First survey completed of one of rarest plant habitats in Europe

This is an archived press release

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Spring sandwort on an old lead-mine landscape in Tansley Dale near Litton.The first detailed survey of one of the rarest plant habitats in Europe – around old lead mines – has just been completed in the Peak District.

With only 100 hectares of these old lead-mine habitats in the UK, and fewer than 20 hectares in Derbyshire, they are of international conservation importance. Their metallic soils – toxic to most plants – support rare metallophyte species such as alpine penny-cress and spring sandwort, both known locally as leadwort.

The survey, together with conservation work, was carried out by the Peak District National Park Authority, Natural England and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, supported by nearly £50,000 from SITA Trust’s Landfill Communities Fund.*

National Park ecologist Rebekah Newman explained: “Derbyshire’s lead-mining heritage dates back hundreds of years, and though it died out in the 19th century, it has left a unique landscape in the White Peak – important for wildlife, archaeology, cultural history and geology.

“This is the first detailed ecological survey of what we call calaminarian grasslands, and provides up-to-date information that should ensure these rare habitats are given appropriate recognition.

“The records will be used to make better-informed planning decisions and to support farmers’ applications for agri-environment schemes that would help protect these important sites. The survey has also guided conservation measures such as scrub clearance, fencing and tree removal last winter to enhance the plants’ survival.

“Our lead-mining landscape contains a complex mix of grassland types. In spring and summer their colours, textures and scents transform a derelict landscape into areas of great beauty and diversity.

“As well as metallophytes, other rare plants include the nationally threatened maiden pink, frog orchid and mossy saxifrage. And there are unusual invertebrates such as orchid beetle and the slender-footed robberfly.

“These precious habitats face several threats, both man-made and natural, and we hope the survey will encourage their protection. Once lost, these plants may never return.”

The project’s conservation work involved contractors, landowners and volunteers including BTCV at Black Rocks near Wirksworth, National Trust volunteers at Odin Mine near Castleton and Eyam Guides at Highcliffe Mine on Eyam Edge.

Lead ore is found in veins (or “rakes”) running through the limestone, and a typical lead-rake landscape is full of grassy hillocks and hollows formed by spoil heaps left by the miners.

Lead mining was a key factor in the Peak District’s economic and social history. Britain was Europe’s main source of lead up to the 19th century, and the Peak District was one of the main orefields.

The picture shows spring sandwort on an old leadmine landscape in Tansley Dale near Litton.

*SITA Trust

SITA Trust is an independent funding body set up in 1997 to provide funding through the Landfill Communities Fund. To date SITA Trust has supported more than 3300 projects to a combined value of over £93 million.

Enhancing Communities - SITA Trust funding enhances communities in England, Scotland and Wales by supporting community driven projects to improve vital public recreation facilities such as village halls, community centres, sport, heritage, green spaces and play areas.

Enriching Nature - SITA Trust funding enriches nature by supporting biodiversity conservation projects in England’s 9 Biodiversity Regions. Projects must focus on species or habitats identified in the UK BAP process.

The Landfill Communities Fund

SITA Trust receives its funding through HM Government’s Landfill Communities Fund. Funding is donated by SITA UK, one of the nation’s largest recycling and resource management companies.

1. Landfill tax was introduced in 1996 to encourage more sustainable ways of managing waste.
2. The landfill tax legislation also brought about the Landfill Communities Fund. This scheme allows landfill operators to voluntarily donate 6.8% of their landfill tax liability to environmental improvement projects.
3. The Landfill Communities Fund is independently regulated on behalf of HM Government’s Revenue & Customs by ENTRUST.

For information on how to apply for funding from SITA Trust call (01454) 262910 or visit

This is an archived press release

Share this page