Early quarrying operations at Batts Combe are thought to have begun as early as 1890 although present extraction operations at the site can be traced back to the mid-1920s and the formation of the Batts Combe Quarry Co.
The company changed ownership a number of times over the years before becoming part of the Amey Roadstone Corporation in 1967, which was bought by Hanson in 1989.
The stone at Batts Combe is predominantly Burrington Oolite, which has long been recognised for its high purity (approaching 99% calcium carbonate). This led to it being in high demand to be used as flux in the steel industry from the 1970s until the early 2000s as well as a number of high profile projects such as Hinkley Point C power station.
The quarry is situated to the north of the village of Cheddar, Somerset, on the border of the Mendip Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). The excavation area covers around 60ha and is set in a total landholding of 180ha.
Within the quarry landholding are important, biodiverse habitats. To the west lies The Perch, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated due to its calcareous grassland, woodland and notable species including the lesser and greater horseshoe bat, dormice and Cheddar pink. Also to the west of the extraction boundary, the Cheddar Wood SSSI and the Mendip Woodlands SAC are located.
The Cheddar Complex SSSI, which is part of the North Somerset & Mendip Bats Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is also within 500m of the quarry landholding and the site is bordered to the east with pasture, woodland and scrub-encroached grassland.
Over the past two decades much work has been done by Hanson and nature conservation groups to identify and implement the potential that quarry restoration and management of large holdings have for large-scale landscape, habitat and species connectivity in the Mendips.
Projects helping to contribute to our biodiverse habitat principles of ‘bigger, better and more joined up’ in the Mendips include:
- Close partnership with conservation bodies including Somerset Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Natural England, Farm and Wildlife Advisory Group, Reptile and Amphibian Group for Somerset and Butterfly Conservation.
- Large scale scrub clearance on the Perch SSSI and other areas of important grassland habitats to prevent scrub from destroying grassland communities. Scrub clearance is followed up by management through cattle grazing and fences and water is installed to facilitate this.
- Tree planting on quarry benches and the perimeter to provide habitat corridors for dormice and bats.
- Use of green hay instead of bought seed mixes, which was collected from important meadows within the quarry and used to seed quarry restoration projects. This project led to a Natural After Minerals conference event to disseminate useful practical knowledge.
- A woodland management plan to manage Hanson woodland, to reintroduce old coppicing regimes for the benefit of wildlife including birds and dormice.
- Plants such as the Cheddar Whitebeam and Cheddar Pink (found only in Cheddar) have been cultivated by Hanson and used in the restoration of quarry benches.
- Habitat and species surveys have been carried out in partnership with the Somerset Wildlife Trust and Natural England to map the site’s habitats such as lowland meadow and species including dormice, with monitoring surveys carried out over the summer months to count the dormice and their young.
Looking ahead, we will be updating our existing Biodiversity Action Plan and Woodland Management Plan to address the on-going impact of Ash dieback disease. In addition, our focus also includes maintaining the scrub cleared grassland habitats, carrying out woodland coppicing and thinning operations, removing non-native tree species and continuing species monitoring. This includes a planned programme for further large-scale scrub clearance on the Perch in line with our Higher Level Stewardship scheme, as part of Natural England’s funded countryside stewardship grant.