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Turning coal faces into wild spaces

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23 Feb 2022

Ecotalk + RSPB is our sustainable mobile phone service, investing 100% of profits to buy back land for nature across the UK.

In July 2019, Ecotalk customers helped the RSPB buy Fairburn Tips, an old dumping ground for coal mining waste.

At the time, it was difficult to imagine how quickly these slag heaps could be given back to nature – promoting biodiversity on such an old industrial site takes a lot of work and specialist knowledge.

But just two years on, we’re delighted that Fairburn Tips has been restored to create grassland, woodland and lakes. As a result, biodiversity is booming as part of the RSPB Fairburn Ings reserve in West Yorkshire.

Lowland heath habit

Biodiversity at Fairburn Tips has made a joyously swift comeback. On some of the tips, heather is spreading naturally, creating a lowland heath habitat – it’s a wonderful environment for bees and butterflies, including Essex Skippers and Common Blues.

Black garden ants are building raised anthills on the tips. These ants are common all over Britain but they usually create their nests underground. As an ex-mining site, the soil and substrate clearly don’t suit underground living, so they’re building up instead.

Here and there on the anthills you can see evidence of green woodpeckers breaking in to feed on the ants. Woodpeckers also use a natural fungicide given off by the ants for a clever bit of self-care, called anting – they roll around in the ants or pick them up and rub them on their feathers.

Habitats for birds

In the scrubland, silver birch is strategically managed to attract willow tits, a species that has declined 94% across the UK since the 1970s but thrives and breeds at Fairburn Ings.

On the lake, there are several natural islands where birds nest and breed. Unfortunately, climate change is leading to more high intensity rainfall, spiking the water levels and washing away those nests.

In order to help common terns and other birds nest without fear of flooding, a new artificial pontoon has been installed, which will rise and fall with the water level.

Around the lake, reed beds are carefully maintained to encourage the booming bitterns, cormorants, egrets and herons. It’s been a record-breaking year for spoonbills at Fairburn, with seven successful nests and 14 thriving ‘teaspoons’ as the young birds are affectionately called.

What’s next for Fairburn Tips?

The successes at Fairburn Tips show that turning back the clock and giving land back to nature really does work.

Over the next few years, there are plans to reconstruct some of the wetland areas, creating new pools and bodies of water.

There’s also improvement work to be done on the heronry and the team there are hoping to install another pontoon on the lake, so more tern chicks can survive the intensive spring rainfalls.

What’s next for Ecotalk + RSPB?

Since the Fairburn Tips purchase, Ecotalk + RSPB customers have helped to buy an extension to the Berney Marshes Nature Reserve – a vital home for migratory waterfowl and breeding waders in Norfolk.

Right now, we’re raising funds to secure Horse Common, a vital extension to the Franchises Lodge Reserve in the New Forest, as well as Wast Neaps on the Island of Yell, Shetland, home to skuas, merlin, snipe and otters.

Switch your SIM and save nature

Switch to Ecotalk and you’ll not only be helping to provide space for nature, but you’ll also benefit from the best coverage in the UK with the EE network and some of the lowest cost tariffs in the country.

Visit – it takes just five minutes and you can keep your current number.

If you’re still in a contract and would like to switch, just register your details at and we’ll be in touch when your contract ends.

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