Quarrying and sustainability

Should quarrying take place in areas of natural beauty such as the Yorkshire Dales National Park?

Pros and cons of quarrying

It is easy to say that quarrying should be prohibited, but this is a complex question without a simple answer. There is a potential conflict between the philosophy of having National Parks and quarrying.

However, when it comes to whether quarrying should be allowed in areas of national beauty, such as the Yorkshire Dales, there are pros and cons.


Dry Rigg quarry

Quarrying is important to the local economy: currently about 2.6 million tonnes per year (2016) is extracted in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and this is worth more than £20 million, based on average quarry gate prices. It also provides employment in an area that may otherwise have a high unemployment rate.

The crags and cliffs of old quarries are used as nesting sites for birds, and rare plants also grow here where sheep and rabbits cannot graze them. The shortage of water on the steep slopes means that certain plants grow here ('xerophytic' plants such as hairy rockcress and rock rose) and ferns colonise damp crevices.


The extraction industry can be visually intrusive. In the past, most quarries were on a small scale and opened for a short period when a barn, house or dry-stone wall had to be constructed. Over time quarries became larger and therefore more visible. Today, many quarry operators have taken significant steps to screen quarry workings with soil or rock but older, upper cliffs are difficult to hide.

The extraction industry creates dust and noise. Water is used to suppress dust; plant or equipment can be enclosed to reduce both dust and noise and screening by soil or rock also reduces noise.

The lorries that carry away the stone add to traffic congestion on narrow roads that were not built for heavy use. Quarry operators will prefer to use rail connections wherever possible.

Environmental management

It is clear that a balance must be maintained and the environment carefully managed. It is for this reason that quarrying in the National Park is carefully controlled and before permission is given for further extraction, high priority is given to safeguarding the landscape.

In some cases the original permission to quarry was given over 50 years ago, at a time when environmental parameters were not given such high importance as they are today and when, immediately after the Second World War, resources for building and manufacturing were in great demand. If these quarries are still active today their permission will have been reviewed and updated.

Most quarrying companies today are fully aware of their responsibilities to the environment, but ultimately they are in business to make a profit and therefore mitigation measures have to be reasonable.

There are many questions that have to be considered, particularly in a National Park:


Swinden quarry

Does the stone have to come from the Yorkshire Dales or is there another economical source?
The stone from the Yorkshire Dales is transported to industry and construction sites across the UK, with just 16 per cent remaining within the county of North Yorkshire. It is quite expensive to move bulk commodities such as this and therefore it is only transported where necessary.

All minerals can only be worked where they naturally occur. This essential resource needs to be extracted from somewhere and that cannot be just anywhere. Wherever it is extracted, it will cause similar environmental impacts.

Closure would just problems from one area to another.

What would happen to the local economy if quarrying were refused?
Closure would result in considerable unemployment and the local economy would be damaged.


Helwith Bridge quarry

Can the quarry be disguised or hidden?
Quarry owners are aware of the importance of the landscape and spend millions of pounds on environmental improvement.

Landscaping is carried out, embankments are built and native broad-leaf trees are planted in an attempt to hide the machinery and quarries. Old machinery are removed at the end of their lives.

Could the quarry be used for the benefit of the local population and tourists once quarrying has ended?
Plans are made to fill or hide quarries as far as possible at the end of their lives. It is sometimes possible to use a restored quarry for the benefit of the local population and tourists, for example by creating a lake for recreation.


How can road congestion be improved?
Most of the stone has to be removed by heavy lorries, so some additional traffic is inevitable. Removal of the stone by train is preferred in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and a considerable investment by one quarry company has recently connected two quarries to the rail network.

To what extent will dust and noise disturb residents and tourists?
Quarries are very dusty and the dust has to be controlled, usually by water. If the dust escapes into the surrounding countryside, it causes pollution by covering the leaves of plants. This prevents photosynthesis. There is also the risk of noise pollution from the quarrying machinery. Quarry owners are aware of the importance of the environment and spend considerable amounts of money on environment protection, improvement and monitoring.

Is pollution of local water courses, ponds, etc. a danger?
Quarrying can cause water pollution, for example through the emission of suspended solids. Consequently, all water emissions from quarries are strictly controlled to reduce the risk.