Alongside the development of 7.9 million square foot of logistics space and a new rail freight terminal, the third phase of Prologis RFI DIRFT will include a 193 acre nature reserve known as Lilbourne Meadows. Designed primarily as an ecological mitigation area, which will also help to screen Lilbourne village from the DIRFT expansion, Lilbourne Meadows gives us the opportunity to create a landscape that will enhance the biodiversity of the area and bring lasting benefit to the local community.
Historically, the DIRFT site has been used for intensive livestock grazing and as a result, the existing habitats were poor. Masts for Rugby Radio Station stretched across the fields and the existing hedgerows, which contained only a few shrub species, were full of gaps. This meant that we could enhance the retained habitats and at the same time, provide new habitats of a significantly higher quality than those that would be lost.
From an early stage, we worked closely with specialists at Natural England (NE), the Environment Agency (EA) and The Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (WTCBN) to plan the nature reserve and design the different types of habitat needed to bring long-term benefits to the wildlife.
When the EA asked us to create new meanders to the Clifton Brook Tributary– a watercourse that runs east to west across Lilbourne Meadows – we realised that we had a chance to create a varied wetland habitat that could include wet woodland and reed beds, pools and scrapes. Since this new habitat promises to attract a range of wetland birds, we also decided to build two bird hides for local ornithologists.
Hedgerows will be improved and new thickets of native shrub planted, while across the centre of the nature reserve, we will build an 18 metre high ridge that we will plant as a species rich native woodland. Below the ridge meadow pasture, rush pasture and damp pasture will spread across Lilbourne Meadows.
This combination of habitats has been designed to suit the protected and notable wildlife species that have been identified on and around DIRFT. Extensive wetland habitat will be ideal for the resident Curlews, while for the Great Crested Newts we are excavating and planting specially designed ponds. DIRFT is also home to a population of bats and we will construct a purpose-built bat house to replace existing roosts across the site.
As the plans developed, it was clear to us as well as to Natural England and the Environment Agency that a nature reserve of this size and complexity would need careful, long-term management. We had become members of the Wildlife Trust after working together on a project connected to our Kettering site and both NE and the EA agreed with us that the Trust would be the best organisation to do the job. As well as extensive practical experience of nature reserve management, the Trust brings expert knowledge and good ideas, suggesting for example, that they use rare breeds of cattle and sheep to manage the extensive pasture.
Evidence of medieval ridge and furrow farming can still be seen at the new DIRFT site and we will preserve around 40 acres of these earthworks at Lilbourne Meadows. At the same time, we will help retain some of the site’s more recent history by keeping the foundations and anchor blocks for the Rugby Radio Station masts within the Meadows.
At the entrances to Lilbourne Meadows and alongside the new paths, we will install education and information boards. These will describe both the heritage features and the wildlife that visitors might see.
The collaboration with the Wildlife Trust has been highly productive and the joint team has developed a living landscape that will both protect the wildlife and welcome visitors.
After a long period of preparation, we are now starting to put our plans into action and soon everyone’s hard work will come to life. Lilbourne Meadows is a fascinating project, but more important, we very much hope that it will be a valuable wildlife habitat and an amenity for local people both now and for years to come.
By Chris Lewis