The UK’s largest quarry-to-reedbed restoration project continues delivering for wildlife on a nationally important scale

A three-decade long project to transform a Cambridgeshire quarry into a wetland nature haven, is on course to reach its lofty ambitions and support threatened wildlife.

5 min read
Great Bittern, adult moving through reeds

This huge project to create one of the biggest reedbeds in the UK was started in 2001 and will see RSPB Ouse Fen nature reserve, north of Cambridge, grow to the size of nearly 980 football pitches by the end of the project. 

In the last 20 years the site has become important for reedbed wildlife and has seen rare species such as the secretive Bittern, known for its loud ‘booming’ song during breeding season, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit move in to the newly created reedbed, as well as providing a home for Otters, Water Voles and 22 different species of dragonfly. 

More than half complete, this thriving new wetland is being carefully created by the phased restoration of Needingworth Quarry. Sand and gravel from the quarry is extracted for use by the construction industry. The quarry operator, initially Heidelberg Materials (formerly Hanson UK) and now Brice Aggregates, is gradually handing the restored wetland over to the RSPB which will manage it as a haven for wetland wildlife to shelter, breed and feed in. In total, so far 16 million tonnes of aggregates have been quarried from the site to make way for wetland habitat.  

Marsh Harrier, adult male bringing in nesting material to reedbed nest

Local people have donated thousands of hours volunteering – putting on their wellies to wade in the water and hand-plant reeds, while residents of nearby villages have used their local knowledge to map and promote circular walks to the site where they can connect with nature.   

Eventually when the project is fully complete, Ouse Fen along with its neighbouring RSPB nature reserves; Fen Drayton Lakes and the Ouse Washes, will form a near continuous 3,000ha wetland habitat - around half the size of Ely. 

Chris Hudson, Senior Site Manager at RSPB Ouse Fen said, “We have achieved such a lot here, and we are over the moon at how this long-term project has nurtured endangered wildlife populations, but there is still much more work to do.  

“As we move through the final decade of the project, working with our new partner Brice Aggregates, we plan to build on the outstanding legacy of work with Heidelberg Materials, to finalise our conservation ambition at Ouse Fen - to create one of the biggest reedbeds in the UK and a wonderful wetland wilderness for both wildlife and people to enjoy.” 

Wetland landscape, RSPB Ouse Fen Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire

Oliver Brice, Managing Director of Brice Aggregates said,” The quarrying operations at Needingworth provide vital raw materials to the construction industry across the East of England and East Midlands whilst supporting jobs and economic activity locally. What differentiates this site however is the focus on restoration from the outset and the proactive collaboration between industry and the RSPB.  

“The ongoing creation of Ouse Fen is a long established and exemplary quarry restoration scheme providing a new large scale and nationally significant wetland habitat. We are pleased to be taking over the project from the capable stewardship of Heidelberg Materials and look forward to working with the RSPB to continue delivering benefits for vulnerable wildlife species and local communities alike. It is a harmonious scheme delivering for its many stakeholders.”

To find out more about RSPB Ouse Fen visit  

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