23 JANUARY 1926, Page 10


QUARRIES, when they arc allowed at last to pass into retirement, undisturbed by the hammering and. blasting of acquisitive men, turn by an easy transition from open-air mines to natural greenhouses. Shrubs and plants of the hardier sort creep earliest across the bare floor, andin the end nothing-but the curved wall of White Chalk Or ruddYsandStOne or of the less hospitable Bath and Portland stones or Cotswold polite remains to some 6:tent urienciimliered. If 'they.. face the south their vegetation grows extravagantly dense in the imprisoned sunshine, and the neat close-bit lawns maintained by the rabbit community stand out among the impenetrable tangles-With- almost the man-made artificiality of a lawn flanked -by masses of rhododendrons. Impregnably sheltered from the stunting persistent assault of the keen Winds and forming yeiy. Often- -the single stronghold un= claimed- by -cultivation on "a broad- slope more rich in plants and' insects than in covert to hold..their winged or Tour=foOted enemies; these little pockets in the earth are as' full of a variety Of life as -shell craters could be of crouch= ing men in the thick of a barrage. Man, like the pounding artillery, has contrived in theSe aceidental'refuges_ th6 means to escape his persecution, and is ,these sandpit and chalkpits and irerslrel ,quarries, Whick shelter all . „ kinds .of" Vermin " in -time of dingei—fmagpies, stoats, weasels, little owls, jays (if the growth is sufficiently advanced), hedgehogs, rabbits,. snakes and quantities of rats. Here they are, if not _altogether secure, far less exposed to peril than in more accessible places. Other creatures also, which have nothing to fear from man, show a conspicuous partiality for the compact untroubled precincts of the quarry. Lizards flourish enormously, enjoying a lengthened summer in the reflected sun of the banks at the foot of the precipice, which even late in the year are warm and friendly like an old wall. ,Blackbirds are the most invariable of all quarry-dwellers, wherever there is so much as a tangle of old man's beard in the way of covert ;• for the blackbird has a very pronounced loathing for draughty places, though the weakness seems never to be recognized. His food and even his choice of a haunt is .hardly restricted, but shelter with him is the essential. condition of life, and if a hedge happens to be bleak or-exposed he will have none of it, however favour- able it may otherwise be. With ready carelessness we put him down as a skulker like the whitethroat, when it is the weather as often as ourselves from which he seeks a satisfactOry refne. Watch the blackbirds on a windy day and see how they get embarrassed with it, cocking tip .their unwieldy. tails like great black. wrens and keeping as much as possible out of the full blast. In a shrieking gale in February. I have seen a blackbird settle on an elm and deliberately cower down in a hollow- where a branch came out on the lee side. The quarries naturally minister to his little weakness More adequately than any other kind of home, and it is because of this that hardly a deserted quarry, or ..chalkpit in, the country is too insignificant: in size or too. poor in undergrowth to support year after Year at least a pair of blackbirds, their places eagerly taken if they are killed.

The number of rats, which old quarries undoubtedly harbour grows an increasingly conspicuous problem, for the more seriously we take the Rats. and Mice Destruction Act the more clear it must become that it is of little use to rid ourselves of the scourge with great trouble and expense in ports and warehouses and farms or rickyards as long as these other fastnesses uninhabited by man remain ready to recolonize the country with rats as soon as the vigilance begins to be relaxed. Yet it is to be hoped that when the time comes for a more serious cam- paign against the rat, some satisfactory way of tackling the problem will have been found which does not entail (like stamping out mosquitoes by oiling their breeding ponds) the incidental destruction of some harmless and Many-actively beneficial forms of life. It would be easy, if expensive, to clean out the quarries utterly and leave them naked, but by so doing a great number of insect- eating birds and other useful creatures would be rendered homeless, and it is by the dwellers in these old quarries that the fields and hill pastures in their neighbourhood are kept comparatively clear of pests. All the thrushes, blackbirds, mistlethrushes, partridges, linnets, chaffinches, buntings and many other species which we see working on the land accounting for insects and noxious seeds can do their work hilly where they have cover to breed within a reasonable distance.

The south country quarries owe their wealth of life chiefly to these three things, their undisturbed peace, their friendly mass of cover, and above all their excellence as suntraps. But not all face the south. A northerly quarry, by contrast, if its plan is at all crescent shaped, is the most consistently sunless place to be found anywhere in Britain ; its high steep walls forbid access even to those level -darting rays of the rising and setting sun which manage somehow to find their way into the.depths of the most gloomy sprtice plantations. It has a dankness which belongs more properly to the dark interiors of caves, and in fact it is half-way between a cavern and an omen earth in its affinities, for it receives light only at second hand and never revels in the, direct beneficence of the sun. This sunless sort is mercifully a rare phenomenon, and even quarries that look directly north seem to be in a minority. Of this kind, though, is the well-known quarry at Leek-. hampton Hill above Cheltenham, which during the last year or two has put on such a spurt of development and been equipped with such a paraphernalia of hideous giant machinery that it threatens to swallow. up the whole hill, ancient cup and all, and dispose of one of the most notable heights of the whole Cotswold range' in little cubes as building material. .It is senseless to condemn quarrying, even apart from the :fact that stone has to be got, for it improves more scenery than it makes ugly and even in thil case, judging from the present_ position atone; it' has turned a lofty but not very impressive hill into a com- manding ruddy -precipice conspicuous in every view from the north even out of Shropshire. The long artificial screes on the side of the Milverns were on the other hand a hideous disfigurenient and richly deserved to be sup- pressed. They were scored on the flanks of the hill instead of being cut 'boldly into its 'heart, 'and' offered con- sequently no shelter and no picturesque landmark to . .

justify their existence. For even when the . quarry is worked it may support a large population of wild creatures: Leckhampton has not only starlings and a large colony of jackdawS, but its own breed of wild doves—the kind which have been a bone of contention for 'more than a hnndred years. They are . called rock-doves, but are presumably • " escapes," and as such,' scientific orriitho- logists decline to be aware of their existence, in this and almost every other English county. They arc certainly a Mongrel race, rather like the 'dovecote stock, yet there are white-rumped birds amongst them not to be dis- tinguished, in the field at any rate, from the authentic wild rock-doves which I have watched on the Atlantic coast of County Clare. Some of these quarry colonies have existed so long, even to our recorded knowledge, that the little owl and other accepted species arc new- comers compared with them, but like telepathy and- ghostly apparitions, they are among the things which science prefers to deny because it cannot make anything