Setting off down Quarry Lane: early thoughts on my forthcoming study of access management to ubiquitous voids

This blog gives a glimpse of my forthcoming study of how current and former quarry sites are physically managed from the point of view of their owner’s liability concerns about recreational users.

Noticing quarries

“If you went too near the edge of the chalk pit the ground would give way. Barney had been told that often enough. Everybody told him…Barney had a feeling, somewhere in his middle, that it was probably true…[but] today was one of those grey days when there was nothing to do, nothing to play, and nowhere to go. Except the chalk pit. The dump.  Barney got through the rickety fence and went to the edge of the pit. This had been the side of the hill once…men had come to dig away chalk and left this huge hole in the earth…and then they got tired of digging, or somebody had told them to stop before they dug away all the hill. And now they didn’t know what to do with this empty hole and they were trying to fill it up again. Anything people didn’t want they threw into the bottom of the pit.” (from the opening scene from Clive King’s children’s story Stig of the Dump (1993) first published in 1963.)

According to there are 64 “Quarry Lanes” across the length and breadth of the UK. To be honest, I thought there would be more. Look closely at any Ordnance Survey map and you will find recorded active and disused quarries, chalk, gravel & brick pits, adits and deep mineworkings scattered liberally across the landscape from remote rural, to coastal to urban areas.

Quarries made cities

Our cities were built from these mineral excavations. In my adopted home city of Sheffield, a 1905 map of the urban/rural fringe of the city shows eight active quarries within a one square mile sample area at the brink of the city. Many of these quarries are no longer apparent in my local landscape, but some still are, either as fenced off, abandoned  ‘broken’ zones, or as commons and playing fields littered with the occasional discarded off-spec stone slab or the sudden precipice of the quarry’s former ‘highwall’. Sheffield, at the gateway to the Peak District and its world-class (to climbers and millers) gritstone and limestone outcrops may have slightly more of these features than normal, but only slightly.

Meanwhile, a 1903 map of the city centre shows me two brick works (and attendant clay pits) and two quarries within what was then already a very densely urbanised area. Many of such historic workings have since been infilled as convenient sites for waste disposal and/or developed into out of town shopping centres, like Bluewater in Kent (a former chalk quarry). But that erasure is becoming less common – as the UK’s waste disposal habits are wrenched away from landfill by the EU Landfill Directive 1999 (99/31/EU). But quarries are ‘wasting assets’. They are valuable during their working lives, but often fail to find after-uses due to awkward geology, contamination or location. Operators may in the future (as in the past) struggle to find the financial resources, or inclination to erase the ‘quarry-ness’ of the site. With the decline in waste-disposal as afteruse, we may see more quarry sites ‘restored’ in ways that preserve their man-made voids and precipices.

Studying quarry management

I’m in the early stages of a research project that will foreground mineral voids (both abandoned and active) and seek to examine how the owners and managers of those sites perceive and manage them. In particular, I want to explore the relationship between the managers’ perceptions of liabilities and what the law may require of them in terms of safety and site access control, and the embodied, physical arrangement of these places.

The Occupiers Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984, which in turn impose certain duties of care towards invited visitors and trespassers, hold occupiers responsible for providing (in summary) a level of safety that is ‘reasonable in the circumstances’. I’m interested in how quarry owners work out, on a day to day level, what is reasonable provision, and what experiences and networks help shape the practical interpretation and implementation of what the law (in abstract) seeks.

I also want to examine the practical effect (if any) of the distinctions that the law draws between the level of safety provision required for ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ structures. Quarries seem to be a hybrid. Quarrying creates man-made cliffs and man-made lakes. Does the law require more careful custodianship of such facsimile cliffs and lakes even if the level of danger posed by them is the same as their equivalents formed by glaciation or other natural processes? If so, how does the law explain this distinction? And what do the quarry managers think about it?

Studying quarry owners & recreational access

My study will look at the interaction between physical site management practices (site access rules, security, fencing, signage, landscaping) and owners’ and managers’ interpretations of their legal duties towards those visiting quarries with or without their permission.

