We started at the Ibstock brickworks at Newdigate where we were given a comprehensive introductory talk about the manufacture of bricks. The process includes extraction of the clay from an on-site quarry, blending the various clay seams (and rejecting some seams of material), blending with other materials to make different grade and colour bricks, drying, cutting and firing.
We also heard about how Ibstock try to work in an environmentally friendly way, backfilling pits with rejected material as the quarry face moves and returning these areas to farmland, at the same level as the adjacent land. They are not able to leave large lakeland areas to attract migrating birds, since they are directly under the Gatwick flightpath. The company also involves neighbours in decision making and endeavours to reduce any negative issues such as noise.
We were then given a tour of the site, including the various factory processes, to bring the explanation into reality.
After a very pleasant lunch at the Old School House at Ockley, we walked across fields to Vann Lake – a particularly fine example of ancient woodland on Weald Clay surrounding an eight-acre lake and designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. We were accompanied by Nigel Davenport (CEO of Surrey Wildlife Trust and a Trustee of SHS) and the local Ranger, to view the way that the woodland is coppiced and managed and to understand the repair and renovation work that is about to start on the dam. The Ranger explained how wildlife such as crested newts, snakes and toads have to be moved to a safe area to allow the work to continue. We were also shown a purpose built bat hide, which is being monitored for bat numbers.
This was, all round, a fascinating day out and a wonderful example of nature working in harmony with industry within the Surrey Hills AONB.