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Biodiversity booms at quarry-turned-nature reserve

In 1926 Trinity College bought a parcel of land near Newark, subsequently selling the rights to extract sand and gravel to Tarmac in a tripartite agreement with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which stipulated the eventual creation of a nature reserve.

Today, 96 years and four Senior Bursars later, Langford Lowfields is an exemplar of how to transform a quarry into a biodiverse wetland, attracting uncommon species such as the bittern, bearded tit and hobby, as well as eel, otter and hare.

In spring 2023 Trinity and Tarmac formally transferred ownership of the 120-hectare site to the RSPB, which has managed the reserve since 1998.

Langford Lowfields RSPB Nature Reserve. Photo: Romane Thomas

Langford Lowfields is the only place in Nottinghamshire where bitterns and bearded tits breed and in due course will become the largest wetland in the East Midlands.

Trinity’s Investment and Sustainability Officer, Romane Thomas, RSPB England Country Director, Michael Copleston, and Rob Doody, Tarmac Midlands Managing Director, attended an event on 22 June at the reserve to mark the handover of land.

In 2021 Trinity committed to net zero in its endowment by 2050 and agreed a dual mandate for its investments: to achieve financial return and have a positive, significant and lasting impact on the environment.

Among the outcomes of the College’s increasing focus on sustainability is nature conservation. Ms Thomas said:

Langford Lowfields is a great example of the compatibility of the College’s endeavour to achieve financial return and improve the environment. It is also an excellent showcase of what can be achieved for nature conservation when institutions collaborate and have a long-term vision.

Trinity’s Investment and Sustainability Officer, Romane Thomas (centre), and RSBP Site Manager, Joe Harris (right), among  guests at the event on 22 June.

Creating inland wetlands such as Langford Lowfields is important as sea-level rise threatens coastal areas, said RSPB Site Manager Joe Harris.

Reedbeds are a key habitat for uncommon species such as bitterns, which first bred at the reserve in 2019. ‘On 20 June this year we saw three young bitterns with their mum, something we have not seen here before,’ Mr Harris said.

With its scrub and woodland areas, Langford Lowfields supports a broad and rich biodiversity – as well as avocet, hobby and sand martin, five species of owl have been recorded and recently great white egrets were spotted, as they expand their UK territory northwards.

Bee orchids can take five to eight years to flower. Photo: Stuart Carlton/RSPB

The RSPB has recorded a total of 216 species of bird at the reserve. During 2023, bee orchids flowered here for the first time.

The arrival of eels – via the Humber and River Trent after a remarkable journey across the Atlantic – also underlined the reserve’s success, said Mr Harris.

‘Eels love reedbed habitat and the River Trent is very canalized, not very wild, so Langford Lowfields provides much-needed habitat for these slippery creatures,’ he said. ‘Bitterns find eels very delicious. They are a key part of the intricate food web we are creating.’

A bittern at Langford Lowfields. Photo: Andy Richmond/RSPB

While you are more likely to hear than see bitterns – their spring-time booming is the loudest call of any British bird – starlings are much more visible, particularly during murmurations, when whirling flocks of up 40,000 can be seen at the reserve.

Wildlife spectacles such as murmurations and the haven the reserve offered local people during the pandemic means that today Langford Lowfields visitor numbers are steadily increasing.

‘We are seen as a quiet enjoyment site, a bit of a haven by people who live locally. We’re a relatively small reserve – there are no toilets or visitor centre and our car park technically has space for 15 cars,’ Mr Harris said.

Over time the reserve will expand as quarry extensions are restored. The collaboration between the RSPB and Tarmac is set to continue beyond the current areas under mineral extraction. Mr Harris said:

The mutual vision is for the RSPB to continue taking on management of new quarry extensions as and when they are restored, feeding into Tarmac’s impressive restoration process throughout the journey and ensuring the habitats created deliver as much for wildlife as possible.

A marsh harrier at the reserve. Photo: Stuart Carlton/RSPB

Inset photos main image, clockwise from top left: roe deer and bearded tit by Stuart Carlton; bittern by Andy Richmond; bee orchid by Stuart Carlton. RSPB.

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