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Life on the landfill
Hares, lapwings, skylarks and roe deer are just a few of the animals and birds captured on camera at a wildlife sanctuary near Bicester. But perhaps the most unexpected discovery is that the abundant wildlife and flora shown in these photographs are thriving on land used to dump millions of tonnes of rubbish.
It has all been possible because, once areas of the Ardley landfill site are filled to capacity with waste, they are sealed and the landscape recreated to regenerate wildlife.
Waste management company Viridor, which runs this and 14 other landfill sites around the UK, has been progressively restoring the Oxfordshire site in this way for almost two decades.
The company decided to commission amateur wildlife photographer Lee O’Dwyer to survey and record the insects, animals, birds and flora he found in each area.
Lee, who is also an engineer and gas technician at landfill sites, spent two days at Ardley last June, and was impressed with what he uncovered.
“For me, the most significant finds were skylarks and lapwings. Skylarks have declined by 75 per cent countrywide, so for them to be doing so well at Ardley is incredibly exciting,” he explained.
Lee’s photography has taken him around the world, including observing wildlife in Cape Town, South Africa and the edge of the Arctic Ocean, so he he didn’t expect to find inspiration at rubbish tips in the UK. “These sites are surprisingly good for wildlife, including rarer species and with my knowledge of these habitats, I knew where and when to look.”
“The restored areas of the landfill have no farming, no chemicals, absolutely nothing except pure grassland, which is perfect for skylarks.
“Modern farming methods, especially silage cutting, are bad news for lapwings because they nest on the ground but at Ardley they are able to thrive as they are left completely undisturbed,” he added.
In terms of other birds, Lee was also pleased to see a diverse number of species present in the landfill area.
“There were plenty of summer migrants such as warblers, chiffchaffs and finches, and with it being Oxfordshire, I was lucky enough to spot red kites and buzzards as well.
“Landfills are good for all types of birds because they are so private and tranquil,” he added.
Lee also discovered large numbers of roe deer who were clearly enjoying the shelter of trees, planted on the site years previously and now mature.
He also came across plenty of rabbits, grass snakes and even a couple of hares, to his delight.
A number of ponds have been created on the land to encourage insects and plants, a strategy that has proved incredibly successful, as Lee recalled.
“There are about five or six smaller ponds, a couple of larger ones where I saw swans nesting, and an even bigger area of water right next to the motorway.
“Ardley is a particularly good area for dragonflies and damselflies and I also spotted great crested and smooth newts,” he added.
His camera also captured an abundance of plants and flowers including bee orchids, marsh orchids, scarlet pimpernels and many different types of grass, which were home to a large population of butterflies.
Lee’s photography has taken him around the world, including observing wildlife in Cape Town, South Africa, and Svalbard on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, so he admitted he didn’t expect to find inspiration at rubbish tips in the UK.
“These sites are surprisingly good for wildlife, including rarer species and, with my knowledge of these habitats, I knew where and when to look.
“I am delighted to have been asked to do the job of recording the beautiful and varied wildlife that has chosen to make its home on our former landfill sites,” he said.
When comparing Ardley, which is located close to junction 10 of the M40, to the other regenerated locations he’d visited, Lee was extremely complimentary.
“It is a good site because, although it’s not particularly big, it has got a nice diversity, and being right next to the motorway meant it was even more of a pleasant surprise to find it so rich in wildlife.
“I was there for a couple of days only, so I really just scratched the surface. If I was able to spend a whole season there, I’d probably find all manner of things,” he added.