the Beeb and Met Office being adamant that snow would fall. Temperatures, for the following, are expected to be zero or below - and that's during the day.
The last week of January 2021 was wet, wet, wet - with a bit of ice and snow thrown in for good measure. Saturday had wall to wall rain; very heavy in the morning, light by mid afternoon, then heavy again.
Sunday was bright, frosty and cold; with lots of ice warnings from the various met offices. I didn't fancy wading through lots of water and mud, accumulated over the week.
I'll try a mid week site visit this week, but yet more rain is forecast.
There is heavy snowfall, today. Some 3" (75mm) fell in 1 1/2 hours. We know as we walked in it from when snowfall started to when it ended. In contrast, we had an all day deluge last Wednesday. I didn't bother going to Manor farm. Instead, I went late Thursday morning.
Unsurprisingly, the Blackwater river was running high. Not bank full or flooding, but still high and fast. By contrast, Finch pond was relatively empty, which was surprising as the land bridge is still in place. I wonder if Inert have installed a pipe underneath the bridge?
My Thursday stomp revealed on the bulldozer; no trucks or diggers. The bulldozer driver had parked in the middle of the landmass, partially hidden by piles of spoil that were higher than the bulldozer is tall. He didn't move for the 15 minutes or so I walked along the south footpath. Probably tea break time.
I did pay Saturday visit. It was only minus 2C, with no wind, but lots of cloud, sadly. When viewed from the ridge, the land mass showed little change. Hardly surprising.
I had to detour in a large semi-circle to get around Fleet pond and the deep drainage ditches. The going was quite firm, despite the amount of rain we've been having. I guess the ground is settling and compacting.
Only when I went just past the copse on the south vehicle track did underfoot conditions get really tricky. The bulldozer had been working on the track a couple of weeks back, and I had hoped all the runny mud had been scrapped off it. Well, yes in certain bits, but no in others, where the mud had been made even deeper.
I inched eastward along one section, my foot scrunching through the frozen surface, only to slide into thick, gooey porridge like mud. However, I gave up after 10m, and retraced my steps westward, before making it to the relatively secure bank running along the south footpath. I clambered along this until I made it to the vehicle track running on the land mass.
This track was very firm. And well it should be, as there is tons of hardcore and rubble underpinning it. What I did find surprising was how firm the soil was once I came off the vehicle track. Freshly bulldozed spoil is normally quite soft - even more so as the bulldozer has particularly wide tracks, so spreading its load.
Last week, I attempted to photograph a 'chasm' the digger had dug to get to the north shore of Cormorant lake (south). Although I knew it was deep, I didn't appreciate how deep until I photographed it this weekend. It appears almost as deep as our house is up to the eaves, say 7 to 10 metres. It also appears to serve as a drainage ditch, which might explain why the land mass was not as boggy as I feared it would be. There are at least two drainage ditches on the land mass, that I know of.
I made it quite close to the north shore of Cormorant lake (south), but was unable to get close enough to see if spoil had been pushed into the lake to make full contact with the gravel spit. The huge bank of spoil, marking the extent of the bulldozing, was far to soft to clamber on. When I reviewed my photos, which I had taken of this area from the ridge, I did notice a pipe I had never seen before. This will bear out further investigation the next weekend I make it to the site. Though I will have to go all round the north embankment, then down the east ridge to get to this area.
I then made my way back south and then east on the land mass. I got to the edge of the latest piece of bulldozing. I think a large amount of spoil had been bulldozed into the west shore of Cormorant lake (south) this past week. The west and east shores are now very close together, to the point that I am perplexed why the infill is not progressing faster.
You see, the land mass is currently much higher than the existing height of the land on the east side of Cormorant lake. This, coupled with the fact that Inert will have to dig out a long thin length of land to form the new, elongated Manor lake, leads me to conclude that there is enough spoil currently on the Manor farm to complete the infill and landscaping of this area.
Of course, this is my very amateur estimation. There may not be sufficient spoil, and there may well be other technical reasons for the slow progress.
Oh, our faithful pump was chugging away.
Inert have been busy. Land bridge back. Infill progressing north. Spoil heaps growing. 17th January 2021
Salutations on this first blog of 2021. Hope is in the air. Biden will be president in three days time, despite the attempted coup on the 6th Jan. Covid-19 vaccine rollout going slowly, due to PHE's unambitious plan, but picking up. Lockdown bowling along until end of February. Inert working steadily on Manor farm.
I paid a site visit, early on Friday morning. A digger was working far on the north shore of Cormorant lake (south), and appeared to be pushing stuff into the lake. At times the digger was hidden behind huge piles of spoil.
Our bulldozer driver was pootling along the south vehicle track, pushing watery mud around. I spotted two lorries, good old John Stacy vehicles, making their way gingerly along the south vehicle track.
This week, the bulldozer driver told them not to reverse 75 to 100m up the land mass, but instead to drop their loads at the south end of the land mass track. The bulldozer driver then pushed the spoil some 75 to 100m northward on to the land mass. Very sensible, considering the amount of rain we are still getting, though not as bad as before Christmas.
I paid a visit to Manor farm, early Sunday morning. I eschewed a Saturday visit as we had snow and yet more rain on Saturday morning.
Having seen the wave of mud being pushed by the dozer blade on Wednesday, and the amount of standing water on the site, I decided to not walk along the south vehicle path or go on the land mass - with its quagmires. Instead I decided to walk straight to the ridge and gravel spit to see what the digger had been up to.
Was I in for a surprise. Firstly, the pump has been running, which means water levels were low. I did notice this on Friday, and could hear the pump wheezing away. However, I don't think it was running on Sunday.
Secondly, I realised that Inert have been working on Cormorant lake (north). At some point in the last two months (actually, probably this year), a digger has cut drainage channel into the infill of Cormorant lake (north). It runs along the lake's western edge, and joins up with the drainage channel between Finch pond and Cormorant lake (south). The upshot of this channel is that I could not get to the gravel spit.
Thirdly, the land bridge is back. Which is how, I reckon, a digger got to Cormorant lake (north). With the land bridge in place it does mean water can't drain into Cormorant lake (south), well, not unless Inert have put a big pipe under the land bridge's soil.
Thwarted in my attempts to get to the gravel spit, I chose to walk along the central north embankment (noting loads of animal paths through the bracken - normally fox, deer, rabbit and badger), and then to the end of the east ridge. I even ventured onto one of the mud flats (very carefully and gingerly) and was moderately surprised to discover the ground was relatively firm.
It was difficult to see what the digger had been up to. It was using its shovel to push/smooth spoil, from what I could see on Friday. The north shoreline has been flattened. Before Christmas the shore was basically a cliff, a vertical bank some 8m high.
Now, I did notice that a bit of the land mass was now in contact with the gravel spit, but I seem to remember this was the situation last year.
It is nice to see that Inert are continuing restoration during lockdown. It's pretty safe for the plant operators. They sit in their air conditioned cabs, isolated from each other, and can either communicate via radio or by shouting to each other across several metres of fresh air. Long may this continue.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.