At a ceremony held at the Royal Society in London on 14 October hosted by BBC Country File’s Helen Skelton, Smiths picked up a top award for the quality of its work on biodiversity and nature conservation at its Gill Mill Quarry in the Windrush Valley. 

As a reminder this is now the third national award that Smiths have been awarded, following on from the Rushy Common and Ardley North Quarry awards. Impressive facts for the local family-owned Oxfordshire business quarry company especially when you consider that Smiths are competing with the largest companies in its industry, 

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) Biodiversity Awards are judged in association with Natural England and the RSPB and the company was the overall winner of the “Planned” category for its new quarry extension to Gill Mill Quarry. 

The restoration plan creates 120 hectares of priority habitats including one of the largest reedbeds in southern England. It will also include extensive new public access and a number of eco-lodges to benefit the local economy and provide revenue for sustainable management of the resulting nature reserve. 

The judges were particularly impressed by the scale and ambition of the project, and that the design reflects the views of conservation bodies, the local community, the local authority and the Ministry of Defence. The site lies under the flightpath of RAF Brize Norton and the extensive reedbed will help to reduce the risk of birdstrike for aircraft while providing habitat for rare species including bittern, water vole and otter. The scheme also reflects the need to conserve existing habitats of biodiversity and cultural value, and make a landscape-scale contribution to the wider Windrush Valley strategy through the Lower Windrush Valley Project whilst also helping flood management downstream of Witney. 

Once complete, the restoration at Gill Mill will deliver one of the largest connected priority wildlife habitats in Southern England. 

Martin Layer said; “I am delighted for the company that the work we have carried out in consultation and partnership with so many local organisations over the past 5 years has been recognised by this prestigious national award. We will now continue our work with the RSPB, the local authorities and our neighbouring communities to further enrich the biodiversity value of this part of West Oxfordshire.” 

Many congratulations to all those people involved. 
Please follow the link to see the event highlights.
f you wish to see the Gill Mill video showing full details of the future of the Gill Mill quarry please click here.

In conjunction with this award Smiths would like to announce that they have become Gold corporate members of the RSPB. The RSPB has been very influential in the decisions regarding the bird life and their habitats for the restored and the restoring of our quarries. No more so than the Gill Mill restoration where the partnership will now continue as the scheme that has been planned on paper has now got to be delivered on the ground. The expertise of the RSPB will be essential in helping Smiths people at Gill Mill progressively build one of the largest reed beds in southern England on the back of sand and gravel extraction.


Ardley North Award

Smiths Ardley North Quarry wins top Biodiversity Innovation Award from the Mineral Products Association.

MPA Restoration and Biodiversity Awards 2013

Courtesy of the Mineral Products Association

On Wednesday 16 October 2013, the Mineral Products Association (MPA) held its prestigious Restoration and Biodiversity Awards at the Royal Society in London.

The event, which had the theme 'Realising the Potential...Progress and Partnership', celebrated the excellent work MPA member companies are undertaking, showcasing some of the best examples of quarry restoration and wildlife conservation anywhere in Europe.

DEFRA Minister, Lord de Mauley, paid tribute to the industry for its biodiversity work, along with several other speakers from conservation groups who highlighted the value of working in partnership. These speakers included Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts; Paul Lambert, Executive Director, Natural England; Gill Perkins, Conservation Manager, Bumblebee Conservation Trust; and Jeremy Biggs, Director, Freshwater Habitats Trust.

A full room of almost 200 delegates attended the event, which comprised over 50 environmental and other stakeholder organisations, along with those from industry, Government departments, academia and local authorities. Sybil Ruscoe, an experienced journalist most recently associated with the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme, expertly hosted the proceedings, where live presentations were complemented by on-screen video footage of the winning sites. The sponsors’ exhibition provided an excellent arena for networking before and afterwards.

The longstanding MPA Restoration Awards were announced alongside the MPA Biodiversity Awards, with the latter divided into three categories: Landscape Scale Restoration, in association with Natural England; Innovation; and Individual Contribution.

Smith & Sons (Bletchington) Ltd / Environmental Solutions through Partnership (ESP) Ltd
Location: Oxfordshire

Ardley North Quarry was operated by Smith & Sons (Bletchington) Limited from 2004 until limestone aggregate extraction ceased in 2010.

