I’m lucky to live in one of the leafier parts of Leeds, and there is a reasonable amount of green space within an hour’s walk from my home. Yesterday I made my first visit to one such area: Clayton Woods, which turned out to be much more interesting than I was expecting. The woods themselves are pleasant enough to walk through – small dirt tracks weaving through trees and speckled with boulders. There is enough tree cover that the sound from the nearby road is almost blotted out. However, what was most fascinating was what lies at the centre: an abandoned quarry. I had heard about this quarry, but there doesn’t seem to be much information on it aside from a small number of mentions on web forums about the Leeds area. I thought it was worth trying to pull some of that information together here in one place.
History of Woodside Quarry
The quarry is commonly referred to as “Briggs Quarry”, presumably because it was owned and managed by A. R. Briggs, who also ran a number of other mining and extraction sites in the area. However, the formal name is “Woodside Quarry”. The quarry covers around 20 hectares (0.2sqkm, 200,000sqm, or about 28 football fields) and is surrounded by ancient woodland (i.e. woodland that has existed continuously since at least AD1600, hence the name). There is also a Bronze Age stone circle in the north-east corner, which is a scheduled monument of national importance, and a railway line to the south-west which is subject to occasional vandalism. Here’s an aerial photograph (courtesy of and copyright of Google, I think produced using Landsat data) and a current Ordnance Survey map (courtesy of the Ordnance Survey © Crown Copyright and Database Right 2014. An Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service):
The site was designed to extract sandstone formed from the Carboniferous millstone grit that covers much of the area (some details here) and the two ponds near the south-east edge are (I think) the original excavations for the quarry. They have been fishing ponds for quite a few years and are very deep (16-18 feet, apparently). I cannot find a date for the start of the quarrying but the image above shows an A.R.Briggs truck in the 1930s (courtesy of Leodis, copyright Leeds Library & Information Services), and the site was certainly active through the 1950s (an anecdotal account of blasting) and 1960s (a catalogue of stone suppliers). The site was actively quarried through to sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s and then abandoned, but I cannot find a reason why. At that point, according to a local resident (“jonleeds”, from whom I have obtained a lot of this info!), the whole site gradually became overgrown and “a real urban oasis for all kinds of plant and animal wildlife”.
At some stage around 2004-5, the Burford Group (perhaps this Burford Group, which is an international investment fund specialising in legal issues) purchased the site along with a portion of the ancient woodland surrounding it. In November 2005, Burford began a consultation with residents over a proposed £100m development of the site to include residential and commercial uses (details here from 2005, here and here from 2007, and here form 2011) as well as a new rail station. Apparently Burford embarked on an extensive campaign of scrub clearance which stripped the site back to bare rock in most places (this is the current state over most of the area) in preparation to begin a development that would involve a large number of houses, flats, a hotel, pub, and many shops. Burford has offered to donate the ancient woodland portion of the site to Leeds Council should the development go ahead. A desk-based archaeological survey performed by Burford showed that there were a number of known (and potentially some unknown) impacts on the archaeology of the area. However, it seems that nothing has progressed since around 2007 when local councillors objected to Burford’s plans on the basis that the site would make an excellent park-and-ride site, that the land was earmarked by the Council for offices, not residential space, and that it would cause major traffic issues in an already busy area. A number of proposed developments received little support from government (see links above), and no doubt the economic downturn has harmed Burford’s ability to develop the site.
In 2010 outline permission was granted on the site, although a note states that “Constraints too costly to deal with. Outline consent for a housing-led mixed use “urban village” granted March 2010. Not suitable for B2-B8 next to residential.” So it looks as though the application has been provisionally accepted. The B2-B8 refers to certain industrial land uses.
Wildlife in the quarry
Surprisingly, I have been unable to find a copy of any environmental impact assessments for the area. If anybody knows the reference for the planning application then I should be able to access those from the Leeds City Council website, but I can’t find them anywhere… Regardless, there are mentions of a number of interesting plants and animals at the site. Great crested and common newts (Triturus cristatus and Lissotriton vulgaris, respectively) have both been seen at the site by a local enthusiast (jonleeds, who posted his sighting on the Secret Leeds forum). It seems that this was confirmed and that Burford constructed three mitigation ponds for the newts on the opposite side of the railway line (see photos to the right, copyright of Google as usual). As jonleeds later notes, the collapse of the Burford development now means that the original site was not lost so the newts have done pretty well out of the situation!
I have already mentioned that the ponds in Clayton Woods close to the quarry have been fished for a long time for carp, and it seems that a Botanical Society of the British Isles field trip found a few interesting species (Geranium dalmaticum, possibly new to Britain in a wild situation. Corylus maxima, in both green and purple forms, and the moorland crowfoot, Ranunculus omiophyllus, which apparently was a surprise considering the low altitude. I have not been able to find any data on other groups.
What happens now?
At the time of writing, it looks as though the site is mired in political discussions over what to do next. The Burford Group’s plans don’t seem to appeal to the local Council, but there don’t seem to have been any additional moves. In the meantime, the site is gradually working back to a semi-natural state and probably still contains newt populations (the small wetlands are good spring/summer habitat and the rocky scree slopes are excellent overwintering habitat). It is a shame that the area could not be reclaimed for a nature park, as quarries often are, as it would fill-in that area of ancient woodland nicely while providing a large area of green space for surrounding residents. For the time being, though, it will remain the domain of bikers and dog walkers. Here are some photos I took, and I’ll try to head out during the summer to do an informal survey of the insect fauna: