Villagers turn former chalk pit into nature reserve at Ringstead, in Norfolk

Villagers have transformed a disused quarry tucked away in the Ringstead Downs into a woodland reserve, where families can enjoy a picnic or a stroll amid the towering beech trees.

The former chalk pit was neglected and overgrown before volunteers set to work on its undergrowth in January 2011.

Led by Star Brock and Louise Howell, the newly-formed Ringstead Woodland Garden and Walks group set up working parties to reclaim the three-acre beauty spot.

'It was eight feet high with black thorn, the whole area,' said Miss Howell. 'We had to cut it all down by hand and drag it down to the fire.'

Parish meetings and a fund raising calendar on sale at the nearby Ringstead Village Stores helped to spread the word, after a lease was negotiated for the site with the trustees of the Great Ringstead Allotments Charity, which owns the quarry.

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The icing on the cake came when volunteers were awarded a �3,645 grant by the Big Lottery Fund, to finish work on the chalk pit.

Mrs Brock said wildflowers and grasses would be planted around the site, while finger posts would be installed to make it easier to find.

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'You get a lot of people walking through the downs who totally bypass it,' she said. 'They don't even realise it's here.'

Villagers who remembered the pit told of childhood adventures, in the days when youngsters were more likely to be cimbing trees than playing computer games. Some carved the names of their sweethearts on them with their pen-knives for posterity - decades before the advent of Facebook.

A den made of branches overlooking the chalk pit, a rope swing and bicycle tracks in a spot known locally as Witch's Hollow show some of today's generation have already re-discovered the joys of fresh air.

'I can't remember anything getting this much support in all the time I've lived in the village,' said parish councillor Trevor Large. 'I've been coming here since I was 14. I'm 60 now.'

A gentle climb through the beeches leads to a clearing on the highest point of a chalk cliff, which offers a vantage point over most of the quarry, with glimpses of the downs beyond.

Mr Large admitted it would have been ideal for water bombing passers-by, in his younger days.

Fellow villager Steve Prior said: 'A lot of people didn't know this exists. It's like a little oasis.'

In a few weeks' time, celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee will help put Ringstead's hidden oasis well and truly on the map.

A vintage tea party is planned for the picnic area on Sunday, June 3 (1 - 6pm), with hog roast, high teas, strawberries and cream and live bands.

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