Following a year of public consultation and a further year of development, the Royal Parks secured nearly £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery (HLF) and Big Lottery Funds to deliver a number of improvements to Isabella Plantation. A generous grant of £120,000 was also received from the SITA Trust to fund the ponds and streams component of the project. Additional funding has come from a wide range of organisations and individual donations. Without this financial support and active involvement from a huge number of people and partners, this project could not have taken place.
Working with a community Steering Group and partner organisations, plans were developed to retain the unique character of the Isabella Plantation. The aims were to enhance biodiversity and to increase access to Isabella.
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The first stage of physical work was to refurbish the seasonal toilet block at Camellia Walk, creating a fully accessible facility.
The second stage of work for the project was probably the most intrusive for Isabella visitors and related to Isabella's ponds and streams.
Removal of fish from Peg's and Thomson's Pond was carried out in November 2012 by Bedwell Fisheries Services in advance of draining the ponds. During the wet and muddy winter of 2013, contractors Salix Bioengineering drained and desilted the ponds, extended Peg's Pond, planted reed beds to create new environments for wildlife, cleared streams and constructed boardwalks for visitors to view the pond.
Gardeners and volunteers cut back azaleas and removed royal fern and skunk cabbage to allow more light in stream channels. The Isabella horticultural volunteers and gardeners will continue to remove and control invasive species. Additional planting of native species along margins has taken place where appropriate. This work has been essential to the long term health of the Plantation's plants, although some, especially the removal of Rhododendon ponticum initially left the Plantation looking rather scarred in places, however before many months elapsed, this work could be seen to have resulted in healthier plants and a more beautiful woodland.
In late 2013, Blakedown Landscapes commenced work on a series of improvements to infrastructure and access.
This work included:
A Partnership and Community Engagement Officer was employed to work with local charities, schools and user groups to develop walks, talks, volunteer schemes, conservation opportunities, and new resources. A wide range of volunteering opportunities were created, and programmes have been developed with community groups. If you want to bring your group, become a volunteer or plan a special event, we would be happy to help.
Sustainability has been at the heart of the improvements to Isabella with help from the Heritage and Big Lottery Funds. The project has included a new irrigation system for Isabella which is not reliant on mains water, but the most significant aspect of sustainable technology is associated with the new green oak toilet block at Peg's Pond Gate.
The toilets designed for this building are unique to a garden this size. They are not connected to mains sewage and have been designed as a low water, no flush system. This does not use water to flush the toilets and we only have wash basins in the accessible and baby changing cubicles, instead using anti-bacterial gel dispensers to clean hands.
Waste is collected in large tanks below ground but at a much slower rate than a conventional cesspit. Some fluid from urinals and the low volume taps in the accessible cubicles will also drain into the tanks and will ensure that the waste is fluid enough to pump out when necessary. The reduction in the amount of water flowing into these tanks from taps and flushing reduces the volume of waste and the frequency of tank emptying, making this system a low cost and low carbon alternative to conventional cesspit tanked toilet systems.
With a standard flush system a single flush can use 6.5 litres (just under 1.5 gallons) of water for modern flush systems, more for older cisterns. Hence the amount of waste that has to be stored and then removed builds up rapidly. For example, the older toilet in the Plantation near Still Pond does have a flushing system which empties into a cesspit and in busy periods this has to be emptied weekly.
Our commitment to sustainable technology extends to other aspects of the building, with off grid solutions provided for heat and power. An LPG generator charges batteries providing the power for lighting and control of a biomass boiler, which heats hot water for radiators and the sinks within the disabled cubicles. Logs cut within the Plantation and Park provide the fuel for this boiler and a highly efficient block work structure behind oak cladding provides the main source of insulation for the building.