With spring just beginning to poke its head out from beneath winter’s chill and colour starting to return to the world, we decided to dive into the topic of how both colour and new life returned to Clay Country after centuries of industrial development.

From the cavernous clay pits to the soaring sky tips, the clay industry has transformed St Austell and the surrounding areas greatly and given it the moniker of ‘Clay Country’. But, as times changed and pits closed, nature started to reclaim what had once been places of bustling activity.  Pits have flooded, becoming man-made lakes. On slopes once laid bare, grasses, flowers, and gorse bushes have returned. Where once there was only the dirt and muck of industry, life and colour has sprung back into view.

This hasn’t been all nature’s doing, however. Imerys Minerals Ltd, the company that works the Wheal Martyn pit, has been involved in rewilding and environment restoration efforts for years. As part of its on-going programme of restoration, it has planted in excess of 1.5 million trees; more than 5000 acres of heathland and woodland have been created along with over 40km of permissive footpaths, and in 2017 Imerys was named the overall winner of the Natural England Award for Landscape Scale Restoration in the Biodiversity category.

Imerys also operates a Waste Recycling Facility, importing waste materials including plasterboard and mixing them with fine sand before spreading on china clay waste tips and mica dams. The nutrients within the compost/fine sand blend has had a dramatic effect on restoration by accelerating the process while enabling Imerys to be more creative when designing planting schemes (they are currently working closely with Cornwall Council on the Forest For Cornwall initiative).

To date, 150 hectares of china clay waste tips have been restored using recycled materials and close to 500,000 tonnes of waste material have been imported.

Clay Country was once commonly called the ‘Cornish Alps’, and for good reason! Not only do the towering sky tips remind us of the alpine mountains, but also the sheer beauty of the natural environment in both places are alike. It’s important to remember that this landscape must be looked after for the benefit of both current and future generations. As Imerys shows, it is possible to renew what has previously been changed or erased, if we are willing to put the work in.