Permission for flagship equestrian and water sports centre enables the restoration of a degraded County Wildlife Site

November 2022

Aspect Ecology has been advising the landowner and Baca Architects upon proposals for a flagship new equestrian and water sports centre near Farnborough, Surrey which will in turn facilitate the restoration of a degraded County Wildlife Site.

The new complex is based on a series of former gravel pits. Historically the lakes held a rich aquatic flora, but over time this has diminished due to eutrophication and the loss of marginal habitats. To establish the baseline interest of the site, Aspect Ecology carried out specialist aquatic plant surveys alongside surveys for birds, bats, water voles and otters including along the adjacent Blackwater River. Under the proposals, new wetlands will be created in the form of reedbeds and wet meadows, providing much needed plant diversity. The opportunity will be taken to fully restore the northern lake alongside implementing control measures for non-native invasive New Zealand Pygmyweed Crassula helmsii which is causing a substantial issue.

Further biodiversity enhancements will also be delivered including a sand martin bank, bug hotels and large swathes of wildflower meadows. Woodland within the site will be retained and enhanced. A Biodiversity Net Gain assessment has been carried out which demonstrates that the project, when complete, will result in a significant overall net gain for biodiversity.

These measures will be facilitated by the provision of a sympathetic new building on the lakeside, containing a dramatic first-floor elevated café, a new state of the art gym and changing facilities for outdoor and indoor sports, whilst a number of fields will be used for equestrian activities. These facilities will be open to a wide range of community groups. In addition, a number of technologically advanced floating lodges will provide a tranquil place to stay and enjoy nature. Aspect Ecology has worked alongside the architects and designers to ensure that the proposals are compatible with the nature conservation interest that exists and to incorporate into the scheme the opportunity to bring the whole site into favourable conservation management.

It is exciting to see significant gains for nature conservation being enabled by new development of innovative and fun leisure facilities. This is certainly a well-deserved planning permission for the developer, and we look forward to seeing the final build and working together on the delivery of the habitat enhancements.

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