Quarrying, the community and the environment

Ruined smelting mill

We tend to forget that the Yorkshire Dales have been an industrial centre for thousands of years — quarrying and mining is not a new activity.

The remains and ruins of past industry add to the charm that is the Dales. If a decision was made to remove the remains of industrial activity in the Dales, it would detract from rather than enhance the beauty of the Dales.

The lead industry, for example, goes back to the time of the Romans and was still important in the 19th century, especially in Swaledale and near Grassington. The remains of mining can be seen in the shafts, waste heaps and the ruins of washing floors and smelting mills, all of which add to the interest and character of the Yorkshire Dales.

Stone has also been quarried for centuries. Small local quarries were dug to provide stone for dry stone walls and the hundreds of field barns that are dotted across the Dales.

Local limestone was also quarried to make cement and for the construction of the villages and farmsteads. Although the Yorkshire Dales today are a National Park, some quarrying is still permitted in exceptional circumstances. Approximately 2.6 million tonnes of rock are extracted from the Yorkshire Dales each year.

Environmental impact of quarrying

Quarrying has an environmental impact and all potentially negative impacts need to be minimised, particularly in a National Park:

  • visual effects should be reduced through screening by soil/rock or trees
  • pollution (dust and noise levels) should be controlled using water to suppress dust, enclosure of plant or equipment to reduce noise and dust, screening by soil/rock to reduce noise, etc.
  • traffic congestion should be reduced by using railways where possible or controlled routes for lorries

However, quarries are essential to our modern way of life and we cannot build or maintain our standard of living without the products that are quarried.

Quarrying in the Yorkshire Dales today

Arcow  Quarry

Today, two different kinds of stone are quarried in the Yorkshire Dales:

  • Carboniferous limestone
  • early Palaeozoic (Ordovician and Silurian) sandstone (also known locally as gritstone)

The rock is crushed to make aggregate that is exported to other parts of the UK, particularly northern England (see Figure 1), and is used to make roads, concrete and for industrial purposes:

  • limestone is used for aggregate, to make agricultural and industrial lime and for flux in the steel industry
  • sandstones and gritstones are used for aggregate and in the construction of roads — they are particularly valuable for road surfacing

Quarrying in the Yorkshire Dales has declined in recent years as shown in Figure 2.


Scaleber Quarry, near Settle.
Quantity of crushed rock aggregates extracted from the Yorkshire Dales.

Active quarries in the Yorkshire Dales (2016)

Of the five active quarries in the Yorkshire Dales today (2016), three (Arcow, Dry Rigg and Ingleton) are working sandstone, or gritstone, and two (Horton and Swinden) are extracting limestone.



This quarry, from which sandstone is extracted, is situated near Helwith Bridge north of Settle, and is operated jointly with the neighbouring Dry Rigg quarry.

Landscaping has reduced its impact on the surrounding landscape, including high embankments to hide the plant and stockpiles of sandstone. A recently installed rail link now ensures that lorry movements are reduced.

Dry Rigg

This quarry, which is located near Helwith Bridge north of Settle, is operated jointly with the neighbouring quarry, Arcow. Sandstone is extracted here with a proportion of its output now exiting the site via the new rail link recently installed at Arcow.

Extensive landscaping has been carried out to screen the workings and there has also been some restoration to land around the edges of the site to form a rare type of moorland. Once it is reaches the end of its life, part of the quarry will be turned into a lake.


Carboniferous limestone is extracted from this quarry, which has been open for well over 50 years, close to the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Landscaping has been carried out by the quarry company to reduce its impact on the surrounding landscape to some degree.


This quarry, which is located to the north-east of Ingleton, is worked for sandstone.

This large quarry has been landscaped to reduce its impact on the surrounding countryside — its processing plant has been relocated and trees planted and embankments constructed. When the quarry eventually closes, it will be partly flooded to produce a lake.


This quarry is situated near Cracoe and is extracting Carboniferous limestone. An old processing plant has been removed in recent years and additional screening put in place to shield the current workings.

When the quarry comes to the end of its life (in about 2020) the site will be restored, nature conservation being high on the agenda. The use of a rail link is environmentally friendly as it reduces the impact on the local roads by over 30 000 lorry movements per year.