Ashwell Quarry Nature Reserve

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Ashwell Quarry Nature Reserve' page
Photo:Blue alkanet plant at Ashwell Quarry

Blue alkanet plant at Ashwell Quarry

Photo:Pyramid orchid at Ashwell Quarry

Pyramid orchid at Ashwell Quarry

Hinxworth Road


Dating from mediaeval times, the quarry is an ancient hole in the ground.  Some of the better ‘Totternhoe’ stone was used for early repairs to St Mary’s church and in the 1840s it was known as ‘the clunch pit’ – clunch being a chalky material mixed with straw, manure etc and used to infill walls of barns and older houses in the village.


Later in the 1800s the pit was used as a sheepfold at night and it was the grazing by sheep which helped to create ideal conditions for wild flowers which thrive in dry, chalky soils.  These plants have long taproots, leaves which form rosettes, less likely to be eaten off, and flowers which mature quickly, to avoid being grazed before they have produced seed.  Prolonged sheep grazing produces sward comprised mostly of flowering plants rather than grasses – a very special wildlife habitat, now rare in southern Britain.


Quarrying and sheep grazing ceased in the early 1900s. 


Another landowner kept chickens in three huts and used the pit to graze horses and donkeys in the early 1930s but thorn and elder bushes soon started to take over, along with nettles, thistles and bramble.  Much of the open, dry and sunny grassland was lost and so were the flowers and butterflies.


Local amateur botanists came to the rescue in the late 1960s and persuaded the landowner to allow the pit to become a nature reserve.  This happened in 1970 and, since then, volunteers have been working to restore the pit to its former glory.

Ashwell Quarry is still owned by a local farmer and continues to be managed on behalf of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust by local voluntary wardens – with help!


This page was added on 11/01/2011.
Comments about this page

It would be nice to know if the general public can visit and enjoy the reserve.

By Mike Straneg
On 11/04/2011

Access to the reserve is restricted, however all you need is a permit from the warden. Look up the Herts and Middx Wildlife Trust site for more details:

By Peter Greener
On 11/04/2011

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