Award-winning eco-build slashes thousands from farm’s running costs

One year after opening the GWCT’s Allerton Project’s award-winning eco-visitor and training centre, researchers from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust have been doing the maths to prove that by combining modern technology with traditional materials like sheep fleece and straw, it is possible to create a sustainable rural building that not only has a very low carbon footprint it is also saving many thousands of pounds in running costs.

Dr Alastair Leake, from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust explains:

“We were delighted to scoop the 2012 Property and Construction Award for sustainable development. However, the proof of the pudding was to show how sustainable our converted farm building is in practice and the results are truly impressive. The concept is proving that it is not only good for our farm’s pockets it is also very good for the environment.”

The newly converted farm building, designed by architect Sylvester Cheung, was formerly a derelict cattle shed. It now houses a state-of-the-art training and visitor centre for this leading research charity, which has an enviable track record of demonstrating how wildlife and modern commercial farming can both thrive side by side.

Since opening the centre in June 2012 nearly 2,000 visitors have attended briefings and events, ranging from policy makers and government officials to farmers and industry specialists.

Materials used in the construction and for running the building were sourced from the fields of the Allerton Project farm, including straw for the walls and sheep fleece for insulation. Wood chip harvested from the estate’s own woodland provide fuel for the biomass boiler to heat the hot water and the thermostatically zoned under-floor heating. Rainwater is collected for the toilets and showers, while sixteen roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels provide electrical power to the building.

Dr Leake, explains:

“The results are really surprising and have far surpassed our original vision. Our wood chip fuelled biomass boiler, provides our heating and hot water supply, and this has cost us just £225 to run whereas the equivalent amount of oil needed throughout the year would have amounted to nearly £3,500. Our financial savings are therefore considerable and our CO2 emissions have been cut by 13.8 tonnes, as well as providing increased motivation to actively manage our woodlands, which also benefits wildlife.

“In addition, the solar panels have generated 5,930kw of electricity creating a saving of more than £700 in power costs. The bonus is that we have also made a handsome profit of £2,490 as we have sold excess electricity generated back to the national grid through a feed-in tariff arrangement contributing a further reduction in CO2 emissions of 3.11 tonnes.”

Constructing this sustainable farm building was not plain sailing as Alastair explains:

“Although at times this project was challenging, a year on and we are now reaping the benefits. We have a wonderfully efficient training and visitor centre and the sheep fleece and straw walls keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer. Compared to other buildings our costs are negligible and we are having a minimal impact on the environment through a reduction of CO2 emissions. We have also proved that investment in the countryside need not be neglected and that sustainable rural developments are an achievable aim.”

The virtually zero running costs and the special design features of this award-winning conversion have already generated interest from a global audience. As a result, the GWCT has published a blueprint for sustainable farm buildings. This free guide contains invaluable information on the products and systems used in the development of the building. For printed or pdf copies, please contact Daniel O’Mahony on 01425 651060 or email: domahony(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gwct.org.uk.