Caroline Fitton of The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire describes how a new shopping development is also a gateway to the natural world…
A lakeside retail development was the final piece of the puzzle in a wetlands jigsaw, helping join up important individual reserves and creating the Wildlife Trust’s Nene Wetlands nature reserve – shoppers now share their destination with thousands of migratory birds.
During summer, as the all new Rushden Lakes retail park opened its doors attracting many shoppers, another new opening was causing a flutter of feathers and a microbeat of tiny insect wings, as the Wildlife Trust BCN opened their first ever Visitor Centre on the edge of Skew Lake.
With panoramic views over the lake, the Visitor Centre creates a gateway to the expansive Nene Wetlands nature reserve and sculpture strewn lakeside walks. Sleek and curved the building has been designed for net zero energy – super-insulated with all energy required for operation generated on-site and a design which minimises heat loss in winter and restricts heat gain in summer. The green roof consists of grass and wildflower species native to the area and is already creating a habitat for bird and insect life.
Visitor Centre manager Simon Gardner said: “The opening weekend back in July was especially busy – we welcomed more than 40,000 people into the Nene Wetlands. Our visitors are really enjoying the combination of retail and wildlife. We have indoor screens which have footage beamed in live from our trail cameras around the lakes and we have some great wildlife gifts, now with a comprehensive range of Christmas goodies in the shop so it’s a great time to come and pick up something unusual for wildlife loving friends and family.”
The Visitor Centre heralds the gateway to 270 hectares of some of the most important wildlife habitat in the Nene Valley, with four existing Wildlife Trust nature reserves now linked together. Dominated by flooded gravel pits running in a necklace parallel to the river Nene, more than 20,000 overwintering waterbirds, including shoveler, wigeon, mallard, gadwall, pochard, tufted duck, coot, cormorant, great crested grebe and lapwing make their homes here, along with many other species in the surrounding meadows, wet woodland and reedbed.
The Trust’s Wildlife Discovery Area has interactive elements reflecting the industrial past – with an abandoned barge – plus a reconstructed otter holt, a heronry and giant spiders web which children can explore (climbing on/in and over). Bike and walking trails now run along newly created paths and tracks covering miles of the Nene Valley around lakes, through meadow and woodland.
Oliver Burke, Director of Engagement for the Wildlife Trust BCN, said: “We are thrilled to have opened our first visitor centre. Heritage National Lottery funding allowed us to extend our work beyond this centre to create a stunning sculpture trail leading out into the Nene Wetlands and offering events and activities in the shopping area and it will also pay for vital conservation work, including protecting a sensitive heronry from disturbance, restoring ditches and managing scrub and grassland.”