Quarrying is almost as old as settlement in the British Isles. Early settlers used stone for building shelters, defensive works and burial mounds. Demand for stone increased over the centuries as populations grew and economic development occurred. Quarrying limestone, for example, is big business in the Yorkshire Dales today, because limestone has so many uses. About 5 million tonnes of the rock are extracted each year from quarries located within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Quarrying has two major advantages:
- It provides the raw materials for the huge (and increasing) demand for building, road construction, cement manufacture and sea defences
- It is a major source of employment for people in upland areas where few other employment opportunities exist.
Unfortunately, quarrying is an example of non sustainable activity. It involves removing natural resources from the ground to be used up and not replaced; they will not be available for future generations. The disadvantages of quarrying are a mixture of environmental, economical and social.
Disadvantages of quarrying
Before the quarrying starts-
- Wildlife habitats are destroyed as the site is cleared.
- Other economic activities, such as farming, must stop
- Giant earth movers cause a noise problem- sometimes day and night.
Whilst the quarry is working-
- Buildings are unsightly and waste tips are eyesores.
- There is noise and dust every working day.
- Blasting the rock face creates a great scar in the hillside or a large hole in the ground (or both).
- Heavy lorry traffic is a danger and disturbance along rural roads and passing through villages.
After work ceases
- A large, ugly scar is left on the landscape.
- Ponds used for water storage may be left behind.
- Surface drainage in the local area is disturbed.
Reducing the negative effects of quarrying
Planners and local authorities have an important role to play in placing controls upon the commercial quarry companies, who are really only interested in making the largest profits.
A full consideration of likely environmental effects is needed before planning permission is given and work begins.
Planning authorities can restrict the size of the quarry, insist the buildings and waste tips are screened by trees in areas of great scenic beauty, limit noisy operations like blasting to certain times and impose binding commitments for cleaning up the site after work finishes.
After several years of working, it is common for extraction companies to extend the quarry, driven by strong commercial interests, as well as economic need due to continuing demand for the natural resource. The authorities need to be vigilant and check regularly that the planing restrictions are not being 'overlooked' by these companies.
Alternatives after quarrying stops
The most environmentally friendly action is for the quarrying company to fill the hole and replace the topsoil- in order to leave the land looking similar to the way it looked before the work began. Trees, grass and shelter belts can be planted to landscape the land.This is an example of reclamation: the land has been reclaimed from quarrying to be used again for farming and other rural land uses. Usually this is only possible where the quarry is too small and the company is forced to abide by strict planning rules. It is an expensive option.
Large holes and old quarries are convenient places for the disposal of waste. This is landfill, a cheap and easy way to dispose of waste. From time to time large machines are used to level off and compact the waste that has been tipped into the hole. When full, the land can be reclaimed for other uses such as forestry, farming or recreation, although it is rarely very productive. The land never seems to look natural. Disposal of waste in landfill sites needs to be managed carefully, otherwise it may contaminate the land and water courses, and become a hazard to health of the people living in the area.
Two large quarries in the UK have attracted special uses. The glass domes of the Eden Centre, which house plants from different world environments, are in a china-clay quarry in Cornwall. The large Bluewater out-of-town shopping centre, east of London, is built in an old quarry, in a part of the UK where new building land is in short supply.
CASE STUDY- Limestone quarrying and Hope cement wo
The village of Castleton grew due to its closeness to lead mines. Some of the limestone caves and caverns in the region that now attract thousands of visitors each year, such as Blue John and Speedwell Caverns, had previously been used by miners.
The railway line, which gives access with a station in Hope, was also part of Britain's mining history because it was built to transport salt from Cheshire to Sheffield just before the end of the 19th century.
Tourists first arrived in the area by train, but road access is now much more important. Although there are still several farms in the area, many people make at least a part-time living from tourism, in hotels, bed and breakfasts, camp sites, cafes, pubs and shops. The Hope quarry and cement works, however, is the largest single employer in this area. Some 300 people are employed, nearly all of whom live locally.
Without the works, many more people could be forced to commute by road to towns and cities outside the Park, particularly Manchester and Sheffield.