The annual visit of a herd of goats at Riddlesdown Common saw half a dozen nannies released last week to graze the steep slopes of the old quarry.
“The quarry is an amazing habitat with chalk wildflowers, reptiles and butterflies but its steep slopes and thick scrub bring unique challenges for grazing livestock,” rangers from City Commons, who manage the open space, said.
“Luckily these goats are very much up to the task and made little time getting into the thick scrub on the quarry top.”
The quarry is part of the Riddlesdown Site of Special Scientific Interest, or SSSI, and has a staggering amount of rare plants including greater yellow-rattle, round-leaved wintergreen and common rockrose, all supported by the thin quarry soils and grassland managed through grazing.
Riddlesdown Quarry’s unusual geological structure was recognised as long ago as the 17th century. Caleb Evans, who founded the Geologists’ Association of London in 1857, studied the limestone formations of this area extensively and wrote the first scientific work by an Englishman of the fossils and limestone structures in a paper On some Sections of Chalk between Croydon and Oxted.
Today, the quarry is considered to be the best remaining example of its kind in London. In the 18th century locals simply helped themselves to the chalk. In 1820, the quarry was mined commercially by the Riddlesdown Lime Works, with chalk heated in kilns. When labour was short during the Second World War, prisoners of war assisted in production, which in later years was run by the Blue Circle Cement Company.
The commercial quarry closed in 1967, when the City of London Corporation bought the site.
The area of meadowland at the summit of the quarry is part of the Sanderstead to Whyteleafe Countryside Area and is jointly owned by Tandridge council, Croydon and the Whitgift Foundation. It supports rare wildflowers like the bee orchid, yellow rattle and horseshoe vetch.
Ground-nesting skylarks are found there in the spring and summer, a rare habitat for them as modern farming practices reduce their potential nesting sites.
City Commons is the part of the City of London Corporation which manages large tracts of open space in and around Croydon, including parts of Coulsdon, Kenley, parts of Sanderstead, all the way towards Purley, much of which has now been given status as the South London Downs National Nature Reserve.
The Downlands Partnership delivers an extensive conservation grazing programme at 24 locations across Surrey and what it calls “the adjoining urban fringe areas of Croydon and Sutton”, including sites in Banstead, Caterham, Chipstead, New Addington and Woldingham.
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