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Wildlife haven bags environmental award

Monday 30th September 2019 12:00

A Project Saplings student working in the garden

An autism school’s garden built a piece of land owned by Thames Water has won a national biodiversity award.

Project Saplings at Fortis Green reservoir in North London is run by the neighbouring TreeHouse School and opened in 2017 to give young people with autism a safe space to explore nature.

It is rented from Thames Water on a 10-year peppercorn lease, which began in 2014.

The garden was named the winner of the community engagement award at the CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Awards, which celebrate ecological projects around the country, on Thursday, September 12.

It was also nominated in the biodiversity legacy category of the awards, which were presented at a ceremony at the Hallam Conference Centre in London.

Rosemary Waugh, Thames Water’s corporate responsibility manager, said: “We recognise that providing access to our sites, where possible, will have a positive contribution to local communities.

“Through providing a lease to TreeHouse School they were able to create the most amazing garden for their students to enjoy and connect with nature whilst enhancing the biodiversity of the site.

“We’re delighted that this brilliant project has now been recognised with this award.”

A group of volunteers cut back foliage and trees on the site before hedges were installed and habitats for wild animals, including bird and bat boxes, were erected.

The school, which is run by the charity Ambitious about Autism and caters for about 90 students with autism, is based in the Pears National Centre for Autism Education in Muswell Hill.

The youngsters help with the management of site while also learning about eco-friendly practices such as composting, recycling and recognising and recording wildlife.

Dr Martina Girvan, of design company Arcadis, said: “The judges were really impressed at the level of community engagement with the project, including the different age groups coming together to use the space.

“There is huge potential for replicating this model on other pieces of unmanaged land, not only to benefit biodiversity but to improve the educational experience, increased health and wellbeing for all involved and providing the community with a focus point for engagement.”

Project coordinator Julia Lampard, who was also nominated for the individual biodiversity champion award, added: “Our Saplings project would not have happened without the generosity of Thames Water leasing us the land on a peppercorn rent.

“We are delighted this effort coupled with the hard work of our amazing pupils has been recognised through receipt of the CIRIA Community Engagement Award.

 “Judges chose Saplings for the range of volunteers involved and the very impressive achievements young people with autism can achieve when they are given the opportunity.”

More than 50 projects were entered in to the awards across eight categories before a panel of judges selected a shortlist of 21.

Finsbury Park in North London, which houses Thames Water’s disused underground Hornsey Wood Reservoir, was one of those put forward but did not make the shortlist.