Field Studies Council: The Lean Green Teaching Machine
The Field Studies Council (FSC) is an environmental educational charity, providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore, and understand the environment. The first of its field centres was opened in 1947 and has now grown to 19 permanent sites across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, plus three within London Parks.
One of its recent additions is the Bishops Wood Environmental Centre, located in Worcestershire. The site is owned by the National Grid and operated by the FSC, along with the Amersham Field Centre in Buckinghamshire.
At Bishops Wood there is a conscious effort to reduce the environmental impact of the site. Ben has talked through the processes and methods that are being implemented to improve the site’s sustainability with the Fit for the Future team, and despite the site already being set up as an environmental centre, additional measures will result in an estimated income of £750,000 over the next 20 years – an astonishing £37,500 per year!
To reduce the amount of grid-supplied energy, solar panels have been installed on one of the teaching buildings with battery storage, making it self-sufficient. The panels are currently producing 6,000 KWh of energy a year, equating to £700-£800 worth of energy reduction. The success of solar PV linked with battery storage has resulted in plans to mimic this model in future buildings.
Ground source heat pumps are also used in combination with a heat recovery system fed from the local sub-station to provide low impact heating.
Due to the nature of the site and its operations, water consumption is a challenge. The FSC is aiming for the Carbon Trust Water Standard to reduce water consumption and improve water related impacts year on year. The standard will be supported with consumption monitoring to identify opportunities for improvement.
Another way in which impacts have been reduced is through the green roofs on top of the visitor centre. They collect rainwater, which is then processed through a reed bed system. This is not the only benefit of the green roof: it also acts as natural insulation for the building, encourages biodiversity, and creates a visually beautiful building that blends with its surroundings.
There are also future plans to upgrade the reed bed system and create additional cascades of ponds that will further support biodiversity on the site. Using clean processed rainwater to supply toilets and other site features has also been proposed for the future.
As the financial impacts of sustainability measures increase, further upgrades can be made to improve the site and its environmental impacts through a self-funding model, showing how sustainability can be achieved with little additional investment, a model the FSC encourages throughout all of its properties.
Monitoring of waste
Another aspect of the sustainability strategy at Bishops Wood is waste management. The FSC has recently purchased pallet scales for all of their field centres so quantities of landfill and recyclable waste can be calculated and reduced. Waste management supports the FSC to achieve the Carbon Trust Triple Standard, which can be interwoven with their existing Carbon Standard to provide an all-round environmental management approach.
Waste data is currently used to educate students who visit the centre in support of behaviour change. Waste data assists the FSC to identify which activities and visiting groups produce the most waste, enabling the centre to work more closely with specific target groups.
Behaviour change is a significant focus for the FSC, while one of the key aims of the charity is to increase awareness of the environment around us. The site does not have any catering facilities, so to reduce waste, staff and guests are educated and encouraged to reduce the waste from the food that they bring in. Food waste that does occur is composted and fed back to the land.
The woodland on site is carefully managed for both safety, education and biodiversity. Part of this management process is coppicing, which produces a sustainable source of timber. This timber is currently used during the construction of outdoor education facilities, with excess being sold as logs and kindling. There are future plans for this wood stock to be used as an energy source on site.
There is also a food growing area on site complete with polytunnels, shelters and educational space, which is being brought back into good use. Some of the polytunnels are currently used by community groups to support the wider sustainability aims of the site.
Behind the food growing area there is a straw bale building that requires an upgrade. There are plans to replace this building with a sustainable timber build that will be used as a teaching room overlooking the food growing area to provide a different range of education. The intention is for the building to be fitted with solar panels and battery storage, a biomass stove fuelled with wood stock from woodland management activities, and to make the structure self-sufficient. The objective is to show how one might live sustainably while providing much needed additional teaching space on the site. The structure will also maximise natural daylighting as much as possible; a healthier and zero energy alternative to artificial lighting.
All artificial lighting on the site is also due to be replaced with LEDs. Currently the site is using 2538 KWh a year of electricity on lighting. This is projected to reduce to 1084 KWh a year; a 57% reduction in energy use!
The biggest lessons learnt at this site was to keep on top of site maintenance. Ben suggests a different range of maintenance is needed for modern ‘eco buildings’. With heat pumps, lots of glass, lots of timber, solar panels (which do need checking from time to time!), it’s a different range of maintenance to a conventional building. Training and upskilling staff to work with modern buildings and systems is invaluable.
By being part of Fit for the Future Network, the FSC are working with other charities and organisations to find solutions to sustainability challenges that they encounter. The Network is excited to hear about the results of the future plans of Bishops Wood and how it will better enable them to achieve their goal of environmental education.
by Jobe Bryer