The Langdyke Countryside Trust established Swaddywell Pit nature reserve in 2003. Located south of the village of Helpston near Peterborough in north west Cambridgeshire, Swaddywell was the site of a quarry from Roman times onwards. It takes its name from a nearby spring where reputedly an ancient sword was once found.
In medieval times quarries such as Swaddywell would have provided stone for local churches and for the great cathedrals at Ely and Peterborough. More recently Swaddywell has had a chequered history – once of England’s very first nature reserve in the early 20th Century it then became in turn a quarry, bomb dump, landfill tip and race track.
John Clare dedicated two poems to Swaddywell, in one he uniquely writes about the quarry in the first person, lamenting the fate that has befallen the land. Intriguingly in the penultimate verse of the poem, Clare writes
And if I could but find a friend
With no deceit to sham
Who’d send me some few sheep to tend
And leave me as I am
To keep my hills from cart and plough
And strife of mongrel men
And as a spring found me find me now
I should look up agen
With the establishment of the nature reserve and arrival in 2005 of a flock of grazing Hebridean sheep, perhaps Clare’s verse was prophetic – certainly Swaddywell is certainly looking up again.
The last working area of the quarry in the NE corner was a large pile of stone waste in an even larger lake, with a bare rock face where the boardwalk is. The disturbance to the mid-section by the construction of the racetrack and associated features, followed by its demise and the remodelling of the lake, have created the varied habitats now present.Unlike Torpel where we are trying to roll back uniformity, at Swaddywell the puzzle is to understand and preserve the jigsaw we have – what species are dependent on which relatively small part or feature of this landscape.