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50 Years of ‘Net Gain’

2021 marks 50 years since the first awards celebrating the unique contribution of restored quarries to nature recovery.

It was back in 1971 that the UK’s Sand and Gravel Association (SAGA), one of the predecessor organisations that merged with others to form the MPA, held the first awards for restoration of quarries. Indeed the first quarry restoration plans were devised and implemented in the decades before the 1970s.

Yet today the mineral product sector’s best kept secret is still the unique and significant role that quarry restoration plays in long-term nature recovery and conservation. Maybe that’s because by the time a well-restored quarry scheme has come to fruition, most people have forgotten that the site once provided materials for the places where they live, work and play.

In fact, the chances are that your local nature reserve is the result of mineral extraction, as are many of the UK’s flagship conservation parks. In England alone there are over 2,000 quarries, covering 64,000 hectares (0.1% of the country's land area) all of which will be restored after quarrying.

Each site is an opportunity to create a better landscape, where rare and endangered species can thrive – from wetlands and reedbeds to heathland and grassland, with hedgerows and many types of woodland. In total, MPA members have already created over 83 sq km of priority habitat with a further 110 sq km pledged in approved restoration plans.

Today more than 80 restored quarries make up the MPA’s ‘virtual’ national nature park. Restoration work has also spawned long-standing partnerships with numerous well-known conservation organisations, many of whom take over the running of restored sites as nature reserves for all to enjoy.

This unique ability to create areas for nature to thrive has taken on a whole new perspective since the introduction of the Government’s new Environment Bill which – amongst other things – will oblige all new developments in England to deliver an overall increase – a ‘net gain’ – in biodiversity.

No other industry comes close to being able to achieve this – indeed, the mineral products sector was restoring land to enhance nature decades before the term ‘net gain’ was coined. No surprise then that the MPA was the first trade association to publish a biodiversity strategy.

So in October 2021 the MPA will celebrate 50 years since the industry’s first restoration awards, showcasing the variety of ways in which former quarries are restored for the benefit of wildlife and people alike. It’s essential for the industry to recognise the exceptional achievements to date and celebrate the quarry managers, planning managers, restoration managers and their teams who continue to deliver a longstanding legacy.