Covent Garden-style street performances and characters from nature and history will soon be inviting shoppers to explore the wildlife on their doorstep thanks to a ground-breaking wildlife and heritage project.
The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire’s (BCN) Into the Valley project has secured £662,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a major new 270-hectare nature reserve – the Nene Wetlands - from seven disconnected wildlife areas, three of which are currently closed to the public.
It will also provide funding to protect, restore and manage new and existing habitats for wildlife providing new access routes and interpretation which will complement the outstanding natural value of the site as an important destination for breeding and overwintering birds,
Into the Valley will encourage shoppers at Rushden Lakes, which is due to open next Spring to embark on an adventure through nature and time at a place where wildlife, industrial history and modern retail culture come face-to-face.
The aim is to create a wildlife destination of international importance and invite shoppers to take a walk down Wild Street from the precinct to the natural world.
Wildlife and historical characters will introduce Secret Spectacles beamed live to screens in the visitor centre, a new path network will bring people up close and personal to the sights and sounds of nature, and an interactive programme of learning and experience activities will inspire young and old to get involved and become wildlife enthusiasts.
LXB, the developer behind Rushden Lakes, is also funding a new lakeside visitor centre, which will be the first for Wildlife Trust BCN.
It will act as a gateway for people to access and enjoy the wildlife of the Nene Wetlands.
The eco building will be zero energy and also features a green roof which will absorb rainwater, provide insulation and create wildlife habitat.
This section of the River Nene, and its connected gravel pits, is essential for the journeys of more than 20,000 migratory birds each year.
It is known as one of the best places in the world to enjoy the spectacle of thousands of overwintering birds.
More than 500,000 people are expected to visit the Nene Wetlands each year.
Oliver Burke, director of Living Landscapes for the Wildlife Trust BCN, said: “We are really looking forward to opening our first visitor centre next spring.
“The National Lottery funding for Into the Valley will allow us to extend our work beyond this centre to create a stunning sculpture trail leading out into the Nene Wetlands and offer events and activities in the shopping area.
“It will also pay for vital conservation work including protecting a sensitive heronry from disturbance, restoring ditches and managing scrub and grassland.”
Jonathan Platt, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund East Midlands, said: “This is a highly innovative project that connects the stunning natural beauty and important wildlife of the Nene Valley with shoppers at the new Rushden Lakes centre.
“With mobile apps, theatre performances, guided walks, bugs clubs and much more, we felt this project has the potential to be a pioneering example of how to engage everybody in the wonders of our natural heritage.
“We’re delighted to support it with money raised by National Lottery players.”