In recognition of the site’s geological heritage, which includes two Geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the initial restoration objectives were altered to conserve and enhance these features, whilst proactively seeking to increase biodiversity.  The Ardley Trackway’s SSSI is a layer of rock strata beneath the quarry floor, imprinted with dinosaur footprints. The Ardley Cutting SSSI is a limestone exposure formed by the railway, located adjacent to the site. By working closely with Natural England, both SSSIs have been preserved for future generations to appreciate.

Smiths and their landscape consultants, ESP Ltd, used Pond Conservation’s ‘Aggregates Pond Creation Toolkit’ (now know as the Freshwater Habitats Trust) to adapt their restoration scheme in 2009.  This included creating a series of overflowing ponds, which not only attenuate surface water and reduce erosion, but also enhance biodiversity. The ponds vary in profile, from shallow gradated shorelines to rocky faces, from permanent water to seasonally dry islands and shores. These features create a diversity of aquatic and marginal habitats for a range of potential species, including invertebrates, crustaceans (such as the white-clawed crayfish), wildfowl and waders. Importantly, the ponds feed into a wider aquatic network through a specially created rock weir, cut into the limestone ridge of the geological SSSI with the permission of Natural England. This allows water to flow into the adjacent site’s pools known to support colonies of Great Crested Newts, developing new habitat linkages.

The brash side slopes of the quarry have been left to naturally regenerate and the upper parts of the quarry floor restored and seeded to unimproved pasture. Furthermore, a nearby badger’s sett has been monitored and preserved during the restoration to prevent disturbance to foraging grounds.

Clink on the link below for the general MPA award page.

Biodiversity Award for Oxfordshire Quarrying Company


An Oxfordshire-based quarry operator has been rewarded by the Mineral Products Association (MPA) for its substantial commitment to the cause of biodiversity.

Smith & Sons (Bletchington) Ltd was one of four of smaller and medium-sized operators to receive special awards at MPA’s Building on our legacy … realising our potential event in London today (19 October). The company’s head office is at Enslow and it has a major sand and gravel quarry at Gill Mill, Ducklington, near Witney.

At the same event, Smiths also won a commendation in the Natural England Biodiversity Awards for its newly-opened Rushy Common Nature Reserve which has been restored as part of the ongoing operation at Gill Mill.

The biodiversity commitment award was presented to Andrew Smith, Joint Managing Director, and Martin Layer, Estates Manager at Smith & Sons (Bletchington) Ltd, by MPA Chief Executive Nigel Jackson who said: “Smiths’ commitment to biodiversity is clearly evidenced by the excellent work the company has carried out at Rushy Common Nature Reserve. Their restoration of the site has enhanced biodiversity by creating a mosaic of new habitats that includes grassland, thorn scrub, ditch areas, species rich native hedgerow, a lake and two ponds. The site significantly benefits the local community and wildlife.”

In addition to its conservation work at Gill Mill, Smiths is closely involved in the Lower Windrush Valley Project which is creating greatly increased public access. It is also working closely with the Oxford-based charity Pond Conservation on pioneering work which will see ponds incorporated into many more quarry restorations across the UK.

Helen Phillips, Chief Executive Natural England, told guests: “There are countless inspiring examples of what happens when restoration and conservation are planned into the early stages of mineral extraction and the Minerals Products Association Awards are a great way of highlighting the efforts that have been made. I am delighted to be able to recognise the commitment, knowledge and enthusiasm for wildlife shown by the high standard of entries and the dedication shown by so many of MPA’s members.”

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) represents around 90 per cent of the mineral products industry. Its members manage or control an area of land of over 115 square miles - equivalent to a small National Park. This includes at least two National Nature Reserves, 22 local nature reserves, 15 field study and education centres and 13 nature trails. The RSPB estimates that the industry could, on its own, deliver UK biodiversity targets for nine out of 11 priority habitats.

Other figures revealed during the event included:

  With 1,300 active sites across the UK, 56,000 hectares of the minerals industry estate is potentially suitable for restoration to priority habitats as defined in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).

  The industry is leading the way in restoring the population of the previously declining bittern by “hosting” 15 per cent of the UK’s breeding pairs in reed beds created following quarrying22 minerals sites have to date been certified by the externally assessed Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark.

  Operators are now routinely creating, and committing to long-term management of threatened habitats, making a significant contribution to delivering national and local biodiversity action plan targets.

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