No longer a blot on the landscape
Rubbish dumps across the country are being transformed into tranquil nature reserves and works of art, reports Julie Harding
The oscillating reeds form an impenetrable screen to the pond beyond. Uneven baked clay topped with rye grass leads to the upstanding mane-like beds. Nearby, sunny yellow cowslips bloom among the grasses, performing pendulum swings in the spring breeze. This ocean of yellow is punctuated by a blue bugle and an early purple orchid. A reed warbler repeats its distinct rhythmic song, but its shrill sound is sometimes drowned out by the roar of a mechanical excavator in the far distance and a low-level black-plastic cylinder stands out among the flora.
Although Carymoor has the feel of a longestablished nature reserve, there are reminders that, underneath, 70.6 million cubic feet of compacted waste, to a depth of 50ft, is degrading and giving off enough gas to power 1,500 homes. household waste is still incarcerated nearby.
Opened in 1970, this landfill site near Castle Cary became an eyesore as it swallowed rubbish from the towns and villages of Somerset, until 1996, when it was covered over. Between 2006 and 2014, active landfill sites in the UK have reduced dramatically, from 278 to 160 respectively, as recycling and incineration take precedence. however, with the UK still producing enough rubbish to fill the Albert hall every two hours, that leaves thousands of acres of current sites, as well as open-cast coal mines and other giant, manmade carbuncles, to be turned from a blot to a beautiful panorama.
‘Generally, landfills are covered with rye grass, which is often sheep-grazed,’ explains Rupert Farthing, chief executive of Carymoor environmental Trust, which leases the land from waste company Viridor. ‘Carymoor is unusual in its diversity and number of habitats.’
When the clay cap was placed on top of Carymoor’s heart-shaped 100 acres, encasing mattresses and fridge freezers, the food waste from myriad Sunday roasts, wine bottles, old curtains and clothes, it resembled a moonscape. however, university researchers,
ecologists and volunteers soon moved in and planted neutral grasslands, wildflowers, reed beds and marshy grasslands, hawthorn to make up hedgerows and almost 21 ⁄2 acres of calcareous grassland, in which devil’s-bit scabious, crested dog’s-tail, kidney vetch and ox-eye daisy can today be seen among the grasses.
The environment has been shaped with wildlife in mind. Thirty different species of butterfly have been recorded, including the small blue; the grass snake is a resident, as are slow worms, voles, great crested newts and the occasional harvest mouse. In the summer, when the clover turns one of the meadows a rich red, bumblebees turn up in droves.
‘Landfill is a blank canvas and we can do things at Carymoor in a more experimental way than elsewhere, so there’s a lot going on condensed into a small footprint,’ continues Mr Farthing. ‘That, in part, is thanks to Viridor, which, like some other landfill operators, has been forward-thinking in recognising the biodiversity value of its sites.’
Alison Whitehead, development manager at the Land Trust, points out that, with no one organisation overseeing former blots on the landscape, they are restored to varying degrees, depending on the intentions of the landowner, funds and/or planning conditions—which have been lax in the past.
‘The Land Trust doesn’t provide a shortterm quick fix, but we make sure that the areas we are responsible for are going to be managed in perpetuity,’ notes Miss Whitehead, whose organisation has overseen the landscaping of eight former landfill sites, including the 70-acre Port Sunlight River Park and Northumberlandia, also known as the Lady
of the North. The giant recumbent female near Cramlington, designed as a tourist attraction and wildlife magnet, was the brainchild of landscape designer Charles Jencks.
‘It was an unprecedented civil-engineering job and Charles has almost improved on Nature,’ declares Viscount Ridley, on whose Blagdon estate the sculpture was built.