Flora of Northern Ireland

Quarries, sand and gravel-pits

Granite quarries like this one in the Mournes are poor habitats for vascular plants.Although entirely artificial, these can be important reservoirs of biodiversity, especially if the rock is a limestone. Working quarries are generally of little interest botanically, but abandoned ones are soon colonised by plants. Generally, the longer the period since abandonment, the richer the flora, but this also depends on the geology and topography.

There is a variety of habitats available for colonisation in old quarries, including the rock face, spoil heaps, ponds or pools (which may develop marshes), and waterfalls. In time heath, scrub and woodland can form. Some quarries are notable for their orchid populations, for instance Ophrys apifera, Anacamptis pyramidalis and Dactylorhiza purpurella are all found in a few chalk quarries. Spoil heaps and bare ground are home to the several introduced plants such as Buddleia davidii, Centranthus ruber, Hebe salicifolia and various Cotoneaster species.

Abandoned chalk quarries above Carnlough, Co AntrimThe rock faces mimic those of natural cliffs, but their flora is much poorer because of the slow rate of colonisation.

The pools in quarries gradually fill with a fen-like vegetation, which may in turn develop willow and alder carr.