Sunday, 12 September 2010

Environmental Education Centre Launch

Last term, our new Education building was used almost daily by schools and many of our outdoor volunteers enjoyed a barbecue there in the summer, but on Friday morning we held the official launch for our partners and sponsors. Then, on Saturday our award-winning children's' group had their own launch with a bat-and-moth evening, which must have been fun. There will be future launch events for educationalists and other users of this excellent facility.

The site was once the vehicle depot for the English China Clay Company, so it is appropriate that core funding came from the "Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund" which is basically a tax on gravel extraction. The money, levied on every tonne of gravel that comes out of the ground, is given to "Defra" (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to fund their work, but some of it is given to "Natural England" ('used to be "English Nature" ) to hand out in grants. ('Still with me? It gets more complicated so hang in there, there will be questions at the end!)

The other half of the money came from the "Housing Growth Fund" which is provided by Westminster to create suitable green-space for areas like ours that are put under pressure by large volumes of "new housing".

The partners are Huntingdonshire District Council, the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough, the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve and Cambridgeshire Horizons (I had to look this one up on the Cambridgeshire County Council website: Here you go.)

Horizons' five core objectives are to:

  1. Coordinate development and infrastructure implementation.
  2. Overcome barriers to sustainable development.
  3. Secure and manage funding for infrastructure.
  4. Ensure developments employ high quality sustainable design.
  5. Communicate the wider benefits of the planned development to the wider community.

Representing the partnership, the Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trust, Brian Eversham, and the Chairman of Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC), Councillor Jeff Dutton, cut the ribbon together.

The building, which arrived in the spring on the back of 4 lorries, was constructed by Pinelog in Derbyshire, comprises of a classroom, office and toilets. It was designed by Barry Le Baille, the architect with HDC, to be a green building and features a wood burning stove and a green Sedum roof. The site is perfect for delivering our education objectives, with all the main features of the site close at hand, but we still have a lot of landscaping to carry out before next spring.

The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough runs the Paxton Pits Education Programme from the new centre and, with HDC, they are starting a Little Bugs Club for pre-school children, a Greenwatch group for 12 to 18 year olds as well as adult learning workshops and health walks.

Debbie Mckenzie, Huntingdonshire environmental education service manager for the Wildlife Trust said “We’re thrilled the classroom is officially open. This marks the beginning of our new educational and community programme. As well as providing a classroom it will be a great base for staff too.”

Councillor Colin Hyams, Huntingdonshire District Council’s executive councillor for operational and countryside services said: “This new environmental education centre is a great example of partnership working, with much improved facilities for schools and wildlife groups. It provides the ideal base for children to learn about and enjoy the local wildlife that is abundant at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve.”

As the senior ranger at the reserve I would like to add that I have always felt that the Reserve offers a wonderful resource for educators which is often under-valued. I was a teacher myself once, and, like Debbie, was an education officer with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, before working for the RSPB as a warden. I have always wanted to see the place used by teachers who could see beyond the science curriculum, and this has now begun to happen.

Despite the current economic recession, I'm proud to say that Paxton Pits Nature Reserve is on the brink of an exciting era of expansion in both the geographical and the cultural spheres. It's very exciting.