Located at the heart of the 316 ha Sutton and Lound Gravel Pits Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is the Rural Learning and Visitor Centre. FPCR led the design team and provided landscape, ecological and architectural services for the development of the centre and associated infrastructure. It is a centre of excellence for conservation and countryside education and provides a focus for visitors (particularly birdwatchers) to the gravel pits and associated habitats.
The centre building is sited in a particularly sensitive location and considerable attention was paid during the design process to the potential effects of the development on the surrounding ecology (and particularly wetland birds). Close liaison with the Wildlife Trust and Natural England was central to the design and approvals process.
Construction timing and access was limited by the bird breeding season and an off-site method of construction was employed using timber framing and insulated wall panels to reduce on site construction time and disruption. The centre building is set back from the open water with selective clearance and thinning of the intervening wet woodland and scrub undertaken to provide sufficient viewing from the centre.
The centre building is highly sustainable and designed to achieve a BREEAM “Excellent” rating. It includes the use of FSC-sourced timber (larch cladding and cedar shingles), lake source heating, natural ventilation, photovoltaic panels, sun –pipes and rain water recycling.