Cley Marshes Nature Reserve is the most popular of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves, attracting 110,000 birders and visitors a year from all around the world. The centre aimed to ensure a continuing role for the Reserve interpreting the impact of future climate changes on the environment, meet new visitor requirements so as to harmonise with the existing historic DBO ‘thatched hut’. The project was to maximise the benefit of the budget, and act as a showcase for responsible environmental stewardship through the specification of ‘green’ technologies and materials.
A ground-hugging, sedum moss roof defines a gentle curve over a strip of frameless glazing, providing uninterrupted views over the nature reserve. It is perhaps this view, and the quality the café has to offer, which have together caused the Business Plan to be far exceeded. Seen from the Reserve, the thatched hut which remains the prominent feature.
The plan provides a single space offering flexibility in the layout of the three primary functions: ticketing and retail, catering, and interpretation. Absence of room for this latter function – given the sheer numbers of visitors –provided the incentive to build phase 2.
The first phase incorporated under-floor heating from a ground source heat pump, a solar collector for hot water and a wind turbine – providing free energy for 83% of the demand in an average year. When designed, the Centre was expected to produce 11 tonnes less CO2 per annum compared with a similar building constructed to the then current standards.
The site is ‘tight’, and accommodation has been placed south of ‘phase 1’, and largely invisible from the Reserve, requiring a complete overhaul of the servicing strategy, and the substitution of a PV array for the previous technologies.
"Where other architects would have played it safe and gone for something very traditional, LSI sketched out a bold and challenging vision resulting in a building that both fits into the landscape and stands proudly as probably the most successful wildlife trust visitor centre in England."