Brockholes

Brockholes is a relatively new nature reserve just off the M6 near Preston. It’s been created from a former gravel quarry. It’s owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside. It was only opened to the public at Easter 2011 and is very much a “work in progress”.

Bounded to the south by the River Ribble and to the west by the M6, the original quarry site has been transformed into a series of pools, lakes, marshes, woodlands and reed beds as habitats for birds and other wildlife.

I called into the site to break a journey up the M6 on Friday. The main reason for my short sop was to have a look at the “Visitor Village” that has been constructed on the reserve and which has had some coverage in the press. The main reasons its attracted attention is that it its been built on a giant concrete raft which floats on the main lake and has also won an award for its ecologically sound design.

Its the first building to be awarded the "outstanding" category by the British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). They’ve used recycled and reclaimed materials in the construction, newspapers for insulation and utilised natural, rather than mechanical ventilation.

You encounter the visitor centre as you drive down the track leading to the site rising out of the lake. It’s actually a number of individual buildings housing a restaurant, conference centre, information centre and shops, clustered around a courtyard. The buildings have relatively low walls and high pitched roofs, covered with oak shingles. The high roof spaces help with the natural ventilation but are also the dominant architectural feature. Once the site matures the reeds should have grown high enough to hide the walls so the roofs will only be visible.

The reason for floating the the building  is due to the nature of the site. Its liable to flood and floating it on the water solves the problems that this would create. The raft is connected to the land by walkways and it can rise by as much as 3 metres as the water level changes.

The design is certainly quite striking and makes an impression on the visitor. Inside, I was less impressed. The walls are clad in white painted timber and like some of the reclaimed materials used in the toilet facilities I thought that they had a rather grubby, soiled look which I expect will only become more pronounced over time.

I didn’t have much time to explore the site, but it still had a very unfinished appearance. It’s previous use as an industrial gravel pit was still evident. However, habitats can’t be created overnight and it will be interesting to see how it changes over the next few years. Its only half an hour’s drive away so I expect I’ll be visiting it again in the not too distant future.

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