Awards 2020 Winner’s Spotlight: NGO Impact

Abberton Reservoir Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve

Essex Wildlife Trust

This award was sponsored by

When Essex & Suffolk Water (ESW) proposed the expansion of Abberton Reservoir in Essex in order to secure future water supplies, Essex Wildlife Trust (EWT) saw a unique opportunity to work together in partnership and help create a truly enhanced reservoir for nature and people. Abberton Reservoir Visitor Centre was constructed as part of the Abberton Reservoir Enhancement Scheme and opened to the public in spring 2012. The nature reserve itself was started several years before the construction work with obvious benefits to nature. The bespoke visitor centre and 25ha nature reserve has been outstandingly successful in terms of suitable habitat created and numbers of people engaging with nature. Over 15 years of volunteering time, 40,000 trees and shrubs have been planted in the new reserve area and by 2019 visitor numbers had reached an amazing 126,283 annually.

Located on a previously intensively managed arable field, the reserve not only provides education and access to the public but the habitat is a wonderful addition to the reservoir which is designated a SSSI, SPA and Ramsar site. Throughout the project, the vision to enhance the site for wildlife was at the centre of decisions, whether that was starting habitat creation years before construction, profiling the slopes of the new reservoir to maximise habitat for wetland birds, or involving volunteers (and their TLC) in the planting of over 84,000 saplings and creation of new wetlands.

During and since construction, Essex Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers, in partnership with Essex and Suffolk Water and AECOM, implemented a novel approach to the establishment of aquatic vegetation, trialling a range of establishment techniques. Rhizomes and seeds of common reed were collected and planted in a polytunnel set up on site. Subsequently thousands of seedlings were planted out in strategic locations around the reservoir. Volunteers also collected, sorted and sowed 20 million seeds of marginal and emergent plants to establish cover and a food source around the new shoreline. This marginal habitat is now self-sustaining and used by a variety of birds and other species.

Many of this project’s successes are due to dedicated staff and volunteers. In 2019 alone, 1,284 volunteers helped within the visitor centre and an incredible 4,255 hours (995 days) of volunteer work parties were held. This enables habitat creation to occur both on the reserve and the surrounding reservoir, and the all-inclusive attitude enables members of the public to gain valuable experience of, and appreciation for, the wonderful wildlife. The impact of the centre and nature reserve is far reaching, multi-generational and accessible to all. Its design was inspired by the landscape in which it sits and its management benefits both wildlife and people – showcasing a truly special partnership.

Over the next few weeks, we will be posting further information on each of the 2020 CIEEM Awards Winners over on our blog. A full recording of the event is now available to watch online. Further details on each project/individual is set out in our 2020 CIEEM Awards Booklet.