Quarry transformed into haven for insect life

Published: 21 November 2014 at 11:32

New Anglia Ruskin study into Cambridgeshire nature reserve wins national award

A new study has revealed how a sand and gravel quarry in Cambridgeshire has become a haven for insect life, and is now home to a number of rare species.

The research, carried out by Dr Alvin Helden of Anglia Ruskin University, won first prize at Hanson UK’s Quarry Life Awards 2014, at a ceremony held yesterday at the Forest of Marston Vale in Bedfordshire.

Dr Helden, Senior Lecturer in Animal and Environmental Biology at Anglia Ruskin, investigated the Hanson quarry at Needingworth, near St Ives, where part of the quarry has been restored following gravel extraction, and turned into an RSPB nature reserve called Ouse Fen.

As the gravel extraction is completed, areas are being restored into mainly wetland habitats.  The open water and reedbeds provide much of the focus of the RSPB’s efforts, given their importance for birds, but the site also includes areas of rough grassland, some of which is grazed.

The new research, carried out at 26 points during June and July 2014, discovered that the 94 different species of insects that had made their home at Needingworth included five species of Auchenorrhyncha (leafhoppers and planthoppers) which have specific conservation interest.

These include Psammotettix striatus, a very rare leafhopper which has previously only been found in two other locations in the UK, and Ribautodelphax imitans, a tall fescue planthopper, which is a Biodiversity Action Plan species and only been recorded at a handful of locations in the UK.

Dr Helden’s research also found that the unmanaged grassland has, on average, insect populations 14.9% higher than areas which are grazed by cattle. 

And with the exception of flies and midges there was no link between the age of the grassland and the number of insects found, indicating that insect populations can quickly establish following restoration.

Dr Helden said:

“The discovery of several very rare species of leafhoppers and planthoppers shows that the site has an incredible biodiversity, and not just for the wetland species for which it was primarily created.
“Setting aside ungrazed areas has clearly been effective in encouraging insect populations.  Obviously these benefits will have to be balanced against lost grazing areas, which would result in a reduction in income from renting out grazing rights.  
“However, given the results of this study, we recommend that some areas continue to be fenced off and are allowed to remain ungrazed.”

The Quarry Life Awards is an international competition organised by Hanson’s parent company HeidelbergCement Group to raise the understanding of the biological value of mining sites both during and after extraction.  The Anglia Ruskin project secured first prize in the UK tier of the competition. 

Patrick O’Shea, chief executive officer of Hanson UK, who presented the award, said:
“We recognise that our sites are a valuable natural resource in their local environments and, as part of our sustainability strategy, we are committed to maximising the benefits they can provide for biodiversity.”