From army camp to holiday lodges – the transformation of Sherwood
Article added 14th November 2011
Once it was an army training camp where a thousand soldiers at a time were prepared for battlefield operations. After decommissioning it was left as vacant land, full of derelict buildings and fenced off from the public. Today, it’s a luxury holiday lodge destination in a beautiful, secluded woodland setting where people go to relax and enjoy nature. Engineering and environmental consultancy Wardell Armstrong helped to bring about the remarkable transformation of Proteus Camp into Sherwood Hideaway in just twenty short months. And it’s a story that proves that profitable development really can go hand in hand with ecological sensitivity and enhancement of the environment.
As you stroll around the woodland trails and leafy paths of the Thoresby Estate, deep within Sherwood Forest, it’s hard to imagine that this tranquil location was ever anything but the peaceful and natural environment that it is today. With holiday lodges, open spaces and amenities including spa treatment, fine dining and craft markets, the Sherwood Hideaway is the perfect place for romantic escapes, family holidays and luxury short breaks. Whether you prefer walking, cycling, horse riding, watching wildlife or just relaxing and unwinding, there’s always plenty of choice – and the luxury lodges themselves are available either to rent or to buy as property investments of enduring value.
But from the mid to late 1900s through to 2002, this was a very different place. Known first as Proteus Camp and then later as the Dukeries Training Area, the site was established by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in 1942 during WWII as a training camp for army personnel and troops. In the decades that followed it was constantly full of soldiers being trained in the use of tracked and wheeled armoured fighting vehicles, as well as rifle and assault practice, field craft and tactical training. After being decommissioned in 2002, all that was left were buildings previously used for accommodation, mess facilities, offices, rifle training, ammunition stores, sewage treatment, garage services, fuel storage and dispensing, and waste incineration. Many of the buildings, tarmac roads and areas of hard standing became derelict. The site was bounded by security fences topped with barbed wire. Because of safety concerns, the public had no access to the site.
Then, in 2009, new plans for the site were drawn up as an imaginative joint venture between the owners of the land, Thoresby Estate, and developers Proteus Park LLP. Their bold idea was to demolish the army camp and replace it with a luxury holiday lodge development. But it was never going to be an easy task. The location is surrounded by forest and sites of special scientific interest, with a number of sensitive ecological receptors including EU and UK protected species and veteran oak trees.
“Many developers might have shied away from a site like this,” said Greg Whitmore, associate director with Wardell Armstrong and a specialist in brownfield development. “It was obvious from the start that there would be complex issues to overcome. But it was also clear that realising the shared vision of the landowners and the developers would create a tremendous asset for the area.”
Wardell Armstrong’s first task was to complete an initial appraisal and enabling works for the demolition of the army camp – a scoping study to identify key development constraints, costs and timescales. After this they carried out or supervised environmental surveys for ecology, contaminated land, asbestos, topography, utilities and sewage treatment. This work involved extensive liaison with a range of interested parties including planners, local authority contaminated land officers, the MOD, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the local Wildlife Trust to ensure that planning conditions were satisfied and that there would be no adverse impact on sensitive ecological receptors.
The MOD had previously completed site investigations for contamination, and had remediated part of the site containing asbestos within historic demolition waste. However, a more detailed contamination assessment was needed to satisfy planning conditions – especially in view of the change in regulations over the years including the Environment Agency’s contaminated land exposure assessment (CLEA) and the Environmental Protection Act. The assessment found that most of the site was free from contamination, apart from one relatively small hotspot of benzo(a)pyrene and asbestos close to the former waste incinerator. This area was delineated and excavated, and after material had been removed from site it was then remediated to ensure that it was perfectly safe for future residents and the public.
Ecological protection and increasing biodiversity were key aspects of Wardell Armstrong’s work. This involved devising mitigation plans for national and EU protected species - including creating lizard hibernacula, modifying two buildings for use as dedicated bat roosts, and ensuring the protection of veteran oak trees as an intrinsic part of Sherwood Forest. Wardell Armstrong supervised demolition of the unsafe buildings and ecological mitigation work. They also developed a landscape management plan extending over five years to enhance the habitat and the biodiversity of the site.
Bat surveys were carried out over four months. The work included tracking surveys at dusk and dawn and the use of overnight remote recording using Anabat detectors. It identified the presence of at least ten bat species. Evidence of bat activity was found in sixteen buildings including three with roosts, as well as seventeen veteran or mature trees with high potential for roosting bats. To mitigate the potential negative impacts on bat foraging and commuting that the demolition of old buildings and redevelopment might have, one temporary replacement roost and two permanent replacement roosts were created. This involved modifying an existing water tower and brick-built Nissan hut structures for the sole use of bats - with special features including boxes and hanging tiles designed to provide safe, undisturbed roosting for a variety of bat species. Monitoring surveys were undertaken during redevelopment, and the presence of roosting bats were confirmed within the replacement roost sites.
Reptile surveys carried out on the site found good populations of common lizards along with toads and frogs, and a range of mitigation measures were put in place to prevent their death or injury during development. One key measure was to carry out the development in phases to encourage the migration of reptiles into the surroundings, with hibernacula and refugia created in a designated safeguarded area. A hand search of each phase was carried out before any development to move any reptiles and their natural refugia and relocate them away from the development footprint. Grassland within the proposed development footprint was then mown, with vegetation islands and artificial refugia left and checked daily until they were free from reptiles. To provide the opportunity for reptiles to migrate back into the site after development, permanent hibernacula and refugia were also created. The hibernacula consisted of twenty metre long ditches with branching underground chambers, planted with a mixture of flora to provide safe basking areas. The refugia consisted of small piles of rocks and logs.
But in addition to bats and reptiles, Sherwood is a unique wildlife area that supports many other important habitats including heathlands, unimproved grasslands, ancient broadleaved woodlands, wet woodlands, wood pasture, streams, rivers and riverside wetlands. The ecology and landscape management plan identified the main habitats and landscape characters within the site, and set out the principles for shaping its future maintenance both for leisure purposes and as an ecological resource. It aimed to balance the existing woodland and parkland setting, much of which has been retained, with the need for more formal landscaping with hedges, shrubs and amenity grassed areas.
So veteran and mature oak trees were retained and protected. Existing wildlife corridors were enhanced with improved connection to their immediate surroundings. Native hedgerow and shrubs were planted to screen lodges and delineate public and semi-private space in addition to providing additional habitat and encouraging species migration across the site. A network of green footpaths was created to allow partial access to natural areas while directing attention away from ecologically sensitive habitats.
“As more people choose to take holidays in the UK,” said Greg Whitmore, “there are attractive opportunities like this to convert brownfield sites into attractive holiday or leisure locations that can be profitable and very sensitive to ecological needs at the same time. Bringing in the right expertise early in the process can be key to identifying the potential constraints and getting a handle on costs and timescales. And the Sherwood Hideaway experience shows that it’s entirely possible to take a degraded habitat and transform it into a wonderful place both for people and wildlife.”