Sustainable wildlife centre opens in 26-mile-long Essex country park
A brand-new wildlife discovery centre has opened in Essex’s River Lee Country Park – using fully recyclable materials that will reduce the building’s impact on landfill waste.
The £700,000 development has replaced the former Bittern Information Point, which, after 30 years, had run the course of its lifespan.
The new centre offers far-reaching, 360-degree views of the surrounding area from the five-metre viewing tower, allowing bird watchers and nature lovers to take a closer look at the wildlife in the park, which is situated in the 26-mile-long Lee Valley Regional Park – stretching from the Thames to Hertfordshire.
Property, construction and infrastructure consultancy Perfect Circle – a company jointly owned by Pick Everard, Gleeds and AECOM – was appointed by Lee Valley Regional Park Authority through SCAPE, the leading public sector procurement authority, to provide project management, structural engineering, principal design, civil engineering and upfront QS costings to the project.
The works were accelerated by SCAPE Consultancy, a direct award framework that drives collaboration, efficiency, time and cost savings.
Victoria Brambini, managing director of Perfect Circle, said: “We are delighted to have worked alongside Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, architects Andris Berzins & Associates, and contractor Carmelcrest Construction for this project, which has breathed new life into River Lee Country Park.
“Wartime bombing, changes in industry and post-war reconstruction meant that more than 50 years ago, the area surrounding the River Lee was derelict and neglected.
"But over the past five decades, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority has been dedicated to transforming the area into a world-class destination.
“The centre – located on a remote site between two rivers – comes complete with a CCTV system and live nest boxes, which will provide undisturbed, close-up access to the area’s wildlife for visitors of all ages.
"The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how much people value open spaces and the ability to get close to nature, so we are expecting it to become one of the most popular areas to visit for both the local community and tourists.”
As well as providing an area for the community and tourists to appreciate the wildlife and the Eurasian bittern bird – a Biodiversity Action Plan species – there is a fully accessible information point and a two-tier viewing area at ground level, with a separate wildlife information room.
The centre is also equipped with ramps and lifts to make it accessible to all.
Fully sustainable materials were used to construct the centre – reducing its impact on landfill waste once the building reaches the end of its design life in half a century.
Hannah Hamilton, regional partner for the south east at Perfect Circle, said: “The overriding ambition for the scheme was to refrain from using any concrete so the materials can be recycled when the building reaches the end of its life and to be conscious and protective of local wildlife habitats.
“All materials can be dismantled, reused and recycled; the helical piles can be unscrewed and reused, all timber elements can be chipped and used for biofuel, gabion retaining walls can be reused, and the foundations can be recycled because they aren’t composed of concrete.
“The innovative facility demanded sustainable materials for sub-structure and super-structure elements to overcome difficult site constraints – the area is located on a remote site between two rivers with limited access – and Covid-19 restrictions.
“The structural design, led by Pick Everard associate Jayesh Patel, incorporated off-site construction techniques – including Keller helical piles, pre-fabricated glulam beams, and spliced steel framing – to reduce manual handling risks, construction waste and improve site logistics.
“The construction programme also had to take into account bird migration patterns and nesting, with construction activities being monitored for noise to minimise disruption to the local wildlife, such as bird migration and nests.”
The SCAPE Consultancy framework offers direct access to the most extensive property, construction and infrastructure consultancy services available to the public sector. The procurement route brings together the strongest collaborative team with value for money, while contributing substantially to local social value.
Mark Robinson, group chief executive at SCAPE, added: “It’s clearer than ever that communities need green open spaces with facilities that enhance their quality of life.
"It is wonderful to see these collaborative teams are so enthusiastically embracing sustainable design and construction principles to encourage development that supports the biodiversity and wildlife within the local area.
"With these principles at heart, Perfect Circle and Lee Valley Regional Park Authority have delivered a community asset that sets a positive example.
“In addition, this project demonstrates the benefits of using a direct award framework to access the very best technical expertise to solve these kinds of complex challenges with innovation and a keen eye on high quality, sustainable delivery.”