Skip to main content

Blog - Purple Horizons – how the past is shaping the future

Purple Horizons is one of five national nature recovery projects that were launched on the May 26 2022.

Located on the northern fringes of the Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark, Purple Horizons aims to restore and reconnect a network of heathland and associated a habitats over a 10,000 hectare area – but why talk about this in relation to the geopark?

From the onset Purple Horizons has been an initiative and partnership that has sought to bring together and improve the biodiversity, geodiversity and landscape of the area.  So much of what happens today is defined and influenced by our geological past. 

Across the Purple Horizons area the underlying red desert Triassic sandstones, capped by sandy and pebbly soils left by glacial melt waters, have provided the free draining soils perfect for the heathland plants and animals we find here today.  Not only is understanding how our world has changed rooted in this geological past, but this past world has created the conditions needed to re-establish the Purple Horizon heathlands, we just need to rediscover it.

That’s exactly what’s happened.  Two of the Black Country’s Geosites have been both rescued and come to the rescue.  Barr Beacon and Shire Oak Quarry geosites had become lost, the once beautiful exposures of Triassic sandstone engulfed by brambles and scrub. 

An image of a rock face at Pinfold Lane Quarry, Barr Beacon

Through Purple Horizons this vegetation has been cut back and once again we can experience a Sahara-like Triassic world of desert and flash flood now wonderfully interpreted as ‘Sands of time’.  Within days of revealing this past world solitary bees and wasps arrived (those essential pollinators), burrowing into the newly exposed soft sandstones, foraging and hunting on the once more sun-warmed Triassic desert sands.

This is a double success for nature.  We have both revealed and reconnected to our geological past and provided an oh-so rare bare ground and rock habitat, essential for the pollinating insects that will sustain and grow this heathland.  This is an example to share and emulate across the country as nature recovery projects, like Purple Horizons, are established and Local Nature Recovery Strategies are developed.

Once more the Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark is leading the way – its geological past is shaping the future!

Jonathan Larwood

Principal Adviser - Geodiversity

Natural England