In 1994 Hanson Aggregates, one of the UK's biggest construction materials businesses, was granted planning approval to commence sand and gravel extraction at Needingworth quarry in Cambridgeshire. The original intention was to progressively return the site to agricultural use, however during the course of the planning negotiations an alternative nature conservation scheme was suggested by English Nature, the RSPB, Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust, Countryside Commission and Environment Agency
The creation of new wetlands has been identified as a national priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, endorsed by government. They are needed to safeguard threatened birds such as the bittern (pictured on the right), reduced to 13 booming males in the UK in 1998, and to provide new habitat to off-set projected future loses of international important coastal wetlands through coastal erosion accelerated by sea level rise.
The site provides an exceptional opportunity to create a 700-hectare wetland, incorporating 460 hectares of reed bed representing 40% of the UK's target for reed bed, and to demonstrate best practice in implementing a planning consent for extraction and restoration to nature conservation. The site will be managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in a phased handover lasting the next 30 years to become the Ouse Fen Nature Reserve.