Viewing the benches at Whatley Quarry, a major aggregate supplier in Somerset
Viewing the benches at Whatley Quarry in Somerset
Viewing the benches at Whatley Quarry in Somerset

The Impacts of Quarrying

The scale and technical proficiency of the modern quarrying means that it can have a major, potentially destructive, impact on archaeological remains and can result in significant harm to the significance of nearby heritage assets. But quarrying also offers rare potential to deliver new knowledge about our historic environment.

Historically, mineral workings have made significant impacts on the historic environment. Not only have aggregate quarries led to loss of archaeological sites, a significant loss of ancient monuments has also resulted from the quarrying of dimension stone for building, open-cast coal mining and the extraction of vein minerals and specialised deposits.

Understanding the impacts

Modern mineral extraction is a highly regulated industry. The planning system plays a central role in assessing what represents a suitable use of land. This includes assessing the potential impacts of mineral extraction on the historic environment. 

Impacts will vary depending on the type and scale of mineral extraction: 

  • There are impacts within the footprint of extraction eg. on archaeological remains.
  • Noise, dust and the vibration caused by the regular passage of HGVs have the potential to damage the fabric of historic buildings, monuments and areas. Such traffic can also diminish our opportunities to enjoy and appreciate these assets.
  • The surface disposal of mineral-working waste can prevent (or reduce) appreciation of historic sites.
  • And inappropriate restoration of former extraction sites can disfigure the historic character of the landscape and compromise the setting of ancient monuments and other historic places.

Nevertheless, as stated above, minerals development can also provide opportunities for the historic environment. There may be opportunities for safeguarding, investigating, maintaining or enhancing the historic environment through minerals planning.

Mitigating the impacts of quarrying

Archaeological evaluation and assessment on mineral extraction sites have made a fundamental contribution to our understanding of the pre-industrial and industrial past.

The impacts of extraction will vary with the methods used and so the approaches to mitigation will also vary.

The most common irreversible impact on the historic environment within an area potential development area is on archaeological remains. The most common off-site impacts are on the significance of the asset in terms of its setting.

To ensure that the relevant authorities can make properly informed decisions on planning applications and any other required consents, it is essential that all potential impacts and their cumulative effects are suitably assessed.

Using a combination of different techniques (as required) can offer a good way to investigate historic sites and landscapes. Dialogue between heritage professionals, including Historic England, mineral planners and the minerals industry ensures that such approaches are carried out, and that mitigation meets appropriate standards.

It’s important that developer-funded investigations have clearly defined objectives. National and regional historic environment research frameworks set the underlying context. Jointly developed strategic approaches (to understanding the significance and distribution of historic sites and landscapes) help to identify significant sites as early as possible in the planning process. This leads to enhanced protection and the most cost-effective deployment of resources by the industry.