Needingworth quarry near St Ives in Cambridgeshire is one of the largest sand and gravel extraction sites in the UK. It covers an area of approximately 975 hectares and lies adjacent to the Great Ouse river. The quarry produces around 800,000 tonnes a year of sand and gravel, mainly for use in precast and ready-mixed concrete.

Extraction began in 1995 and will span more than 30 years, during which time 28 million tonnes of sand and gravel will be removed. The restoration will be phased to create Britain’s biggest reedbed (460 hectares), along with open meres, wet scrub and grassland, within a 700 hectare nature reserve which will be managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Habitat, flora & fauna description: 

The creation of new wetlands has been identified as a national priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, endorsed by government. They are needed to safeguard threatened birds such as the bittern, reduced to 13 booming males in the UK in 1998, and to provide new habitat to off-set projected future loses of international important coastal wetlands through coastal erosion accelerated by sea level rise.

The Needingworth site provides an exceptional opportunity to create a 700 hectare wetland, representing 50 per cent of the UK's target for reedbed, and to demonstrate best practice in implementing a planning consent for extraction of minerals and restoration to nature conservation.

Ongoing nature project:

The Hanson-RSPB wetland project at Needingworth is the largest planned nature conservation restoration scheme of its kind in Europe. It began in 2001 and is primarily being created for bitterns, a species that until recently was very rare in Britain. The reserve is also home to other scarce species such as marsh harriers, bearded tits, otters and water voles.

When complete, the site will incorporate the UK’s largest freshwater reedbed, recreating some of the lost wetland habitat that once dominated the Fenland landscape but was lost due to drainage and land use changes. The reedbed will cover around 1.5 square miles, almost doubling the natural wetland habitat. The nature reserve is an important link in the wildlife chain and will help to ensure bittern and other scarce species continue to thrive.

The site offers the opportunity to compare unrestored land through to the restored and managed nature reserve.