4 disused quarries to spot wildlife in Lancashire and Cumbria

View toward the shore from Warton Crag

View toward the shore from Warton Crag - Credit: Archant

Pick your way through a moonscape of rocks and crags and you’ll find some amazing wildlife in Lancashire and Cumbria.

Fossils and crinoids on the floor at Salthill Quarry

Fossils and crinoids on the floor at Salthill Quarry - Credit: Archant

Disused quarries are curious and fascinating places. A mix of history, industry, geology and wildlife, they are among the wildest and most unusual places in lowland UK.

Extracting rock, sand and minerals from the Earth’s surface has been key to the building industry for many thousands of years and our abandoned quarries carry many echoes of our historic past. One consequence of quarrying is the opportunity to peek into the Earth’s ancient history. Exposure of rocks millions of years old can reveal fossilised species like brachipods, gastropods and ammonites, as well as fossilised shark teeth, shells and wood. Left to regenerate naturally (sometimes with some conservation management) nature is steadily reclaiming these places back from their industrial past. Sites around Lancashire and Cumbria include:

View over Warton from Warton Crag

View over Warton from Warton Crag - Credit: Archant

Warton Crag

Home to an outstanding collection of butterflies and plants that are nationally uncommon alongside fantastic displays of lichens. The limestone ledges on the south face are home to plants well adapted to the free-draining, shallow soils. In May and June, the flowering of horseshoe vetch, kidney vetch and bird’s-foot- trefoil produce a spectacular display of yellow. Meanwhile rock rose and purple mats of thyme provide a fine sight in summer. Some of the level terraces on the Crag have outcrops of limestone exposed as pavement - a rare habitat in which slabs of rock are separated by deep cracks called grikes. Notable species dwelling within them include rigid buckler-fern and angular solomon’s-seal. Warblers are an outstanding feature in summer while butterflies including the pearl-bordered fritillary and nationally-threatened high brown fritillary can be seen here.

Cross Hill Quarry

Cross Hill Quarry - Credit: Archant

Cross Hill Quarry

Abandoned as a working quarry in the early 1900’s, Cross Hill is a mosaic of woodland and small meadows on a man-made site which has become an exceptional refuge for wildlife. The main rock face in the former quarry makes a great visit, showcasing the exposed limestone laid down in bedding planes, which have been tilted over the period since they were first laid down millions of years ago. The quarry floor, made up of mounds of spoil, is rich in lime, providing the optimal growing conditions for many limestone grassland flowers including the common spotted and northern marsh orchid. These flower-rich grasslands attract frequent butterfly residents such as the small skipper, orange tip and meadow brown. With plenty of woodland edge, the reserve is also a good site for bats where hunting pipistrelles, noctules and daubenton’s have been seen skimming over the surface of the river and throughout the woodland.

Sculptures at Salthill Quarry

Sculptures at Salthill Quarry - Credit: Keith Carter

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Salthill Quarry

Designated as a SSSI by virtue of its geological formations. It also holds great botanical interest as it displays a mixture of vegetation from the earliest stages of soil development on limestone – a rarity in Lancashire. Fossilized rocks are abundant in several areas of the reserve. The fossilised tubes that look like stacks of polo mints are parts of Crinoids (sea lilies) and are estimated to be around 335 million years old. Those lying loose on the ground may be collected but hammering rock faces or removing large pieces of rock is strictly forbidden without written permission from the Trust. Stay here until twilight and you can hear swifts. You might even be lucky to catch a glimpse of a hunting pipistrelle bat that roots in the area. The kestrel also makes use of the reserve for feeding on wood mice and voles.

Clint’s Quarry

Clint’s Quarry - Credit: Archant

Clint’s Quarry

Quarrying for limestone started here in the 1600s which was used for building and agriculture. Latterly, the quarried rock was used in the local steel making industry before the quarry ceased in 1930. From the reserve’s entrance you can see spoil heaps with track ways in between radiating out to a terrace. Above, the quarries face rises up to 20 metres in some places. A large lime-kiln also nestles in the woodland near the southern boundary of the reserve. Damp conditions between the spoil heaps are ideal places to find the northern marsh and common spotted-orchid. Explore the drier slopes and you will stumble across wild strawberry, ox-eye daisy, centaury, mouse-eared hawkweed, bird’s-foot trefoil and knapweed. Meanwhile, butterflies thrive in the shelter of the quarry while the ponds are home to frogs, newts and sticklebacks.

You’ll find all sorts of things in The Wildlife Trusts’ disused wild quarries and rocky places – creative sculpture trails, fossils, colonies of bats that roost in shadowy caves, reptiles, wildflowers, insects and birds. These wildlife havens are also great places to see how the landscape has been shaped by the areas industrial history – amid the rocks you can look for traces of bygone industry.

Wherever you live there is a Wildlife Trust that covers your area. You can support their work by joining your local Wildlife Trust today. Visit www.cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk or www.lancswt.org.uk to find out more.

Have fun exploring these wild places, but please take care when exploring as the reserve has uncapped mine shafts and cliff faces – climbing is not permitted and you must not enter any mineshafts. You can share your photos with The Wildlife Trusts by tweeting @Lancswildlife or @cumbriawildlife using #wildgeology

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