Such visitors might include: dog walkers, ramblers, bird watchers, fell runners, archaeologists, geologists, fossil hunters, Dr Who fans, film makers, pagans, school parties, climbers, free swimmers, tomb stoners, divers, climbers, abseilers, pot-holers, mountain bikers, trail bikers, quad bikers, children at play, urban explorers, protestors, vandals, fly-tippers, thieves and/or terrorists…

My study will seek to understand how quarry owners and managers find, frame and circulate practical ways of implementing an ‘acceptable’ level of safety provision for such ‘visitors’, how residual risks are regarded, whether notions of blame and participant-responsibility are invoked, and how their attitudes and practices differ across the diverse range of individuals and groups who might wish to gain access to their sites.

I’m anticipating that the study will take about three years (I’m doing this in an occasional basis), with the following phases and outputs:

  • Phase 1 – Spring 2012 to Summer 2015– desk study review of case law, legislation, existing research, accident data.
  • Phase 2 – Summer 2012 – case study review of climb sites in former quarries owned or managed by the British Mountaineering Council.
  • Phase 3 – Autumn 2013 to Summer 2015 – engagement with a diversity of owners and managers of active and disused quarries across the UK, reporting thereafter.

The project is ‘non-aligned’ in the sense that it seeks to encourage engagement from across the stakeholder groups. It is grounded in my own practical experience of having advised mine, quarry and landfill site owners upon the self-evident physical dangers that exist on these sites when I was a practicing environmental lawyer, together with my experiences over the last five years in researching the motives and methods of a variety of enthusiast groups seeking access to similar  ‘interesting’ (but also potentially dangerous) places.

Therefore it is a continuation of my work on case-study based investigation of the role of ‘interpretive communities’ in framing how the law’s requirement for a ‘reasonable’ level of safety provision is constructed locally and collaboratively. My previous studies have explored this in the following situations:

  • Cemetery managers, the bereaved and gravestone stability testing
  • Tree owners and the contentious evolution of tree safety inspection standards
  • Countryside landowners’ anxieties about recreational access
  • The role of tradition and inherited signage in the management of a public house’s grounds
  • The evolution of judges’ attitudes towards child trespassers over the last 100 years
  • The motives and patterns of metal theft inflicted upon premises and infrastructure
  • The role of practical risk-benefit appraisal of derelict site management by built environment students
  • The means, motives and methods of urban explorers (with particular reference to abandoned Royal Observer Corps monitoring bunkers)

Details of these studies and of my collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders are available at

I am not in a position to publically name the Government agencies, mining and quarrying and industrial companies that I advised on quarry related matters whilst working at Morgan Cole (1990-2000) or Nabarro Nathanson (2000-2007), suffice to say that during my career in practice as an environmental lawyer I had involvement in coal privatisation, appraisal of quarry sites in receivership, selling operational mines and waste sites, advising on quarry and landfill operation and after-use schemes and on mining subsidence issues.

Organisations I have collaborated with since joining Sheffield Hallam University in 2007 have included the Countryside Recreation Network (specifically the Forestry Commission, Sport Northern Ireland and Scottish Natural Heritage); the Arboricultural Association; the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the British Mountaineering Council.

Why am I blogging this now?

This is an initial announcement, aimed at starting to create a profile for this project (and to clarify its aim). In due course I will be seeking out stakeholders in the hope that they will be prepared to share their views (and some of their sites) with me (particularly at Phase 3). All expressions of interest, curiosity or concern can be directed to me at

My study is relatively small scale in aim and design. It will take 18 to 24 months because I will be undertaking it alongside my ‘day job’ teaching built environment law to construction, surveying and environmental management students at Sheffield Hallam University.


About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

2 Responses to Setting off down Quarry Lane: early thoughts on my forthcoming study of access management to ubiquitous voids

  1. DrHG says:

    Very interesting. You might like to look at work by some of my colleagues at Exeter.

    Caitlin DeSilvey, I believe she has done some work on quarries

    Her PhD student David Paton certainly has: This is his blog:

    There are plenty of links here with industrial archaeology too.

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