The secrets of Gloucestershire’s disused quarries

© Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

© Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust - Credit: Archant

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

Duke of Burgundy © Jim Higham

Duke of Burgundy © Jim Higham - 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 Gloucestershire include:

Spion Kop Quarry: a large deep quarry with superb views across Cannop Valley and beyond. A good range of plants have colonised the rock face and boulder-strewn floor here. Many ferns and plants grow in the rock crevices including maidenhair spleenwort, lady-fern, scaly male-fern and hard fern. The boulders support a variety of mosses. Redstart, great tits and blue tits are amongst the birds which nest in the quarry. Of the many woodland birds which visit, turtle dove and wood warbler are regularly heard.

Wood warbler © Margaret Holland

Wood warbler © Margaret Holland - Credit: Archant

Cutsdean Quarry: one of the few small sites in the area producing Chipping Norton limestone. The bare rubble has created interesting limestone grassland and scrub with areas of scree. During the spring and summer months, the open rock faces make it a great location to spot sunbathing reptiles including adders, grass snakes and common lizards. Plentiful butterflies can be found here, including the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly along with good populations of ringlets, marbled whites and large skippers. Linnets, whitethroats, tree pipits and greenfinches also make home in the scrub along the eastern edge of the reserve.

Stenders Quarry: a great reserve for fossil and wildlife lovers. A SSSI, Stenders Quarry is important for both its geological features and wildlife. The steep dip of the quarry shows a wide range of rock types close together. Excellent exposures of fossiliferous Lower Carbonifierous limestone shales are the best in the Forest of Dean which yield fossils of sea lilies, water fleas and shellfish. Diverse plant species have colonised the shallow limestone soils, including a fine show of the common spotted orchid and autumn gentian in late summer. The loose rocks and short grassland are ideal for snails and host many species uncommon in the Forest of Dean. The banks and rocks bear a rich variety of mosses and liverwort. The great spotted woodpecker, gold-crest and numerous scrub-loving birds visit the reserve, resting amongst wild cherry, pendunculate oak, ash and wych elm.

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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 to choose which one you would like to join.

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 @wildlifetrusts or using #wildgeology, or share them with our Wildlife Trusts group on Flickr.

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