Nestled in the heart of Nottinghamshire, amongst the towns and countryside, lies a testament to the power of environmental restoration, re-wilding and partnership.
It might be hard to believe today, with its thriving reedbed, booming bitterns and meadows busy with bees, but the nature reserve at Langford Lowfield, near Newark, was once part of the neighbouring quarry. Through the power of collaboration and conservation knowledge, this unique nature reserve has undergone a remarkable transformation.
Thanks to the partnership between Tarmac and the RSPB, the former quarried land has been transformed into a wildlife haven, home to the largest reedbed in the East Midlands.
History was made in February this year when landowners Tarmac and Trinity College completed an agreement to transfer the ownership of the restored quarry land to the RSPB.
The agreement was made in the late 1990s, with Tarmac and Trinity College agreeing that quarried land would be passed over to the RSPB to manage for the benefit of wildlife and nature.
To mark the occasion, the RSPB hosted an event in June at the nature reserve to celebrate with local stakeholders, RSPB staff and volunteers, colleagues from Tarmac and representatives from Trinity College.
Quarrying at the main Langford Lowfields site is ongoing and has spanned several decades. Once mineral extraction has been completed, there is a lot of potential to transform the space for the benefit of nature, offering a blank canvas for habitat creation. A variety of habitats such as wetlands, woodlands, meadows and grasslands can be created.
Joe Harris, site manager at RSPB Langford Lowfields said: “Langford Lowfields is a vital and thriving wetland wonderland, that is a testament to the hard work and partnership between Tarmac and the RSPB.”
“The recent transfer of land to the RSPB marks a significant milestone in the history of the nature reserve, so it has been great to be able to celebrate the occasion with so many partners and stakeholders.”
Rob Doody, managing director for the Midlands region at Tarmac, said: “It is not every day that you get to celebrate such a historic event. We are immensely proud of our partnership with the RSPB and what we have achieved here.
“This outstanding reserve is a credit to everyone who has contributed to the restoration, and we look forward to seeing how it develops in the years to come.”
Transformations such as the one at Langford Lowfields do not happen without years of planning, hard work, and expert knowledge.
At the beginning of the quarrying process, soil is ‘stripped’ to expose the sand and gravel deposits. These soils are stored so that they can be used later to restore the quarried areas. At Langford, islands have been created, separated by deep water channels and it is on these shallow islands that the reed is establishing.
The RSPB team works hard to hand-plant an enormous number of reed seedlings, with a target of planting 10,000 annually. An impressive 14,000 were planted in 2022 by volunteers and staff. The result will be the largest reedbed in the East Midlands. Reedbeds are a threatened habitat and there has been a concerted effort to not only create more of them, but to create more of them inland, safe from the threat of sea level rises.
To keep reedbeds healthy, they also need good water level control. At Langford Lowfields, the water levels are controlled by the largest freshwater drainage system on any RSPB reserve. The structure, which was funded by Tarmac, protects the reserve, and prevents the site from flooding when the water levels of the River Trent get too high, allowing water out while letting critically endangered, reedbed-loving eels in.
The elusive bittern is another priority reedbed species. These rare and secretive herons prefer big, wet reedbeds. In 2019, the reserve saw the success of bitterns breeding for the first time. The return of the bittern is just one of many remarkable success stories from RSPB Langford Lowfields. The ongoing reedbed restoration has created the perfect habitat for these birds, with perfect conditions for nesting and foraging. They have bred every year since 2019 and amazingly in 2023, young bitterns were spotted flying across the reserve for the first time.
The otter is another success story at RSPB Langford Lowfields. Historically, the otter population has suffered significant declines due to habitat loss, pollution, and persecution.
Joe Harris, site manage at RSPB Langford Lowfields said: “Observing otters in their natural habitat once again is really rewarding. Their presence shows the restoration of a healthy and balanced ecosystem where water quality has improved, and their prey population is abundant.”
So far, 216 species of birds have been recorded onsite, from annual visitors such as avocets and hobbies to rarities including black-winged stilts and a pallid harrier. In 2022, 60 species bred at RSPB Langford Lowfields, including another reedbed specialist, the bearded tit. In 2023, bee orchids were found flowering for the first time.
Around 1,000 people visit RSPB Langford Lowfields nature reserve every month and birdwatchers, photographers and casual visitors alike are all able to relax and enjoy the tranquillity and the wildlife. At the same time, site staff ensure that sensitive habitats and nesting areas are kept protected for the wildlife that call it home.
This means the perfect balance between conservation and visitor enjoyment is created, as Joe Harris explains: “We hope we can offer visitors the opportunity to connect with nature and understand the work we do to restore it at Langford. We hope they gain a personal connection to the wildlife and landscapes that the reserve offers.
“Nature has been proven to improve mental and physical well-being and improve quality of life. By fostering a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world, we hope people are inspired to protect and preserve our wildlife for years to come.”
RSPB Langford Lowfields is open daily from dawn till dusk. Entrance to the nature reserve is free, with a small fee for car parking. To find out more about visiting, go to rspb.org.uk/langfordlowfields
Photo credit: Stuart Carlton & Stephanie Rogers